Pastors for Peace caravan rolls thru Ybor City

07/13/09 Mitch E. Perry
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As they have since 1992, the group Pastors For Peace is again sending a caravan of goods, including medical supplies and other aid, to Cuba this summer. On Saturday, that caravan made a stop in Ybor City.

Pastors for Peace is a New York based ministry of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization.

The Ybor stop has been traditional one for the caravan over the years. Local activist Mauricio Vasquez kicked off the event.

More than 100 pastors will make the pilgrimage in cars, vans and trucks. The caravan itself starts in Canada, goes through the Southeast, and will end up in Texas later this month. From there, they will cross the border into Mexico, pack the cargo on to a ship, and fly to Cuba to deliver the goods.

86 year old Al Arteaga lived in pre-Castro Cuba, and has participated in several caravans. He says it’s arduous – but enjoyable, to be a part of the experience.

About 15 people were present at Saturday’s event, which was held at Jose Marti Park in Ybor City. Activist Michael Canney, who was part of the group Cuba Vive which originated in the 1990’s, reminisced about the fact that previous Caravan events were not able to be held inside the park. Canney said he was at a similar event last weekend in Miami that went off without a hitch. It was the first Pastors For Peace event in Miami since 1994.

This year's caravan is happening with somewhat of a thaw in relations between the U.S. and Cuba. In April, President Obama removed travel restrictions and changed policy to allow families to send unlimited funds to their relatives in Cuba. But the embargo continues.

Chalky Irvin has been to Cuba twice on what he calls 'travel challenges'. He mentioned that the property where Jose Marti Park stands was owned by Paulina Pedroso around the turn of the 20th century, and where Cuban national hero Jose Marti headquartered his U.S. activities.

The group plans to load a cargo ship with the materials by July 23rd. The caravan’s participants will fly to Cuba on July 24 and stay until August 1st.

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