The events, which took place between September 16-18, were organized by a coalition of U.S. groups, including the International Committee for Peace, Justice and Dignity for the Peoples, IFCO – Pastors for Peace, the National Network on Cuba, the Institute for Policy Studies and the Venceremos Brigade.
AFTER three days of intense activity, September 16-18, people from cities across the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada, returned to their respective homes with the commitment to continue the fight for an end to the criminal U.S. blockade of Cuba. Also among those participating were Cuban residents in the United States.
VISITS TO U.S. CONGRESS & SENATE
The Days of Action Against the Blockade were organized by a coalition of U.S. groups, including the International Committee for Peace, Justice and Dignity for the Peoples, IFCO – Pastors for Peace, the National Network on Cuba, the Institute for Policy Studies and the Venceremos Brigade, and began September 16, at the United Methodist Building, where participants gathered for an orientation on grassroots advocacy.
There they strategized about issues that they could possibly face in their meetings in the different congressional offices. In addition they heard from Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern, from Massachusetts, who told them of the importance of advocacy work as a way of educating aides who know little about the realities of Cuba.
The two days of visits were directed primarily at new Republican members of Congress. Six teams fanned out over the hill and visited a total of 57 offices, emphasizing the impact that the blockade of Cuba has not just on the people of Cuba, but also how the people of the U.S. would benefit with the ending of the cruel policy.
ECUMENICAL CULTURAL EVENING
On Wednesday September 16, solidarity friends gathered in the Florida Avenue Baptist Church for an ecumenical cultural event shared with residents of the DC area. The gathering was a celebration of all the contributions that Cuba makes toward the betterment of the world, in addition to the joy and hope that comes with the new phase of Cuba-U.S. relations. The evening also celebrated the return of the Cuban 5 who where unjustly imprisoned for many years in the United States for defending their country against terrorism.
A highlight of the evening was a performance by the dynamic and well known Hip Hop duo Rebel Diaz whose revolutionary music carries a message that urges activism against a system of injustice, racism and imperialist war.
The activity was chaired by Gail Walker, Executive Director of IFCO/Pastors for Peace. The Rev. Dr. Earl D. Trent Jr., pastor of the Florida Avenue Baptist Church, who welcomed attendees. Hap Bockelie a Cuban solidarity activist from Seattle shared his poetry that reflected the strength of the Cuban Revolution. Also addressing the audience were Rev. Lennox Yearwood – CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus, Rev. Thomas Smith from the board of IFCO/Pastors for Peace and Rev. Paula Sohl, of the United Church of Christ from Ashland Oregon, who recently traveled to Cuba on a Pastors for Peace Caravan for the first time.
THE CUBAN FIVE RETURN, AN ENTIRE COUNTRY CELEBRATES
As part of the Days of Action, a unique photographic exhibit, depicting images of the Cuban 5 during the period immediately after their return, opened at the University Of DC David A. Clarke School Of Law.
The exhibit captures the spontaneous joy of the Cuban people as they greet their heroes and the deeply moving moments as the Five reconnect with their own families.
The exhibit originally opened in Havana in April and this presentation at UDC marked the first time the photographs have been available for viewing in the U.S. Seven contemporary Cuban photographers contributed to the exhibit including, Ladyrene Perez, Roberto Chile, Abel Rojas, Ismael Francisco, Roberto Suarez, Hector Planes, Julio Alvite along with North American photographer Bill Hackwell who is also the curator of the exhibit.
The Dean of UDC, Shelly Broderick, welcomed the crowd on hand, followed by Professor Cris Houston who thanked the groups of student organizations who helped promote the activity. Also speaking at the event was Juan Lamigueiro, Second Chief of the Diplomatic Cuban Mission in Washington DC.
Canadian Professor and writer, Stephen Kimber, author of the book What Lies Across the Water: the Real Story of the Cuban Five highlighted the history of the case of the Cuban 5. To end the program Bill Hackwell spoke, relaying many anecdotes related to the release of the Cuban 5 and explained how special it was to be in Cuba during those first days after their release that led to the images in the exhibit.
ALL DAY CONFERENCE ON THE BLOCKADE
On Friday September 18, the final chapter of the Days of Action began early in the Shallenberger Auditorium of the Calvary Baptist Church in the downtown area of the capitol. The all day conference entitled “The U.S. blockade Against Cuba: why it’s wrong and what we must do to end it” was opened with a greeting from Rev. Joe Glaze, Pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church. Opening the plenary was well-known lawyer José Pertierra who addressed the current stage of relations between Cuba and the U.S. by urging the audience to continue to fight for a complete end to the blockade.
Gail Walker of IFCO/Pastors for Peace and Alicia Jrapko from the International Committee for Peace, Justice and Dignity for the Peoples co-chaired the conference throughout the day.
During the Conference the organizers emphasized the work, the example and the solidarity with Cuba of Rev Lucius Walker who passed away on September 7, 2010.
Speakers included attorney Robert Muse who specializes in laws pertaining to Cuba, the documentary film maker Catherine Muphy, Canadian authors on Cuba; John Kirk, Arnold August and Stephen Kimber, Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) graduate Dr. Melissa Barber, legendary leader of the struggle for the independence of Puerto Rico Rafael Cancel Miranda, attorney for Oscar López Rivera; Jan Susler, longtime human rights activist Sonia Umanzor, seminarian Wesley Morris, and through a video the Rev. Raúl Suarez, Baptist Pastor of the Centro Memorial Martin Luther King, of Havana, Cuba.
The conference also had the intervention of two students of the Latin America School of Medicine Alberto Rodriguez Rivera of Puerto Rico and Guillermo Wanderley Ribeiro of Brazil, and recently graduated Dr. Adriano Belo Rodrigues Castanhola of East Timor, who in a workshop on health care in Cuba conveyed how their lives had been transformed while being trained for free to become doctors in Cuba. In response to the generosity of the Cuban government they pledged to return to their countries to fulfill their obligation to improve the health of the poor wherever needed.
A particularly special moment of the conference was the participation of the historic leader for the struggle for independence of Puerto Rico and former political prisoner in the U.S. Rafael Cancel Miranda who spared no time in explaining what patriotism, the love of homeland and humanity meant.
During lunch the powerful documentary Maestra, that interviews participants in the post revolution literacy campaign, was screened with the presence of its creator, Catherine Murphy. Netfa Freeman of the Institute of Political Studies, offered a tribute to Saul Landau, whose many documentaries added to a better understanding about the Cuban reality.
As the conference started to wind down José Ramón Cabañas, the new Ambassador of the Republic of Cuba arrived and walked to the front of the room, while the large audience stood and chanted in unison “Cuba Si! Bloqueo No!” The ambassador spoke and answered questions for nearly an hour.
While the Days of Actions against the Blockade, endorsed by over 70 organizations, were taking place in Washington, so were parallel events in Brazil, El Salvador, Russia, Belgium, Sweden and Canada. Some 101 members of the Brazilian Parliament and nine Swedish legislators sent letters to the U.S. Congress calling for the lifting of the blockade.