By Sean Malloy
Fourteen members of a caravan carrying humanitarian aid for Cuba are close to a month of hunger striking which began after their little yellow school bus was detained on the Texas-Mexico border by US authorities in late July.
The bus was part of a "friendshipment" caravan sponsored by Minneapolis based Pastors for Peace. The caravan successfully carried over 100 tonnes of aid for Cuba across the border into Mexico. US customs agents, however, made a target of the school bus and towed it into a customs lot on July 29. The caravan consisted of 300 drivers in 100 vehicles who traveled to 120 cities during July to pick up aid collected by various organisations.
Hunger strikers are demanding the release of the bus so that it can continue its journey into Mexico and on to Cuba. The strikers are calling for an end to the US trade embargo imposed upon Cuba since 1963.
Former US attorney general, Ramsey Clark, said that "the US Customs seizure of the school bus is a case of vindictiveness in support of a criminal blockade that has inflicted great hardship and suffering on the Cuban people. Before seizing the bus, the US government allowed the caravan to bring 100 tons of material aid into Mexico on its way to Cuba. The seizure of the bus, after the news cameras had left the scene, was an act of vengeance by the government."
Clark, who participated in the caravan, is also the initiator of the International Peace for Cuba Appeal.
Pastors for Peace, and other solidarity organisations have begun to mobilise domestic and international support for the plight of the bus and the campaign to end the US blockade of Cuba.
In a statement to the US government Nobel Peace Prize winner, Rigoberta Menchu, called for the immediate release of the bus.
"This attitude by the US authorities is but another demonstration of the unjust economic blockade inflicted by the US Government on the peoples of Cuba. Therefore I appeal to these authorities to let the bus go in order to rejoin the rest of the caravan on this worthy journey", she said.
"At the same token, I am in solidarity with the brothers and sisters that have made possible this invaluable contribution, especially the Baptist reverend, Lucius Walker, and the other 13 persons remaining on the bus.
"Once again I exhort the authorities of the United States of North America put aside political interests in relation to Cuba and recognise that the humanitarian spirit represented by the caravan expresses true neighborly compassion for the situation of the Cuban cluded.
US congressman Charles Rangel, of New York, strongly urged President Bill Clinton to intervene on behalf of the hunger strikers and release the school bus immediately.
"It is a moral outrage that the Customs Service has chosen to make a statement in the enforcement of an outdated embargo at the cost of human lives", Rangel wrote in a letter to Clinton.
Author Alice Walker also sent her solidarity to the hunger strikers. Letters of support have also been received from Jesse Jackson, the United Steelworkers of America, school bus drivers and monitors in Boston, and the Cuban American Committee in New Jersey.
Reverend Lucius Walker, executive director of Pastors for Peace, said that the hunger strikers were "being held as political hostages, confined to this little yellow school bus by the US government, which refuses to recognise our right to [provide] humanitarian aid to a country which is not our enemy and with which we are not at war".
Eighty five year-old hunger striker, Abraham Colokow, who has lost more than eight kilos of weight, said that the US was trying to bring Cubans to their knees through starvation. "We can't back down here at the border", he said.
[For more information regarding support for the campaign in Australia call Jan Allen on (02) 569 1106.]