Despite how many times they tried to stop their cargo of solidarity to Cuba, Pastors for Peace has uninterruptedly led its caravans to the island since 1992, even during the most difficult years of the Bush Administration. Schools and hospitals in Cuba have benefited for years from this aid and the yellow school buses with signs that say ¡Viva Cuba! and ¡Abajo el bloqueo! still run on our streets. These good people from the US were able to bring this to us after having traveled through many US cities invoking the consequences of sanctions that have tried to subdue Cubans with the lack of food and medicine.
Until the last moment of his life, Reverend Lucius Walker, the founder of Pastors for Peace, dedicated great part of his energies to repairing the injustice of his government. In many interviews, he repeated that his objective was also to win hearts and minds in the United States in favor of the Cuban people. And shortly before passing away in September of 2010, he made votes for President Barack Obama to fulfill his election campaign promises and reestablish relations with Cuba.
He could have hardly imagined that only within a few years time his dreams became a reality, but with Obama still in the White House, the Pastors would face a serious threat to their status as a non-profit organization. It is a terrible blow to those who when it wasn’t politically correct to talk about the blockade as a major failure, demonstrated that not all the US had an imperial soul.
In order to better understand Pastors for Peace’s situation, Cubadebate has talked via chat with Gail Walker, Lucius’ daughter and Executive Director of the organization.
Not even Bush dared to attack Pastors for Peace for the work with Cuba. Why is the Obama Administration doing this now?
This is a very good question. Yes, it does seem that the decision of the IRS to take away our non-profit status because of our work with Cuba makes no sense. On December 17, 2014 President Barack Obama joined Cuban President Raul Castro in announcing plans to begin working toward normalization between Cuba and the US. And, after almost 90 years, the first sitting US president not only traveled to Cuba but also stated that US policy toward Cuba has failed. On more than one occasion President Obama has called for the blockade (he uses the term “embargo”) to be lifted.
For these reasons, it would seem that the work of IFCO/Pastors for Peace, which for nearly a quarter of a century has organized Friendshipment Caravans as an expression of love and solidarity with the Cuban people and opposition to the blockade, would be respected by the President, given his desire to end the “embargo”.
But in reality despite the new focus on Cuba from all sectors in the United States, not all this attention has benefited Cuba or its friends. At the end of the day we recognize that in the US there is still a campaign to undermine Cuba and its revolutionary principles. IFCO/Pastors for Peace has always embraced the commitment of Cuba’s leadership to put the well-being of its people first. That’s why we continue to stand in solidarity with Cuba and why we continue to call on the US government to end its efforts to achieve “regime change” in Cuba.
Under what legal status has IFCO worked until now?
Since it was organized in 1967 IFCO – the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization – has been a non-profit organization. This means it has been recognized by the US government as an organization that raises money or performs deeds for a specific cause or set of causes. For IFCO (the parent organization of Pastors for Peace) these causes have been associated with a myriad of issues related to racial, social, and economic justice in the United States and other parts of the world.
Through our Pastors for Peace project, IFCO has organized dozens of caravans of humanitarian aid to various places in Central America and the Caribbean including Cuba – all aimed at helping to highlight the destructive impact of US foreign policy in those countries. Additionally, IFCO works to support various domestic issues – progressive causes across the United States ranging from educating about the prison industrial complex and the need for immigration reform, to highlighting environmental concerns and the need for food sustainability.
And finally IFCO supports the work of more than two dozen small projects – tackling issues from political prisoners, to the training of young community organizers. IFCO serves as a fiscal sponsor for these projects. As fiscally-sponsored projects they are under the umbrella of IFCO and benefit for our tax exempt status.
What does it mean for a non profit to not pay taxes?
As a non-profit IFCO does not pay taxes on income it raises from donations and grants it receives. Also most people who make donations to IFCO receive tax benefits for making donations to non-profit groups. This helps to advance the progressive causes that IFCO supports and encourages people to make donations to charitable programs.
In a larger sense the government’s effort to punish IFCO is an effort to restrict not only our financial support, but the solidarity of social-justice minded people who want to support programs aimed at building a better world. It is easy for the government to collect taxes from US citizens for things like war. But restricting the work of groups like IFCO will make it more difficult for individuals to support programs aimed at making progressive social change.
In what way will the IRS attack on Pastors for Peace have an impact on the work of the organization?
There are several ways that IFCO will be impacted if the IRS succeeds in taking away our tax exempt status:
1) IFCO may be liable for taxes on income it collects from donors. As an organization that does not aim to make profit but to do social justice work, this could have a detrimental economic impact on IFCO’s budget and our ability to survive as an organization
2) Some donors may reduce their financial gifts or stop making donations all together if they are not able to receive tax benefits from the government
3) Our fiscally-sponsored projects will be forced to find a different sponsor – one that has its non-profit status intact. For most of the projects IFCO supports, our sponsorship has offered a progressive life-line – allowing groups to do their important social justice work with the help of an organization that has a long history of work for social justice and community development.
How can we help Pastors For Peace face this attack from Obama´s administration?
We are asking our supporters to do a number of things: sign onto an online petition at: < https://www.change.org/p/do-not-remove-ifco-pastors-for-peace-non-profit-tax-status>
This petition directs a message to President Barack Obama, Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen and a dozen members of Congress who have maintained a progressive point of view in regards to Cuba and who have expressed support for improved relations with Cuba. It is our hope that having a large number of people sign the petition will keep the IRS’ senseless attack on IFCO/Pastors for Peace on the desk of these critical lawmakers – many who have already called for lifting the US blockade on Cuba.
Our friends can also reach out and contact their own members of Congress to ask them to contact the IRS and demand that they halt this attack on IFCO, one of the nation’s oldest civil and human rights organizations run by people of color. This is important because members of Congress need to hear from their own constituents before they will act.
We are also asking friends – including individuals and members of diverse groups that have worked with IFCO/Pastors for Peace over the years on countless social justice related issues, faith-based partners, community-based organizations, those in the labor movement, educators, and those who have travelled with us to Cuba through caravans and delegation, whether based in the US or anywhere across the globe – to issue messages of support.
It’s important for the IRS and the Obama Administration to understand that our base of support is wide and extends beyond the borders of the US.
For nearly 50 years IFCO’s has focused attention on both domestic and international issues. In addition to our projects in Cuba, IFCO has worked to highlight civil and human rights, education, housing, and health care; women’s rights, farmworkers’ rights, Native Americans’ rights; sterilization abuse, grand jury abuse; we have fought to resist the violence of the Ku Klux Klan and we have supported liberation struggles around the world.
This is why we believe that an attack on IFCO is an attack on all of us who work for social justice.
This is why we have asked our friends and family to join us in declaring:
#WeAreAll IFCO. #WeAreAllPastorsForPeace.
Will Pastors for Peace continue their solidarity with the people of Cuba and Palestine?
No matter what punishment the US government imposes on us, we will stand with those who suffer oppression.
Today, nearly 50 years since IFCO was founded, we continue to stand by the words of our mission statement:
To assist the disenfranchised and struggle against human and civil rights injustices.
To continue to support all people who struggle for justice – “until justice rolls down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream”. (Amos 5.24)
This is our continuing commitment to our family;
Some of whom are living,
many of whom have passed away,
and most of whom are yet unborn…
(By Rosa Miriam Elizalde)