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Defending Your Right To Travel, and practicing Our Faith

by Ellen Bernstein Saturday, Jul. 22, 2006 at 8:31 AM
llamaslynda@yahoo.com main office, 212-926-5757

Say it LOUD; I am Back and I am Proud! and happy to have represented for San Gabriel Neighbors for Peace and Justice, The Peace and Freedom Party, L.A. Movement and Cuba Solidarity L.A. and anyone who ever had a heart. Another successful Caravan Breaks the Blockade = Blockaid !

07.18.06: Another Solid Victory for Pastors for Peace: Caravan Successfully Returns to US After Visiting Cuba

"If there is a law against loving our neighbor, I want to break it."

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Contact:

Ellen Bernstein: 646-319-5902 or 646-319-5904

Main office (New York): 212-926-5757

The 17th Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan to Cuba crossed back into the United States via Hidalgo, Texas on Monday morning July 17, after delivering 60 tons of humanitarian aid to Cuba, followed by an informative and exciting eight-day educational visit to the island.

"The motto of our 17th caravan has been 'Cuba is our neighbor: End the blockade now," said Rev. Lucius Walker, Jr., executive director of IFCO/Pastors for Peace. "We are called by our faith to resist any law which would keep us from fulfilling our biblical mandate to love our neighbor." When the group arrived at the Hidalgo border at 7:15am, they were met by many familiar faces - some of the same Homeland Security agents who had interrogated and searched them in 2005 and in previous years. Apparently the caravan had not been expected so early at the border; agents were still making multiple copies of blank interrogation questionnaires when the caravanistas entered the immigration hall.

Members of the caravan remained highly disciplined and in excellent spirits as they faced interrogation and searches by more than 75 Homeland Security and Treasury officials. The caravanistas successfully resisted efforts to fingerprint them and isolate them for questioning. "We are not criminals. We are responding to an unjust law with a ministry of love and compassion," said Rev. Thomas Smith, president of IFCO/Pastors for Peace. The caravanistas had solid legal support as they defended their Constitutional rights. The entire process took five hours, including attempts at interrogation and hand searches of their personal luggage.

International members of the caravan from Canada and Europe received the highest level of harassment. They were isolated and interrogated in a back room, and were threatened with denial of reentry into the US if they did not fully cooperate. A high-level official of the US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which oversees enforcement of Cuba sanctions, observed the entire process with increasing frustration.

One aggressive Cuban-American plainclothes agent, who repeatedly refused to identify herself or the US agency for which she works, took photographs of caravanistas, asked harassing questions, and was finally reduced to spending 20 minutes rifling through the papers in Rev. Walker's briefcase.

"Today's 'welcome home' ceremony by our government is yet another desperate attempt by a failing empire to try to defend an indefensible policy," said Rev. Walker. "It is shameful that they continue to cater to extremist interests in South Florida, in order just to win a few votes."

"The US government recently released a new report which spells out Bush's fantasy for annexation of Cuba - to install a puppet government which serves US interests, and to dismantle Cuba's world-renowned health care and educational systems," Rev. Walker said. "The report is based on lies and distortions. It claims to show concern for the very same Cuban people who have suffered so terribly for so many years precisely because of the US government's relentless economic war against Cuba. Bush's desperation only increases our resolve: we must not allow the Bush administration to destroy Cuba," said Rev. Walker.

Last year, more than 100 participants in recent Pastors for Peace caravans received letters from OFAC threatening them with fines for traveling to Cuba. "We don't know what will await us this time," said IFCO board member Rev. Luis Barrios, "but we refuse to be intimidated from fulfilling our mission of humanitarian aid and fellowship."

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.

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