1
Aug
2005

Pastors for Peace Faces Battle with U.S. Officials at Border

PLEASE DISTRIBUTE AS WIDELY AS POSSIBLE
Check the blog at http://www.pastorsforpeace.org for updates tomorrow!

MEDIA ADVISORY FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE -- JULY 31, 2005

CONTACTS: IFCO/PASTORS FOR PEACE HIDALGO,
TX: Ellen Bernstein 646/319-5902, 646/319-5904, 917/623-5873 NEW YORK: Lucia Bruno 212/926-5757 (office)

MAJOR BATTLE FACES PASTORS FOR PEACE CARAVAN ON RETURN FROM CUBA

Participants face US reprisals and possible arrests for challenging ban on travel to Cuba

WHERE: HIDALGO-REYNOSA INTERNATIONAL BRIDGE, TX/MX BORDER WHEN: MONDAY AUGUST 1, STARTING AT 9:30am

130 US residents are bracing themselves to face US enforcement agents - even the possibility of arrests -when they return from Cuba and re-enter the US with the 16th Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan. They will be crossing the International Bridge from Reynosa, Mexico into Hidalgo,Texas and will re-enter the US at about 9:30am on August 1.

"We have heard that an order was given from a very high level of the Bush administration to stop Pastors for Peace this year," said Rev. Lucius Walker, executive director of IFCO/Pastors for Peace, from Hidalgo. "Given the pathological obsession of the Bush administration with anything that has to do with Cuba, and given their over-reaction to our caravan on its way to Cuba, we must expect an even greater challenge from them on the way back."

When last year's caravan came home, there were more federal agents on hand to meet them at the Hidalgo border than there were caravanistas. The enforcement agents were from Immigration, Customs, OFAC [the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the Treasury Department], Border Patrol, and Treasury. They interrogated every caravan participant, searched every single piece of personal luggage, and confiscated such controversial items as a paper flag on a stick, a book of poetry, and a pair of maracas. This year the federal authorities are acting under new orders, so the caravan has to be prepared for an even harder confrontation.

As a matter of moral principle, Pastors for Peace refuses to request or accept a license from the US government to travel to Cuba or to deliver humanitarian aid to that island nation. "Cuba is not our enemy, and Cuba is not a threat. We refuse to be complicit with the aim of the Bush administration to force Cuba into adopting a so-called 'free-market' economy that would be dominated by US interests," said Rev. Walker.

"All of the members of the caravan are committed to challenging the blockade against Cuba, as an act of 'civil obedience,'" said IFCO/Pastors for Peace board member Rev. Luis Barrios. "We are obeying the law that says 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' We are prepared to face reprisals as we stand up for our moral convictions."

The Pastors for Peace caravan is challenging the ban on travel to Cuba in coordination with several other US organizations, including 60 members of the Venceremos Brigade, which are also currently in Cuba and will also be returning to the US (from Canada into Buffalo, NY) on Monday August 1.

The 16th US/Cuba Friendshipment caravan organized by IFCO/Pastors for Peace collected 140 tons of humanitarian aid for Cuba from 130 local communities in the US and Canada. Nearly all of the aid crossed the US border into Mexico just before daybreak on July 22, but US Customs agents, acting on the orders of the US Commerce Department, seized 43 boxes of aid, containing computer accessories such as toner, printers, modems, and cables, and a dozen second-hand computers. Another 75 boxes of computer-related aid that were not allowed to cross the border remain in Hidalgo. Seven members of the caravan have remained in Hidalgo continuing a national campaign to win release of the humanitarian aid seized by the US government more than a week ago.

The Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO) is a national ecumenical agency based in Harlem, New York City, which was founded in 1967 to work for racial, social, and economic justice. Pastors for Peace is a project of IFCO that was founded in 1988 after IFCO's executive director was wounded in a contra attack in Nicaragua.

More information, including photos and audio clips, is available at http://www.pastorsforpeace.org.


Carlos Rovira - "Carlito"

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