Taneytown peace activist reaches out to Cuba through a supply convoy

January 03, 1993|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Contributing Writer

A 52-year-old Taneytown resident's humanitarian odyssey to Cuba in late November actually had its origins years before.

For Jim Small, the owner of Taneytown Auto Parts Inc. and Small & Sons Auto Parts in Emmitsburg, humanitarian activism began when he was serving in the Army in Europe in the late 1950s.

"When I was in the Army, I began to see how the normal person doesn't have the necessary information to really know what's going on," he said recently in his office at his Franklin Street shop in Taneytown.

"I became a pacifist because I was unhappy with the direction my country was moving."

Also, the death of his cousin, Lloyd "Chip" Lougerman, in Vietnam in 1965, helped propel him toward the peace movement.

"I couldn't help but question my country's motives when my cousin was killed. The war in Vietnam seemed so senseless," he said, "and my cousin's death seemed to point that up."

Mr. Small has devoted the past 30 years to peace and justice work and has made three trips to Nicaragua, twice to deliver humanitarian aid and once as an international observer for the 1990 Nicaraguan elections. He also been involved with the annual Hiroshima Day observances at Site R, the underground nuclear war command center on the Maryland-Pennsylvania line.

"Our foreign policy is geared towards letting industries use cheap labor," he says, "and the stock market wants to make as much money they can on the dollar. I call that greed.

"The American auto worker is paid $20 per hour and his cousin in Mexico is paid $2.32 an hour and people wonder why U.S. jobs are going south, that's why. It's simply profit motivated. It's taking advantage of cheap labor," he said.

His interest has been focused in recent years on Central America and U.S. dominance over the region.

"We have controlled Central America for the last 100 years," he said. "And because the United States represents an independent [democratic] state, we have to make a fundamental change in the capitalist system where 1 1/2 percent control 90 percent of the wealth."

This quiet yet impassioned man is not content simply to sit around criticizing and reeling off statistics.

He believes that activism requires being just that, active, and that'swhy in November he drove from Taneytown to Laredo, Texas, where he joined the Pastors for Peace Friendship/Convoy bound for Cuba with humanitarian aid.

The convoy of 104 people and 43 vehicles traveled from Maine, Wisconsin and Washington state to gather on the border at Laredo.

Plans called for the aid -- cancer, asthma and gynecological medicines; wheelchairs; crutches and school supplies; bicycles; pencils and notebooks -- to travel to Cuba from the Mexican port city of Tampico.

At Laredo, U.S. Customs agents seized approximately $1,500 worth of medical supplies.

According to Bob Levine, spokesman for the Foreign Asset Control Office of the U.S. Treasury Department, "Organizations need to request a specific license in order to bring in humanitarian aid. Pastors for Peace said that the Cuban embargo wasn't legal and that they wouldn't obey it. We granted the license for the other aid without them asking.

"The embargo, which began in 1963," Mr. Levine said, "was designed to put pressure on the Castro regime to democratize."

The Bush administration tried to increase the pressure through the October signing of the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, also known as the Torricelli Bill, which bans foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies from doing business with Cuba and bans from U.S. ports for six months ships that have called on the island.

A United Nations General Assembly resolution adopted Nov. 24 called for the lifting of the 30-year-old U.S. economic embargo against Cuba and clearly demonstrated a lack of international support for the recent law.

Only Israel and Romania joined the United States in voting against the resolution; 79 countries abstained and 59, including some of the nation's closest allies, denounced the United States' attempts at forcing Fidel Castro to make the transition to democracy.

The focus of the Pastors for Peace Action, also known as Friendshipment, was the Cuban nation of 10 million people who are facing shortages in food, fuel, electricity, transport and consumer goods as a direct result of cutbacks in support from the former Soviet Union.

The 500-mile drive to Tampico, where the convoy would meet the Cuban-bound ship, was delayed two days at Laredo because of the U.S. Customs action.

At Tampico, convoy members, with help from dockworkers who worked for free, began loading the 15 tons of aid aboard the Cuban steamer Pinar del Rio.

Clearing the port of Tampico on Nov. 22, the ship began its voyage to Cuba while convoy members, who left their vehicles there, boarded a Cubana Air liner for a two-hour flight to Havana.

En route to Cuba, the Pinar del Rio encountered a storm that washed over the side 160 tons of steel.

It finally steamed into Havana Harbor on Dec. 3, days late.

Anxiety about the ship reached as far up as Castro himself.

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