By Alicia Jrapko on September 7, 2020
It is hard to believe that it has been ten years ago today since Reverend Lucius Walker suddenly died leaving an enormous emptiness and gap in the movement of solidarity with Cuba and other just causes that in many ways we are still recovering from. I still miss him dearly. We remember Lucius for his bold and charismatic leadership whose ideas influenced and guided many progressives around the world while being a constant thorn in the side of the United States government.
He was a key figure in the struggle to return Elian Gonzalez home and before his death, he was increasing his involvement in the struggle to free the Cuban 5.
Walker’s solidarity work did not start with Cuba. In August 1988, he was wounded while on a riverboat traveling to the Bluefields region on the East coast on Nicaragua that was attacked by Contras. Two people were killed. Commenting on the event Walker said he had come “face to face with the terrorism of our own government” and blamed President Ronald Reagan for the deaths that day. It was a turning point and led to his founding of Pastors for Peace, a project of IFCO, the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization where Walker was the Executive Director. Along with its caravans to Cuba, that continues to this day, IFCO also organized humanitarian aid caravans to Chiapas Mexico, and Central American.
It was the beginning of the nineties when many progressives in the United States starting hearing about this African American Baptist Minister in Brooklyn who was challenging the US blockade on Cuba, not just with words but with concrete actions. His project was about bringing humanitarian aid to Cuba without asking the US government for a license, telling them in no uncertain terms that they could not choose who our friends are and that instead of their policy of hate we were going to establish People to People diplomacy with the people of the island.
Lucius was not just a symbol in the movement but more of a magnet for many who were attracted to a new idea and vision of solidarity work. It was all about extending a hand to the Cuban people, challenging an immoral and unjust law to show the Cuban people they were not alone, and that there were many in the US who oppose the blockade. We knew the humanitarian aid we were using as a battering ram against the blockade would not solve the problems the Cuban people faced but we were acting in defiance of the most powerful country on earth trying to strangle a neighboring country that had done nothing against us.
The Cuba caravans went to cities and towns all over the US where people organized events to gather aid and many hopped on the busses that became a symbol of the caravan to Cuba coming to town. The caravans met up at the border with Mexico or Canada and then crossed them with a peaceful but in your face defiance of the blockade. We went through civil disobedience training and shared intense days in anticipation of a confrontation with US authorities but always guided by Lucius’s calm confidence who once said “We act not just in defiance of our government, but in obedience to our conscience.” We were entwined in a project for social justice, peace, and friendship that no one who participated in it will ever forget. The thousands of people who over the years joined a caravan came from a wide range of backgrounds and political views and one did not have to be religious to come on board.
Over the years the caravans continued to grow with each one having its focus and characteristics. In 1993, 300 people participated with a 100 tons of aid — including medicines, medical and educational material, and a yellow bus that US Treasury officials seized at the Laredo border with Mexico because, “Fidel Castro might take a liking to it and use it as a military vehicle.”
When the bus was confiscated Lucius, along with 13 caravanistas who were on board when it was seized, decided to stay on the bus and to fast until it was released. This started a hunger strike in the sweltering Texas sun that lasted for 23 days while an emergency response network pressured Washington. Demonstrations were held in 20 cities, thousands of calls and faxes went to Washington, and a solidarity fast was held in front of the US Interests Section in Havana causing the US government to relent. When the little yellow school bus finally arrived it was met by Fidel and the students of the school that was to receive it.
Lucius, whose ashes rest in Havana as he wished, remains beloved by the Cuban people for his permanent solidarity, the right of Cubans to self8-determination, his steadfast activism against his country’s government blockade against this Caribbean nation, and here for those who knew him and worked with him he continues to be an example of how to be.