Howard group defies U.S. blockade, sending supplies to Cuba

February 25, 1994|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

The Cold War is over, and the Howard County Friends of Central America hopes it can help end a 33-year-old blockade of Cuba that activists say has long outlived its purpose.

"Although the U.S. says the Cold War is over, it has not stopped its war with Cuba. And the people are suffering," said Leslie Salgado, coordinator for Howard County Friends of Central America. "We believe the Cuban people shouldn't have to suffer because of U.S. policies."

The organization has organized a dinner tomorrow night in support of a "friendshipment caravan," stopping here en route to delivering school supplies, medicine and other humanitarian aid to the island nation.

Members of the caravan, which was organized by the Pastors of Peace, a Minnesota-based group, will share a Cuban dinner -- rice, beans and plantains -- at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center.

Ms. Salgado's organization and the Columbia United Christian Church are among a coalition of groups in the United States and Canada raising money and supplies for the Cubans. The Howard County group has raised $1,000 and supplies so far this year, but still needs bicycles, bicycle parts, school supplies, sheets and medicine, Ms. Salgado said.

The caravan includes about 200 drivers and will stop in 104 cities in the United States and Canada, with volunteers staying in local churches and in the homes of activists. Last year, the caravan delivered 100 tons of aid.

The caravan through Maryland has generated two truck-loads of supplies, and the activists are set to move on to their next stop, in Richmond, Va., on Sunday.

Once the caravan crosses the Texas-Mexican border, supplies will be shipped to the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Havana and the "caravanistas" will go on to Cuba.

"It's a demonstration of solidarity and challenges the U.S. embargo to Cuba," said John Gaige, one of three Maryland caravan drivers.

Another driver, Krista Spangler of Frederick, said the United States should end the Cuban embargo the way it recently rescinded its embargo of Vietnam.

"This is the most direct and powerful way of doing it -- to actually disregard the law and sort of force the government's hand to do something about it," Ms. Spangler said.

Ray T. Donaldson, an IBM technical writer from Fulton, traveled last year with the county's caravan, helping to deliver $70,000 worth of medical supplies.

"I felt that the people that we met there are basically people who are working hard to make a decent life for themselves and their family, like anybody else," he said.

But tense moments arose, he said, when U.S. Customs agents impounded a school bus in Laredo, Texas. Fourteen caravan members held a 23-day hunger strike until they were allowed to pass.

"The yellow school bus was sort of a symbol of this caravan," he said.

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