By LYNN BREZOSKY | The Associated Press
HIDALGO, Texas School buses and other vehicles loaded with medical and office equipment crossed the border into Mexico on Wednesday on a relief trip to Cuba that violates the U.S. embargo.
It was the 14th straight year that Pastors for Peace, an American humanitarian aid group, has sought to bring supplies to the impoverished Communist nation despite the embargo.
“It’s a policy that has no redeeming value,” said the Rev. Lucias Walker, a New Jersey pastor who founded Pastors for Peace. “What we’re doing is an act of civil obedience to a higher power that says you should love your neighbor.”
Border officials did not try and stop the nine buses, a truck and several minivans loaded with donations. The equipment was gathered by churches and other groups from 127 U.S. cities.
In fact, customs agents and Hidalgo police blocked border traffic to allow the caravan to cross.
However, they did hand out fliers warning that only three of the group were authorized to travel on to Cuba and the rest were subject to prosecution leading to jail time or fines if they tried to travel to the island.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Rick Pauza said the group was given a license to pass through customs into Mexico because of the type of equipment they were bringing.
Molly Millerwise, spokeswoman for the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which regulates U.S. travel in Cuba, declined to comment on whether the office would prosecute the group or its members.
She defended the administration’s support of a trade embargo, however.
“The continuing crackdown measures are meant to help hasten the day to a free Cuba,” Millerwise said.
The U.S. embargo with Cuba is now in its fourth decade. Last week, President Bush imposed more stringent restrictions on U.S. travel to visit family there, arguing that U.S. dollars only bolster the Communist government led by Fidel Castro.
The group’s inaugural “Friendship Caravan” in 1992 drew attention when news cameras filmed federal border officials trying to wrest a load of Bibles from a Catholic priest.
In recent years, however, the caravans have passed through the border without much incident.