By Michael Fox
On Thursday, June 30, hundreds of people packed into Manhattan’s Riverside Church for the launch of 22nd Caravan to Cuba, and a memorial tribute to the late Reverend Lucius Walker, Jr. Each year the IFCO/Pastors for Peace caravan defies the U.S. blockade on Cuba by traveling to the Caribbean island nation with tons of medical supplies, equipment, and humanitarian aid, defying U.S. travel and commerce restrictions. Over the next three weeks, over a hundred participants from across the United States and Canada will caravan to the U.S.-Mexico border with over a hundred tons of aid for Cuba. This, however, will be the first caravan without Pastors for Peace founder, Lucius Walker, who passed in September at the age of 80.
Walker remains an icon in the Latin America solidarity movement both in the United States and abroad. “There are no words to express what Lucius Walker means to us,” Rodolfo Benítez Verson, Deputy Cuban Ambassador to the United Nations told the crowd at the event, “He taught by example.”
Among the more than half-dozen additional people that spoke at the emotional event was former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who captured the spirit of the evening, reminding the audience that “now is the time as never before” to continue the work that Walker began. The following is the audio and text of his speech from the event, recorded and transcribed by NACLA.
Good evening and what a beautiful crowd. I hope everything that I say tonight will be understood as to why I think that it’s imperative that we redouble our effort to achieve the dreams that Lucius Walker had and struggled so hard to create and fulfill for this world. Because we’ve lost a mighty engine, and if all of us double our efforts, we’d be hard put to replace what we’ve lost.
I first met Lucius about 41 years ago. I had come up from Washington after eight years and decided to be a big Lawyer in New York. That showed how misguided you can be. I was sitting there in the office up on the 29th floor, 345 Park Avenue, in a great big law firm, and the secretary came in and said, Reverend Lucius Walker is here to see you. And I thought—I had a whole bunch of cousins and uncles all named Walker. I didn’t remember a reverend. I thought our family had been upgraded some here. And in walks Lucius, and he sat down and very quietly started talking about his dream about what is possible for the poor in America, for love among the races in America and what he was doing. And then he hit me up to sign a fundraising letter. I had never signed a fundraising letter in my life and I wasn’t quite sure what it was supposed to be. But he persuaded me. I couldn’t say “no,” and after that I was always on his team. He never told me how much money we raised, but I don’t think anyone up here knew who I was hardly. And I watched him and worked with him some all through the years.
I’d see him in Nicaragua. He was on a boat down there when President Reagan’s Contras were invading by the thousands—a very substantial multiple of the Bay of Pigs—and two people on the boat that Lucius was on were shot and killed. I mean they were shooting at random. It could have been him as easily as anyone else on the boat. And as with every adversity that he encountered, it only caused him to redouble his efforts, and his efforts were first focused on what can really change the world. What they implemented will change the world. Cuba became a major commitment for him, because it embodied so many of the tragedies of power in our time. The blockade—that word’s terribly inadequate. I’d always thought that in effect it was like taking a whip and lashing every man, woman, and child in Cuba; to keep them down, to deter any chance for economic development, for the fulfillment of the potential of the people; a blockade that the whole world was against. The whole world was against it. You can count that in the numbers, the vote in the General Assembly of the United Nations, year after year. The numbers grew through the years, but I remember the year they got up to the number 184. The vote was no abstentions. 182 nations voting to end the blockade as cruel and inhumane punishment of a whole innocent people by an enormous power looming over their little island, not 90 miles off their shore. Only two nations, the United States and Israel—how sad—voted against the resolution.
You know, there wouldn’t have been a Cuban Five, except for the blockade, would there? There’d be no purpose. Everyone can go anyway. What’s the point? There would never have been a Cuban Five. And here’s this great and powerful country, preaching the fear of terrorism around the world and vilifying, indicting, convicting, and imprisoning five courageous Cubans who came here to prevent terrorism, non-violently. To simply infiltrate the terrorist groups, who were not only dropping leaflets, had not only shot down airplanes and scores of passengers, but were setting off bombs in hotels and on the streets of Havana and elsewhere. And the Five become the terrorists for seeking to prevent non-violently, simply by an early-warning system so the terrorist acts could be prevented. And yet you can hardly find people in middle America that have heard of the Five that don’t think they were terrorists.
And then there’s Guantanamo. First is was “Remember the Maine,” and then the great newspapers, William Randolph Hearst and others, here in New York and elsewhere, inflamed American imperial passions to invade Cuba. San Juan Hill and all of that— hardly a struggle—and the Platt Amendment in 1905, a fraud on the American people, and a massive theft from the Cuban people, that took Guantanamo Bay as a refueling station. But people that knew anything about the region knew that the path from the East coast of the United States, from West Europe, and from West Africa, to the Gulf Coast of our country, to the Gulf Coast of Latin America, Mexico, all the way down to Honduras, and all the way down Central America to the Isthmus of Panama, the one route everyone chose was the Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti, and Guantanamo was the most strategic location for the control of that passage.
Today while we roundly condemn Cuba for the violation of human rights, at Guantanamo we commit the most egregious violation of human rights, detaining innocent people for years, torture, brutalization, never knowing what tomorrow will bring for them on Cuban soil.
We have to work hard now, harder than ever, to end the blockade and to reach out to the government of Cuba that, despite all of the adversity we have imposed on it, has done far more per capita than any county in the history of the Earth to help their fellow human beings. 30,000 Cuban doctors at this time in the poorest parts of the world, giving things like a vaccine to children for five common communicable diseases that has saved millions of children’s lives. And not just in Latin America, in Africa and wherever poor people live in masses. They’ve trained thousands and thousands of doctors from other countries and in their public education they annually have the highest math and reading scores in the Spanish language in the Western hemisphere. Their arts and their sciences, in medicine and anything you can think of, are moral achievements and human achievements for the whole planet. Maybe that’s why we fear them.
Lucius, from the first time I saw him, demonstrated two qualities. He was a quite man, and he had the two qualities that [author Carl] Sandburg attributed to [President Abraham] Lincoln: he was hard as steel and soft as velvet, hard as rock and soft as drifting fog. He had within him the paradox of terrible storm and unspeakable peace. He was never deterred in his quiet, gentle, and irresistible manner, to overcome. Overcome the resistance to love on the planet, but to spread it among all people. And to carry that flag is our responsibility. For those of use who knew him best, now is the time as never before. Thank you.
Michael Fox is Associate Editor of NACLA. Look out for the upcoming July/August NACLA issue on Cuba. Here is the recording of the complete June 30 event.