WikiLeaks: Cable says peace group's founder threatened U.S. students in Cuba
By Juan O. Tamayo
WASHINGTON — The founder of a New York-based group that supports the
Cuban government threatened to pull the scholarships of U.S. medical
students in Havana if they contacted the U.S. diplomatic mission on the
island, according to a State Department cable.
Pastor Lucius Walker, then head of Pastors for Peace, allegedly made the
threat the day before one of the students attended a 2007 meeting of the
mission's warden system — U.S. citizens who volunteer to contact other
Americans in case of an emergency, such as a hurricane or earthquake.
U.S. embassies throughout the world organize similar arrangements.
The cable, one of hundreds of thousands obtained by WikiLeaks and shared
with McClatchy, did not identify the student who made the allegation.
Pastors for Peace spokeswoman Lucia Bruno said she did not believe
Walker, who died last year, would have made such a threat.
But the dispatch, dated Nov. 30, 2007, showed no such doubts and said
Walker's alleged comments "suggest that he would deny all contact
between (the U.S. mission) ... and the American citizen students even
for basic consular services."
The cable underscores the bitterness of a half-century of division over
U.S. relations with Cuba. Pastors for Peace advocates lifting the U.S.
trade embargo against the island nation, and the cable hinted, without
providing details, that Walker and U.S. diplomats in Cuba had clashed
previously. The cable was entitled: "Pastors for Peace serve American
medical students threats for Thanksgiving dinner."
An estimated 100 U.S. citizens, most from poor families, currently study
at Cuba's Latin American School of Medicine, a showcase on the outskirts
of Havana for Cuba's highly touted efforts to assist other countries by
training their doctors.
Tuition, room and board are free for all of the estimated 10,000
students from nearly 30 countries, mostly in Latin America and Africa.
The Pastors for Peace office in New York processes and approves the
applications of U.S. citizens.
Cuban officials have long refused requests from the U.S. diplomatic
mission in Havana, officially called the U.S. Interests Section (USINT),
to make regular consular visits to the American students at the school.
When one State Department official managed a rare visit in 2009, U.S.
students "told us that they were unaware that USINT had been kept from
visiting them," according to a second WikiLeaks dispatch from Havana.
The 2007 cable said the Walker warning came on the day before the
diplomatic mission was to hold its first organizational meeting of the
warden system at the home of the mission's top diplomat, Michael Parmly.
The cable said the complaining student was in his fifth year of study at
the school, and said Walker usually "complimented and encouraged the
students" during his speech at the annual Thanksgiving dinner.
But this time, the cable said, Walker's speech "took a threatening
tone," spending "over an hour warning students against having contact
with USINT" and "threatened that Pastors for Peace would consider
withdrawing scholarships to students who contacted USINT."
Walker died of natural causes last year at the age of 80. A Baptist
minister, he founded the Pastors for Peace group in 1988 and organized
21 annual campaigns to deliver assistance for communist-ruled Cuba, in
violation of the U.S. embargo.
The dispatch noted that Walker's reported threat came shortly after
USINT officials tried "to increase contacts between the students and the
Consular Section" and designated the medical school as a part of a
nascent warden system.
But the student believed the threat had been triggered by a letter he
had written to five Cuban spies in U.S. prisons after he was repeatedly
urged to write letters demanding their release, according to the dispatch.
He urged the five to demand "not only their own freedom but also the
freedom of all political prisoners in Cuba" and "within hours many of
his classmates ... confronted him with remarks that he made in the
supposedly sealed letter," according to the cable.
The student said he feared he and his wife — a citizen of another,
unidentified country also studying at the school — would lose their
scholarships. But the cable said he agreed to act as warden at the
school and "to come to USINT to use the internet and receive newspapers
but that he will limit his contact with USINT officials to protect the
five years he and his wife have invested in their medical education."
"Given Walker's past relationship with USINT it is not surprising that
they would like to limit their student's contacts with USINT," the
dispatch added. It gave no details on Walker's previous contacts with
the diplomatic mission, and a search through the WikiLeaks cables turned
up no other significant mentions of Walker.
Another WikiLeaks cable, written by U.S. diplomats in Venezuela in
February of 2006, did mention Pastors for Peace's participation in a
"World Social Forum" held in Caracas the previous month by Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez.
The dispatch reported that the Forum featured a "Poverty in the United
States" pavilion and a presentation titled "Locking Horns with the
Empire: Challenging the U.S. Blockade Against Cuba," that were "hosted
by the pro-Cuba group 'Pastors for Peace.'"
(Tamayo reports for El Nuevo Herald in Miami.)
READ THE CABLES:
Cable: Pastors for Peace serve American medical students threats for
Cable: Assesment of Chavez speeches at the World Social Forum