[Marxism] Caravanista Notes from Tampico, Mexico

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Fri Jul 9 12:23:02 MDT 2004


Good morning, dear readers - 

These notes are being prepared from an internet cafe in Tampico, Mexico while
participants in the Friendshipment Caravan wait for the flight to Cuba later today.

My last report to you was written on Wednesday evening from McAllen, Texas,
where our Friendshipment Caravan had its training sessions prior to the border
crossing. We have succeeded now in crossing the US-Mexican frontier with little
difficulty. In Washington, important steps also were taken as well in response to
the moral stance of the Caravan. From what I have seen most of the coverage
of  the Caravan has been pretty positive. To make things a bit easier, several
items are being cobbled together in this report.

Let me describe the last couple of days for you.

On Thursday morning the group had breakfast, cleaned up after itself, and got
ready to drive to the border. Before leaving the retreat center where our last
days had been spent, a brief time was spent in reflection, followed by remarks
by Rev. Lucius Walker. These were followed by a series of different musical and
poetic expressions which helped put us all in a positive-spiritual groove for the
events to come. 

Our caravan, fully nineteen vehicles long, then drove slowly from McAllen to
Hidaldo, Texas, escorted by the Hidaldo Police Department. It seemed as if the
escort was designed to keep our caravan together. It also got us all to the same
side-road where our encounter with the Border Patrol and Homeland Security 
was to take place. All of Caravan's vehicles were lined up and the occupants 
got out. What looked like two dozen armed officers from the Border Patrol met
the group. None tried to enter the vehicles, and none asked us for identification.
Officials from the Office of Foreign Assets Control had flown out from Washington,
D.C., for the occasion.

A giant white machine then passed over the nineteen vehicles. We were told it 
was some kind of super-duper x-ray machine.  Of course nothing was found and
that was the end of that. Some of the cops passed out leaflets from OFAC which
contained a warning notice to the Caravan. I sent out that warning previously, 
but you can and should read it again.  Notice that the nineteen-vehicle caravan
was "granted" authorization to bring humanitarian aid to Cuba, an authorization
which the Caravan did not request, and under somewhat peculiar circumstances.
Note, too, that the the US government authorized three people to engage in
what it refers to as "travel-related" expenses for this nineteen-vehicle
caravan.

Here are the opening lines...

CUBA TRAVEL WARNING
US/Cuba Friendshipment Caravan XV July 2004

Consistent with United States foreign policy goals of
permitting shipments of humanitarian goods to Cuba, the
Office of Foreign Assets Control ("OFAC") has authorized
the exportation of specific goods from the United States to
Cuba as part of this Pastors for Peace caravan. This
authorization also permits up to three persons to engage in
travel-related transactions with Cuba so they may accompany
the shipment to oversee its safe delivery to the intended
recipient, on condition that Pastors for Peace provide the
names and addresses of the authorized travelers to OFAC's
representatives in Hidalgo in advance of their departure
from the United States.

WARNING

All other caravan participants traveling to Cuba may be in
violation of Cuban Assets Control Regulations and subject
to criminal prosecution and/or OFAC civil penalties. Only
travelers licensed by OFAC may engage in Cuba
travel-related transactions. Cuban travel-related
transactions include payments for visas and entry and exit
fees as well as day-to-day expenditures for lodging, local
transportation, airfare aboard Cuban carriers, meals, etc.
The prohibition on spending funds in Cuba includes
prepaying an individual or organization for Cuba travel
costs as well as any type of reimbursement for such costs
after the trip.

OFAC WARNING NOTICE TO FRIENDSHIPMENT CARAVAN:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CubaNews/message/27729 

Pastors for Peace then conducted an additional news conference
which was attended by some local and national media. This has
received some national media coverage as well, though the full
extent of this is hard to from here. 
=========================================

REUTERS REPORT ON BORDER CROSSING:
Pastors Leave Texas for Embargo-Busting Cuba Trip
Wed Jul 7, 2004 09:08 PM ET 

HOUSTON (Reuters) - A caravan of vehicles carrying 100 tons of goods crossed into
Mexico from Texas on Wednesday bound for Cuba in a show of civil disobedience toward
the U.S. embargo of the communist-run island.
It is the 15th year the Pastors for Peace humanitarian organization has delivered
food, medicine and equipment to Cuba, but this year's trip comes as the Bush administration
has toughened travel restrictions to put pressure on Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Pastors for Peace is an arm of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization,
"whose mission is to help forward the struggles of oppressed people for justice
and self-determination," according to a statement on its web site.

"We feel this is a very crucial time to go because of the issues and hostilities
being created between our country and other people of the world," director 
Lucius Walker said in a telephone interview from the Mexican border city of Reynosa.

"We're doing civil disobedience and we're prepared to suffer the consequences."

The caravan of 15 vehicles with 120 people on board received an escort to the border
by helpful U.S. agents and local police at Hidalgo, Texas, Walker said.

He said the group had expected problems because of the new Bush policies imposed
last week, but there were none.

"There was a lot of planned attention to us, but there was no effort to stop
us, no effort to harass us," Walker said.

