Volunteers in Palm Coast, a town 37 miles north of Daytona Beach, worked Thursday to finish packing and loading a shipment of humanitarian aid that is bound for Cuba.
The volunteers loaded the boxes, suitcases and duffel bags into a trailer and onto two trucks that will join the Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan.
More than 130 caravan participants along 14 routes in 47 states and six Canadian provinces plan to converge on the U.S.-Mexico border by July 21. They'll have more than 100 tons of humanitarian aid with them and they'll attempt to cross into Mexico in defiance of the U.S. ban on trade with Cuba. From there, they'll travel to the Mexican port of Tampico, where the aid will be loaded onto a Cuba-bound freighter.
Under American law, it's illegal to ship goods to Cuba without U.S. government licenses. Caravan organizers refuse to apply for licenses as an act of civil disobedience. They are protesting the longtime U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba.
The caravan is a project of the IFCO, or Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization. Over the past 20 years, IFCO volunteers have delivered more than 3,000 tons of aid to Cuba without the required U.S. licenses.
Rev. Lucius Walker, Jr., executive director and founder of IFCO, said in a statement:
We must continue to keep the pressure on - to end the blockade, to normalize relations with Cuba, and to engage in dialogue based in mutual respect, rather than our insisting on undermining Cuba’s sovereignty.
President Obama has taken a small first step to change US/Cuba policy. But as people of faith and conscience, it is important that we make our voices heard in favor of even stronger measures for reconciliation and normalized relations.
Pastors for Peace rejects the current licensing system as both immoral and illegal. It is immoral because it endangers the lives of millions of Cubans and inflicts suffering on innocent children, as well as adults. It is illegal under international law because it uses medicine and food as weapons of war to force another nation to change its government.
Licensing is also unconstitutional because it requires people of faith to submit their acts of conscience and friendship to government licensing, in violation of our right to freedom of religious expression, political thought, association and travel.
Diana Starke, left, and Nana Royer, right, both of St. Augustine, help pack the humanitarian aid bound for Cuba.
The humanitarian aid collected throughout the U.S. includes "school buses, construction tools and materials, educational supplies, medicines, and medical supplies gathered in communities throughout the U.S. and Canada," Pastors for Peace said.
The Florida trucks will pass through Mobile, Ala., New Orleans and Houston before reaching the U.S.-Mexico border at McAllen, Texas.