BY TONY LANE
MINNEAPOLIS - U.S. Customs arrested 11 people and seized 325 computers when members of a caravan organized by Pastors for Peace attempted to cross the U.S. border into Tijuana, Mexico, on January 31. Seventy drivers and more than 100 supporters participated in the border crossing attempt. The computers were to be donated to an on-line medical information system in Cuba, in a challenge to Washington's embargo of that nation. Among those originally detained was the executive director of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization-Pastors for Peace, Rev. Lucius Walker, who was later released along with three others.
The 30-vehicle caravan was prevented from crossing the border by what Associated Press reports was "a phalanx of San Diego police and U.S. Customs agents." Caravan participants then sought to carry the computers across the border but were tackled by police and had computers wrenched from their arms. Pastors for Peace reports that Customs agents then opened the backs of several trucks and began confiscating computers. Caravan drivers who had formed a ring around the vehicles were dragged away. Several people were injured, including one man who was hospitalized.
According to caravan organizers, along with U.S. Customs, several other federal and state agencies together with local police collaborated in the operation to forestall the project's efforts. Fifty riot cops, 15 squad cars, and 19 tow trucks were gathered at the border.
Caravan leader Walker said, "This is simple humanitarian aid - medicine, medical equipment, and such." He stated, "It is inconceivable that our government would want to deny modern medical care to Cuban children and senior citizens." Meanwhile U.S. Attorney Alan Bersin applauded the police and Customs agents for their "restraint but firmness in upholding the law."
In response to the arrests and the seizure of the aid, Pastors for Peace is urging those opposed to the government's actions to call elected officials, including President Bill Clinton, Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, and Attorney General Janet Reno. Pastors for Peace is organizing two emergency caravans to cross on February 17. One crossing will take place in San Diego, the other from Vermont into Canada. Both volunteers and material - medical aid including computers - are being sought for this effort.
Since 1992 Pastors for Peace has organized five aid caravans to Cuba, which have crossed the U.S. border both into Mexico and into Canada.
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