The group was set to arrive in Havana on Friday, then return to the U.S. 10 days
later.

Government officials would not say whether the "caravanistas," as they
call themselves, would be prosecuted upon return, but Walker said they had been 
told to expect something would be done.

"They wouldn't stop us (today), but they'll get us when we come back,"
he said.
================================

AP REPORT ON BORDER CROSSING
July 7, 2004, 4:46PM

Church groups lead annual protest mission to Cuba
Associated Press

HIDALGO -- In marked contrast to earlier years, U.S. Customs officials today cleared
the way for minivans and school buses laden with goods to enter Mexico in an annual
violation of the Cuba embargo. 

"It's almost ritualized," said Walter Lippmann, one of about 100 volunteers
with the American humanitarian aid group Pastors for Peace. 

The members from across the nation and several foreign countries joined the group's
14th delivery of medical, sports and office equipment to Cuba. The cargo was collected
by church and other groups in 127 U.S. cities. 

During the early 1990s, Customs officials tried to seize the buses or some of its
cargo, prompting hunger strikes that drew international protest. 

During the "Friendship Caravan" in 1992, news cameras filmed federal border
officials trying to wrest a load of Bibles from a Catholic priest. 

A year later, 13 members of the group staged a 23-day hunger fast on one of the 
buses to protest border officials' attempt to seize their vehicle. There was a 32-day
fast in 1996, after the government seized computers they were delivering. 

The group has passed into and out of Mexico without incident in recent years, however.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Rick Pauza said Monday that the group
had been given license as a peace organization to pass through Customs. 

Wednesday, a drive-through scanner was pulled onto a side road to clear the vehicles,
traffic was blocked and a police escort was provided as the caravan, which included
nine school buses emblazoned with pro-Cuba slogans, crossed the Rio Grande. 

"It's a policy that has no redeeming value," said the Rev. Lucias Walker,
a New Jersey pastor who founded Pastors for Peace, of the embargo. "What we're
doing is an act of civil obedience to a higher power that says you should love your
neighbor." 

Only three members of the group were permitted to travel to Cuba. The stipulation
was reprinted on fliers distributed to the volunteers by U.S. customs agents warning
that only three of them were authorized to make the trip, and that the rest would
be subject to criminal prosecution if they go to Cuba. 

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. 

But she said the Bush administration stood by its decision to keep wealth from entering
Cuba and strengthening the Fidel Castro regime. 

The group was to spend the night in the border city of Reynosa and then depart Thursday
for Tampico after clearing Mexican customs. 

>From Tampico, the group planned to load the goods -- including the buses -- on to
boats bound for Cuba. The 120 volunteers planned to fly to Cuba to help church groups
distribute the aid when it arrives. 

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 continuing crackdown measures are meant to help hasten the day to a free
Cuba," Millerwise said. 

Todd Ricker, a 38-year-old labor organizer from Portland, Maine, said his previous
trips to Cuba had convinced him that the embargo was immoral and inhumane. 

"That the U.S. government is somehow increasing Democracy in Cuba and other
places abroad doesn't even pass the straight face test," he said. "They
are hampered by the blockade from being able to purchase different types of equipment,
hardware, and medicines," he said. 

Sven Simonsen, a 53-year-old journalist from Denmark, said he and other foreigners
were participating to show that the blockade was internationally condemned. 

"This is so harmful to the Cuban people and it is illegal and it is in contradiction
with international law," he said. He added that it also was harmful to Denmark
and other countries who want to trade with Cuba but are afraid of the consequences
within the larger U.S. market. 

(The right-wing NewsMax website ran the same story
from the AP as here, but with its own snarky headline:
"Feds Help Church Groups Send Illegal Aid to Cuba" 
=====================================

USA TODAY REPORT ON WAIVER FOR US MEDICAL STUDENTS:
Powell prescribes Cuba travel waiver for U.S. medical students
By DeWayne Wickham

Just as the lingering Cold War freeze that hangs over relations between Cuba and
the United States is reaching a new low, Secretary of State Colin Powell has warmed
things up a bit.

Days before tighter restrictions on travel to Cuba went into effect last week, Powell
quietly agreed to tweak the new rules to allow a small group of U.S. students attending
medical school on the island to continue to do so.

Nearly 80 U.S. students — mostly black and Hispanic — are enrolled in Cuba's
Latin American Medical School. Located on the outskirts of Havana on the campus 
of the country's old naval academy, it has more than 3,000 students from Africa,
Central and South America, plus the U.S. contingent.

The Cuban government, which has offered to provide a free medical-school education
annually for up to 500 students from disadvantaged communities in this country, 
pays the full cost of tuition, housing and meals for the U.S. students. Under the
old travel restrictions, these students were exempted from the Cuba travel ban because
their stay was funded by the Cuban government — not payments from this country.
But under the new rules, this "fully hosted" category expires on Aug. 
1.

The students are attending school in Cuba "because our constituents could not
— and still cannot — afford the high cost of medical education in the United
States," 28 black and Hispanic members of Congress said in a letter to Powell
late last month. They asked him to ensure that the students "be permitted to
continue their studies uninterrupted."

