THE irony of the blow has shaken us all: when the threat of nuclear war hovers over our heads, one of the irreplaceable men of peace has left us, after 80 years of sincere example. The death has taken place of Lucius Walker, the U.S. reverend who, close to 20 years ago, took up an uncompromising struggle against the obstinate and cruel policy of his country’s government in relation to Cuba.
Prior to that, he left his mark of solidarity on liberation movements in Africa, on support missions to patriots in Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde, Angola… Then in Central America, particularly in El Salvador and Nicaragua. This last destination, as he said on many occasions, inspired the emergence of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO)/Pastors for Peace.
“On August 2, 1988, my daughter Gail and I were among 200 civilians on a boat on the River Escondido in Nicaragua which was viciously attacked by the contras. Two Nicaraguans died and 49 passengers were wounded. That night in the hospital, while I was being treated for a bullet wound, I prayed to God seeking spiritual guidance to find an appropriate response to that act of terrorism. The inspiration that God gave me was to create Pastors for Peace to take caravans of material aid to the victims of U.S. aggression.”
Finally, this island captured his attention. In 1991, during a time of a deluge of lies about the Revolution, countdowns and apocalyptic predictions, a conversation in Havana with the Reverend Raúl Suarez, director of the Martin Luther King Center, sparked an idea.
In an interview given to Granma the following year, Walker stated, “At first we thought that our task ought to be sending caravans like we did to Central America. But , observing the situation more closely, we came to the conclusion that Cuba’s most urgent problems did not need much help from us, except for breaking the blockade. We realized that Cuba did not need the same kind of help as other countries, because even with the blockade, it had the capability and strength to provide for itself. Our leadership analyzed the situation and decided that our contribution would be to fight to end the blockade.”
In 1992 the news that a group of religious people had toured several American states in and organized a fleet of 45 vehicles in which to send medicines, school supplies, and food to Cuba, an action considered by the U.S. authorities to be an insult more than an act of “civil disobedience.”
The pilgrimage through at least 90 cities would reach its tensest moment when the caravan reached Laredo, Texas with 15 tons of humanitarian aid to be transported through Mexico. The [U.S.] government demanded an “export license;” however the Reverend had declared during the tour: “We are not asking Washington for permission to carry cargo, because that would be to recognize the legality of the blockade and the right of the state to intervene in a mission of the Church.”
Neither intimidating warnings nor manhandling by more than one agent of the Treasury Department or Customs had any effect.
Lucius Walker’s men and women, following their leader’s determination, held fast in their will to take everything across the border into Mexico and not just the part allowed by U.S. legislation, knowing that the violation of the blockade could cost them fines of up to $250,000 and 10 years’ incarceration, risks that they decided to take.
Some members of the caravan crossed the border on foot, carrying over to the Mexican side those products which the regulations did not consider humanitarian aid. Among them, a wheelchair which Lucius, the first to cross, carried with a sign demanding: “Let Cuba live. Lift the embargo.”
That first step across the border bridge led to his detention for 10 hours, but the die was already cast.
1993 was the year of the second caravan, and the obstacles, far from diminishing, once again tested his firmness and stand as a man of faith.
This time the customs agents confiscated a little yellow school bus on the strange pretext that it might be used to transport Cuban troops, and several members of the caravan responded with a prolonged fast, despite high temperatures in Laredo – more than 100 degrees – making their hunger strike more dangerous. Lucius Walker was once again the moral guide and example. The letter that he sent to President William Clinton, written on the thirteenth day of the fast, confirmed that: “Our determination to continue defending the rights of the poor and the dispossessed to receive religious and medical aid, without interference from the government, is not negotiable.”
The yellow bus, liberated after 22 days of hunger strike, became a symbol of the combative spirit of the Reverend who, a few years later in 1996, led a similar fast for more than 90 days to demand the return of 395 computers taken by force from Caravan members.
Lucius was awarded the Carlos J. Finlay Order for the contribution of that equipment to modernize our health system; an honor bestowed on him by Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro, who declared on that occasion, “Ethics, moral values and faith cannot be destroyed.”
Moreover, Cuba awarded Reverend Walker the Order of Solidarity and the Medal of Friendship to his organization as a sign of respect and admiration for their continuous support of the island.
In addition to the Friendshipment Caravans, in the wake of Fidel’s humanitarian initiative to make it possible for youth from this continent and other nations to study at Havana’s Latin American School of Medicine, more than 100 youth from the poorest neighborhoods in the United States – under the coordination of Lucius Walker – are training to become doctors in Cuba and a number of them have already graduated.
More than 20 caravans have reached this land with their moral and material cargoes, and Pastors for Peace – which reflects in good measure the composition of the U.S. population – has contributed to introducing into the social psychology of part of that population the need to fight the blockade and for both countries to find a constructive rapprochement. According to its leader, “Whatever we do is, in the first place, a response to the love which Cuba has given to the world. Our solidarity is based on the importance of maintaining her example. I would not want to think of a world without Cuba.”
In gratitude, we Cubans would have to say that we do not want to think of a world without Lucius Walker.
Translated by Granma International
Fidel greets the leader of Pastors
for Peace at an event in the
José Martí Memorial on
July 26, 2010, during his last visit