Long route to Cuba

Tamara Hansen

photo by kjerstin wood

Tamara Hansen has been to Cuba many times, but this year the Vancouver, B.C., resident is getting to the county via a humanitarian-aid mission called Caravan to Cuba, which for the past 20 years has collected things like wheelchairs, sports equipment and computers to send via buses to the U.S.-embargoed country. The effort, with 10 routes throughout the United States, is organized by the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organizing/Pastors for Peace. Stopping in nearly 100 cities this year, the caravans collect aid and give talks about the impact of the embargo. Hansen’s caravan stopped in Chico last Friday (July 6), departing the next morning. However, the Chico Peace and Justice Center at 526 Broadway collects donations year-round.

How long have you been involved with the caravan?

I’ve been involved in Vancouver, B.C., since 2005. We have an event every year in Vancouver to send off the caravan, similar to the event in Chico held by the Chico Peace and Justice Center. We then organize the border crossing from British Columbia into Washington State.

What supplies does Caravan to Cuba want?

Basically, it is what Cuba needs. We don’t take items like clothes, and we try not to take junk that people have collected in their basements, like their computer from 1984 or their half-broken bicycle. We really want to take items of quality, because this isn’t charity, it is solidarity; we are going to support the people of Cuba.

What sorts of the obstacles do you deal with?

[Border patrol] actually stopped us the past two years and accused us of carrying commercial goods rather than humanitarian aid. This year, there’s an exciting story: At the B.C. and Washington border there are two crossings: one for people and one for commercial goods. They told us we have to go to the commercial truck crossing. They kept saying it wasn’t their decision, that the orders came from officials higher up.

How did you make it through?

After two attempts at the border with no success, [Border Patrol] told us that some of the aid could go through the crossing, excluding sports equipment, since it was not on ‘their list’ of humanitarian aid. We could not accept that, so we held a protest where several media outlets came from Canada and the United States, and they let us through on the third attempt with all of the items, including sports equipment.