Pastors for Peace by Mitch E. Perry07/06/06
This morning a group of US Citizens carrying over 100 tons of humanitarian aid to be delivered to the people of Cuba, successfully crossed the Mexican border, getting them closer to their ultimate goal.
The group , Pastors For Peace - has been making such journeys for the past 16 years.
But last year, members say, US Customs, under orders from the US Commerce Department, selectively inspected and confiscated items of humanitarian aid including computers destined for disabled Cuban children.
Ellen Bernstein is Associate Director with Pastors For Peace. (roll tape#1 o.q.â€?use to dump usâ€?)
We had a stupendous success this morning. We were expecting a confrontation possibly bigger and harsher where they spent a whole day searching a couple of our vehicles, and confiscated boxes of aide. We were expecting, since they're talking about intensifying their policy against Cuba, that they were going to come out hard against us. What happened instead was that we left the place we were staying and organized. We drove out at before 6 in the morning. We came to the international border at 6:15 and the Customs people didn't even come out of their offices. We were escorted by local police and we were told we could just go right across the border, which we did, and we came right across into Mexico, and that was the victory.
Mitch Perry: Indeed, compared to last year you had a much more intrusive inspection process. Is that correct? Ellen Bernstein: Yeah, last year they spent a whole day trying to, well, inspecting our vehicles. They searched two of our vehicles, and spent a whole day trying to find the boxes that they said identified computers and computer related equipment. The seized 43 boxes of aide. Fifty homeland security officers spent an entire day on that action. The computers were probably worth about $500.00 total and they were destined for disabled children in Cuba, but they seized them anyway. The said they were some kind of national security threat, and we spent 10 months in a long campaign to win the computers back, which we finally did. They gave them back to us in May. After that victory, we weren't sure, you know, they don't usually just go home and lick their wounds. More often than that, they will come back hard in some new way, or try to think of some new regulation they can use to stump us.
Mitch Perry: There are over 100 people traveling with the Pastors For Peace Caravan. Pastors for Peace is a project of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO), a national ecumenical agency which has been working for social justice since 1967.
84 year old Tampa resident Abelardo Arteaga is also traveling with the Caravan. He was estactic today after crossing the border, where heâ€™ll be able to personally bring aid to his 94 year old sister (roll tape#2 o.q.â€? they goinâ€™ to do itâ€?)
Abelardo Arteaga: She is still living in Cuba. She's in a home. So some of these, probably just couple boxes this time, have been requested, have been donations with medicine, wheelchairs, walkers have been requested to be given to the home where my sister lives and they're going to do it
Mitch Perry: The members were laying low the rest of today, but will travel tomorrow to Tampico, Mexico, and put all of the medicine, computers and other aids on a cargo ship that will set out for Cuba.
Ellen Bernstein from Pastors For Peace says shortly after that, the members of the Caravan will fly directly to Cuba (roll tape#3 o.q.â€?as Ambassadorsâ€?)
Ellen Bernstein: The Caravan Eustis will go on from there to visit Cuba for 8 days. We'll be in Cuba from the 8th until the 16th of July. We have a wonderful program visiting Cuba's special programs in health and education and facilities for children with special needs, which is part of the theme of this Caravan. We meet people in the countrysides and the cities. The folks who travel with the Caravans come back as Ambassadors.
Pastors For Peaceâ€™s first caravan went to Nicaragua back in 1988.