That's exactly what Powell has done. After reading their missive, he scribbled on
the letter: "We ought to find a way to fix this," according to a State
Department spokesman. A special education-travel license is being hurriedly written
to ensure that current and future students can take advantage of this offer, the
spokesman said. "Our goal is to get the regulation change out on the street
by July 15."

For that, Powell deserves some thanks. In the past, I've taken him to task for the
bad acts I thought he committed. Now I owe him a few words of praise for doing the
right thing in this case.

Ideally, Powell should have left the old fully hosted travel category in place. 
But the compromise that he approved fixes an immediate problem.

"He did the right thing," said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., who wrote the
letter to the secretary of State. "This case was very compelling. Students 
should not be penalized by election-year politics."

Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., said: "Clearly the whole Cuban policy is based 
on Miami politics. Powell is taking something of a chance of offending the Miami
crowd, but he is doing what is in the best interest of most Americans."

Under the old rules, Cuban-Americans could return to the island once a year and 
take as much as $3,000 to aid family members. The new rules limit them to one visit
every three years — and just $300 to give to relatives on the island.

The Bush administration's decision to tighten the screws on those who want to travel
to Cuba panders to those politically active conservative Cuban-Americans who helped
him win in Florida in 2000 — and who want to end Fidel Castro's 45-year regime
at any cost.

Powell ultimately will have to shoulder some of the blame for the Bush administration's
Cuba policies.

But for now he deserves to be lauded for not allowing U.S. medical school students
in Cuba to become the collateral damage of those bad ideas.

DeWayne Wickham writes weekly for USA TODAY.

House Votes to Overturn Cuba Parcel Rules
Thu Jul 8, 2004 12:14 AM ET 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday voted in favor
of overturning new Bush Administration rules banning items including clothing, seeds
and soap from being sent in parcels to Cuba.
Last month the U.S. Department of Commerce issued new rules on parcel contents after
an interagency report recommended them as a way to hasten the demise of the Communist
government in Cuba by denying the island of much-needed cash and resources.

Food, medicines, medical supplies and receive-only radios are still allowed but 
other items such as veterinary medicines and fishing equipment were banned.

The House voted 221 to 194 to approve the amendment to a $40 billion bill funding
the Departments of State, Justice and Commerce for 2005.

Supporters argued that Cuban Americans were being punished by the rules, which they
said will do little to bring down Cuban President Fidel Castro.

"Let's allow Cuban Americans to observe the freedom they have to send food,
medicine and hygiene items to their people in Cuba," said Rep. Jeff Flake, 
an Arizona Republican who authored the amendment.

Opponents of the measure said lifting the restrictions would help Castro by bringing
much needed funds into the country. "The best thing we can do right now is 
continue the pressure on Castro until he's gone," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher,
a Republican from California.

Castro told cheering supporters last month the measures were "pitiless and 
inhumane" and politically motivated ahead of November U.S. elections to placate
the powerful Cuban American lobby in Florida, a state President Bush won by just
537 votes in 2000.

======================================

And Washington struggles to keep it cruel blockade up as we
read in this Contra Costa Times report:

Posted on Fri, Jul. 09, 2004 
Chiron fined for exports to Cuba

By Judy Silber

CONTRA COSTA TIMES


The U.S. Treasury Department reported that it has fined biotechnology firm Chiron
Corp. $168,500 for illegally exporting goods to Cuba.

According to Chiron, from 1999 to 2002, the Emeryville-based company shipped five
vaccines for infants and children to Cuba from its plants in Germany and Italy.

The company held a license to export one vaccine through UNICEF, the United Nations
Children's Fund, but didn't have clearance to ship the other four. A routine audit
in 2002 uncovered the oversight, said John Gallagher, Chiron's spokesman. Chiron
voluntarily disclosed the error to the Treasury Department and negotiated a settlement,
he said.

"We recognize that it was a violation, and it was our responsibility to bring
it to the attention of the government," Gallagher said.

The company is now legally shipping all five vaccines, including polio, haemophilus
influenza, flu, rabies and a vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella.

The fine is the second-largest civil penalty issued this year by the Treasury Department's
Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC. The department in April reported that
it had fined Alpha Pharmaceutical Inc. $198,711 for illegally exporting goods from
1998 to 2003.

Federal regulations have tightly controlled the exportation of goods to Cuba since
1963. Under the regulations, sales of U.S. products, technology or services are 
not allowed. Shipments of medicine and medical equipment are legal, but only when
companies or individuals have received appropriate clearance from OFAC.

Two years ago, Chiron might have gotten away with a much lighter penalty, said Dario
Moreno, a professor of political science at Florida International University. But
in recent years, the Treasury Department has clamped down, he said.

"It seems to me that a few years ago, something like this wouldn't have drawn
attention," Moreno said. "They would have gotten a slap on the wrist and
told to fill out the proper paperwork."


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Judy Silber covers biotechnology and the business of health care. 
Reach her at 925-977-8507 or jsilber at cctimes.com.  








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