Some 70 placard-carrying people protested on both sides of the truck crossing as a 22nd annual Pastors for Peace Caravan heading from Vancouver to Cuba ran into a seven-hour glitch at the U.S. border last weekend.
A van containing tools and medical, educational and sports supplies – part of the ecumenical agency’s annual challenge of the more than 50-year U.S. blockade of Cuba – was held up by border guards from just after noon until 7:30 p.m. Sunday, according to Janine Solanki, one of seven volunteers accompanying the supplies on a route that passes through the U.S. and Mexico before sailing from Tampico to Cuba.
The impasse was only cleared by a legal representative for the organization, she said Monday, in a phone interview from Washington State where the caravan is continuing on its journey.
For Solanki, a Vancouver resident who grew up in Cloverdale, this is her second trip with one of the Pastors for Peace Caravans – but she said it was the first time in some 17 years the project has been held up crossing from Canada into the U.S.
“This is humanitarian aid, but they were saying the supplies were commercial goods, and that we had to buy an $800 bond (to ensure the goods didn’t stay in the U.S.).”
“We protested it because not only is it not legal, but when it happened before, the second year the caravan came down from Canada, they didn’t return the bond.”
Solanki said the crowd of protesters was easy to raise, as supporters had gathered on both sides of the border at Peace Arch Park July 3 before the crossing was attempted.
“Usually, they just pass us through,” she said, adding the van originally attempted to cross the border at Peace Arch Park but was directed by U.S. authorities to the truck crossing.
The caravan from Vancouver is one of 13 Pastors for Peace routes to Cuba being travelled this year, Solanki said, with events planned in some 130 U.S. cities to raise the profile for Pastors for Peace projects, such as encouraging students to attend an international medical school in Cuba.
Usually, more trouble is expected when crossing into Mexico.
“They’ve confiscated computers, even a yellow school bus that was being donated to Cuba.”
Volunteer Alicia Jrapko, a U.S. citizen who lives in Oakland, Calif., was one of two people in the van when it was held up at the border.
“The humanitarian supplies are a gesture to the Cuban people – they wouldn’t solve any problems in Cuba, but they are a challenge to the blockade,” she said.
She said she and a companion were asked to leave the van while it was X-rayed, and a U.S. representative insisted a bond would have to be purchased for the goods.
“Eventually, our lawyer called the man’s supervisor and pointed out a bond is not required for humanitarian aid,” she said. “I think it helped that we had people with placards on both sides of the border. They don’t seem to like that.”