Pastors for Peace Aid Caravan Holding at U.S./Mexico Border

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Pastors for Peace Aid Caravan Holding at U.S./Mexico Border
by C. L. Cook
McAllister, Texas - The 22nd Annual Pastor's for Peace Friendship Caravan to Cuba is stopped at this hour at the border between Mexico and the United States in McAllister, Texas. The Caravanistas arrived at the Pharr International Bridge shortly after noon local time today, carrying more than 100 tons of humanitarian aid bound for Cuba via Mexico.

US Border authorities seized seven computers, but were careful to qualify the seizure as a "detaining" action and not a "seizure."

Canadian participants in the caravan were harassed earlier this month at the Canada/US border at Blaine, Washington, where, after being rerouted to a commercial crossing, they were told by officials that they must produce a "bond" of an unspecified sum before being allowed entrance into the country.
 
That decision was quickly reviewed and dismissed following calls to Customs offices from  IFCO/Pastors for Peace lawyers in New York.

Three of the seven computers seized were the same taken last year and held by customs.
 
UPDATED BELOW


In a press release (please see below) participants were said to be demonstrating at the border crossing. Singing and waving banners, the Caravanistas chanted;

“Cuba is no threat to you; let our computers through!” and “Love is our license! Free the computers!”   

The Pastor's for Peace have defied the Unites States' embargo policy against the Caribbean island nation for more than twenty years, collecting humanitarian aid each year and ferrying that aid, via Mexico, to Cuba.

Technically, each of the scores of American and international volunteers involved could be charged for sending goods to Cuba in violation of the far-reaching embargo. Goods not permitted include pencils, school books, computers, and a wide variety of medicines.
 
Two-time Caravanista, Janine Bandcroft brings the situation up to date:
 

"Over 100 Caravanistas, US-Americans, Canadians, and Europeans among them, are currently delayed at the Mexican border.  From over 100 tons of humanitarian aid, US Customs and Border Patrol seized 7 computers as the caravan left the United States.  The caravan continued across the border into Mexico anticipating that those stolen computers can be retrieved on the return journey.

But Mexican authorities are now attempting to enforce a law that requires tourists and travellers pay $22 each to visit their country,
which would amount to about $2200 for the Caravanistas. IFCO/Pastors for Peace Board Member, Fr. Luis Barrios, PhD, is negotiating with the Mexican authorities, arguing that Pastors for Peace have never paid this fee, they're not tourists, they're merely passing through the country with humanitarian aid destined for Cuba.

Approximately 50 Caravanistas are currently demonstrating, alongside Mexican supporters, with banners and chants at the Mexican
Immigration office in Reynosa.  Mexican television media is at the scene, which has been underway for about four hours.

Gerry Bill, a veteran Caravanista, and one of the protestors at the Mexican Immigration Office, explained "the Mexicans searched through the [humanitarian] aid we're carrying, and didn't have any problems with it.  They have issued the licenses for the buses, the bus drivers have been given visas, but the decision to charge this fee for all the other Caravanistas is a decision that was made by officers with more authority than those at the border .... which is why we're at the main immigration office in Reynosa."

Mexican officials have attempted to collect this fee in the recent years, but it's a relatively new phenomenon considering the caravan
has travelling this way for 22 years.  It has not been established whether the Mexican authorities will attempt to again collect this
$22/person fee when the Caravanistas return from Cuba, and travel back to the US through Mexico later this month.

The caravan's departure was delayed this morning due to mechanical challenges with the buses, and then on the USA side of the border as the aid was checked and the seven computers seized.  It's now early evening in Reynosa, but Caravanistas are prepared to continue their protest as long as is necessary.

Caravan supporters are invited to contact their Mexican Embassies to demand that the caravan and the humanitarian aid be allowed to pass through Mexico without further delay.
 
 UPDATE I
 
Caravanista Gerry Bill called at 5:24, 7:24 Reynosa time, to say that the Mexican authorities had conceded and will allow the caravan to pass through Mexico without the need to pay the tourist fee.  Gerry and others are now being driven, by Mexican supporters, back to the US/Mexico border where they'll pick up the rest of the Caravanistas, spend the night in Reynosa, and begin the long drive to Tampico tomorrow morning.  In Tampico, the 100+ tons of aid will be loaded onto shipping containers and the caravanistas will fly directly to Havana to spend a week in Cuba learning about their revolution.

In the USA:

Mexico Embassy , United States

1911 Pennsylvania Avenue
20006
Washington
District of Columbia
USA
Phone:
+1-202-728-1600
Fax:
+1-202-728-1698
+1-202-883-4320
Email:
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Website URL:
www.embassyofmexico.org
http://www.sre.gob.mx/eua


In Canada:

Mexican Embassy / Consulate in British Columbia
Vancouver
710-1177 West Hastings St., Vancouver, B.C. V6E 2K3
Tel: (604) 684-1859 * Fax: (604) 684-2485

Mexican Embassy / Consulate in Ottawa, Ontario
Ottawa (Embassy of Mexico)
45 O'Connor Suite 1500, Ottawa, Ont. K1P 1A4
Tel: (613) 233 8988 * Fax: (613) 235 9123
Classification: Embassy / Consulate of Mexico.
 
Mexican Embassy / Consulate in Toronto
199 Bay St., Suite 4440, Commerce Court West
Toronto, Ont. M5L 1E9
Tel: (416) 368-1847 * Fax: (416) 368-8141
Classification: Embassy / Consulate of Mexico.
 
Mexican Embassy / Consulate in Quebec
Montreal
2000 Mansfield St. Suite 1015, Montreal, Que. H3A 2Z7
Tel: (514) 288-2502 * Fax: (514) 288-8287



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 20, 2011

US CUSTOMS AND BORDER PATROL SEIZE SEVEN COMPUTERS AS PASTORS FOR PEACE CARAVAN CROSSES US BORDER INTO MEXICO

The 22nd IFCO/Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan arrived at the Pharr International Bridge today at 12:20pm, to cross into Mexico with 100 tons of humanitarian aid for Cuba. US Customs and Border Patrol officers X-rayed the vehicles, searched the vehicles carrying humanitarian aid destined for Cuba, and seized seven computers that were to be donated to Cuban hospitals, schools, and a veterinary clinic. The Customs officers explained that they were ‘detaining,’ not ‘seizing’ the computers, in order to determine whether the caravan needed to have a license to take them to Cuba. Three of the computers seized were the same ones that were taken from last year’s caravan in 2010, and were later returned to IFCO/Pastors for Peace.

While the brightly painted trucks and school buses were being searched, caravanistas chanted “Cuba is no threat to you; let our computers through!” and “Love is our license! Free the computers!” and held banners and signs reading “Cuba is not our enemy” and other slogans. When the Customs officers had finished seizing humanitarian aid, the caravanistas gathered around the pickup truck where the seized computers had been placed, and prayed and chanted together.

Although the caravan is in protest of the seven seized computers, the caravan is continuing through the border to deliver to Cuba the 100 tons of aid that have crossed successfully through the border.

The over 100 North Americans and Europeans participating in this caravan just entering Mexican Customs, where the 12 caravan buses and vehicles are being inspected. The caravan is now in the process of negotiations with Mexican Immigration.

More updates will be sent soon. For updates check www.pastorsforpeace.org and www.facebook.com/pastorsforpeace

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