The US Internal Revenue Service made good Thursday on a threat to revoke nonprofit status to Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO) also known as Pastors for Peace for providing humanitarian aid to Cuba, a nation at the receiving end of a decades old US embargo. The exact charge is failing to declare the shipments, a violation of the US Treasury Department’s ‘Trading with the Enemy Act.
The group was also targeted for providing medical supplies to Palestinians in Gaza.
But Pastors for Peace had no enemies. A years old campaign to collect medical, educational, and other humanitarian aid, including from local hospitals, and community organizations, and individuals made their way across the US and Mexico landing at the Mexican east coast to be shipped to Cuba.
Pastors for Peace caravan stops in Boulder before meeting caravan buses at the Mexico/US border in 2011. (photos: The Nation Report)
Locals have even traveled with the caravan many times in order to support humanitarian and cultural exchange with the goal of establishing people to people relationships.
US cities that have sister city relationships with Cuban cities include Boulder, Pittsburgh, and Mobile, Alabama.
IFCO was founded in 1967 by progressive church leaders and activists. The group has provided other aid such as technical assistance, training organizers, making and administering grants, and offering of their vast global network of grassroots organizers, clergy, and other professionals who shared the organization’s solidarity with oppressed people for working for justice and self-determination, and fighting for human and civil rights injustices. The caravan campaign also involved educational tours about the organizations work for racial, social, and economic justice.
The organization suffered a blow when Executive Director Lucius Walker died in 2010. His life’s work involved working to end the US embargo against Cuba. Since then, his daughter, Gail Walker took over the position and released the statement Thursday about the IRS decision and a response on Friday, “We at IFCO are no strangers to government repression and understand that this is what happens when you speak truth to power as we have since our inception. But we also understand that this doesn’t mean you keep silent at moments like this. In fact, our history teaches us that this is when we keep moving forward….and that is exactly what we intend to do.”
Walker added that other innocent victims of the revocation are programs that support groups working for the rights of political prisoners, young people dedicated to transforming neglected urban landscapes into dynamic safe spaces benefiting impoverished communities, and those organizing for a single payer health care system.
Robert Cabot who has worked closely with IFCO for 25 years responded to the action, “The IRS move was the unfortunate and not wholly unanticipated consequence of years of IFCO’s principled, courageous, unflinching direct challenge to the U.S. embargo. Over the years since the first Friendship Caravan in 1992, there have been several political and legal threats leveled against IFCO by the U.S. government. On at least one caravan, the U.S. government seized goods in Texas bound for Cuba before they crossed the border into Mexico. And, I believe, Rev. Lucius Walker went on a prolonged, multi-week hunger strike in protest, a hunger strike that put his own health in serious jeopardy. So, today’s IRS action is the terrible, infuriating, but not totally unforeseen, culmination of years of the U.S. government war against IFCO.”
Walker reports that the organization will reapply for tax-exempt status.