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Pastors for Peace Close to Losing Tax Exempt Status Courtesy of IRS Assault

Gail Walker is the executive director of IFCO/Pastors for Peace with offices in New York City. In an interview she gave which appeared August 29 as the lead posting on the prominent Cuban website Cubadebate.cu, Walker described apparent U. S. government persecution of the human- rights organization founded and headed by Rev. Lucius Walker, Gail Walker’s father, who died in 2010. In fact, the U.S. government over the course of five years has moved toward removing the tax-exempt and non-profit status Pastors for Peace and its parent organization IFCO have enjoyed since IFCO’s founding in 1967.

Introducing Walker, journalist Rosa Miriam Elizalde noted that, “In spite of the many times attempts were made at the Mexican border to block its humanitarian cargo on the way to Cuba, Pastors for Peace has maintained its caravans to Cuba uninterruptedly since 1992, including during the darkest years of the Bush administration.”

She reported that Pastors for Peace “yellow buses” still travel the streets of Cuban cities and that “hospitals and schools [in Cuba] have benefited for years” from aid brought on those buses to Cuba. Pastors of Peace volunteers traveling on the buses through the United States have informed “people about the consequences of sanctions directed at making the Cuban people surrender through a lack of food and medicines.”

Bringing their humanitarian aid material to Cuba, riders on the buses violated U.S. rules governing the blockade. They did so purposefully as a matter of civil disobedience.

Elizalde pointed out that: “Until the last moment of his life, the Reverend Lucius Walker … dedicated a good part of his energies to correcting the injustice of his government. In interviews, he always repeated that his object was to win hearts and minds in the United States to the Cuban people. Just before his death in September, 2010 he called upon President Obama to act on his election-campaign promise to re-establish U. S. relations with Cuba.”

For her part, Gail Walker confessed to surprise at the assault by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), especially in view of President Obama’s role in advancing a “process toward normalizations of relations,” his trip to Cuba, and his “declaration that North American policy toward the island had failed.” She added that. “President Obama has called for an end to the blockade.’”

She expected that “the President would respect the work of IFCO/Pastors for Peace, that for a quarter of a century has organized friendship caravans as an expression of love and solidarity with the [Cuban] people and in opposition to the blockade.”

By way of explanation, Walker observed that “inside the United States, a campaign still persists whose purpose is to undermine Cuba and its revolutionary principles. IFCO/Pastors for Peace has always embraced the commitment of Cuban leaders to put the welfare of their people first. That’s why we continue … calling upon the U. S. government to end its efforts towards ‘regime change.’”

In her interview, Gail Walker described IFCO/Pastors for Peace humanitarian caravans to Central America and the Caribbean area and the group’s work with minority youth in U.S. prisons, victimized cross-border migrants, and in preparing young community organizers.

The IFCO/Pastors for Peace website describes a five-year IRS process of investigation and accusations. Alerted by Representatives Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Sue Myrick (R-NC), the IRS in 2011 alleged that support for the legitimate charitable organization Viva Palestina had morphed into backing for the supposed terrorist group Hamas.

Pastors for Peace successfully appealed that charge, only to be accused of violating the U. S. “Trading with the Enemy Act” when it extended friendship to Cuba and brought aid material. That charge fell to an appeal based on the reality that the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, responsible for enforcing the blockade, had never moved to prosecute Pastors for Peace.

The charge of sloppy record-keeping followed. In an e-mail September 1, IFCO/Pastors for Peace reported, “They denied our latest appeal. The IRS tried Islamophobia! Their case didn’t hold water! Then, the IRS tried attacking our Cuba work [and] they’ve dropped that one. SO NOW, the IRS is coming after us for our ‘record keeping.’” The group’s website displays examples of what looks like more than adequate documentation accompanying aid material on its way to Cuba.

Gail Walker spoke of potential damage, if the U.S. government has its way. Pastors for Peace will be paying taxes on donations, the group’s sole source of income. Donors, having lost their tax exemption, may no longer give, or may give less. And “the projects we fiscally sponsor will have to look for other sponsors whose tax free status is intact.”

“How ironic, cruel, and petty,” observed the National Network on Cuba, “that that the U.S. Government has focused on destroying a religious organization whose mission is to act in love and the spirit of community.” Other advocates of non-interventionist U. S. relations with Cuba see persecution of IFCO/Pastors for Peace as a wet blanket on efforts toward normalization of bi-national relations, among them Steve Burke. That member of the Let Cuba Live Committee of Maine is “leery of [President] Obama’s claim the United States wants friendship with Cuba.”

Judy Robbins, also of Maine, said that, “After years of steady progress, hard-earned gains, and the beginnings of something like normal, here comes the IRS to vindictively try to dismantle one of the most successful and admired efforts in this long campaign.” Robbins joins Gail Walker in urging that one and all sign the petition accessible here.

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W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.

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