Cuba: US computers reach Havana

Computers confiscated by US customs agents in Texas at the beginning of July finally arrived in Cuba on Aug. 1 in a cargo of 100 tons of humanitarian aid raised by the New York-based group Pastors for Peace in its 19th US-Cuba Friendshipment Caravan. After collecting the aid in 137 US and Canadian cities during June, the caravan drove into Mexico at the border crossing at McAllen, Texas. US agents let the other material through, including five buses, but confiscated 32 computers. The caravan members took the rest of the aid to Tampico in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas to send it to Cuba by ship; the members themselves then flew to Havana on July 5.

“When we came back from our visit to Cuba, the people from Customs gave us back the computers…saying they had determined that we could ask for a permit,” Pastors for Peace associate director Ellen Bernstein told a press conference in Havana on Aug. 1. “But we didn’t ask for anything; we carried the computers by hand and crossed the international bridge to Mexico to leave them on the other side to make sure that they got from Customs to Cuba.” The group, which has shipped aid to Cuba since 1992, protests the US trade embargo against Cuba by refusing to apply for permits.

At the press conference Bernstein announced that eight US students would graduate on Aug. 2 from Havana’s Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM). Currently 103 students from disadvantaged US communities are studying there on full scholarship; eventually Cuba hopes to have 500 US students in the program. (Granma Internacional, Cuba, Aug. 1; Soitu.Es, Spain, Aug. 1 from EFE)

On July 31 Pastors for Peace founder Rev. Lucius Walker was in court in New York City facing contempt charges for refusing to answer questions from the Special Commission of Investigation (SCI) for the city’s Department of Education about a delegation from Beacon High School that traveled to Cuba in 2007. Judge Judith Gische refused to rule because of errors in the SCI’s motion, but she said the SCI could correct the errors and resubmit the motion. Charging that “precious Department of Education funds are being used to harass rather than to serve the urgent educational needs of our schools,” Pastors for Peace is asking for supporters to urge Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard J. Condon (80 Maiden Lane, 20th floor, New York, NY 10038-4811) to withdraw the SCI’s subpoena of Walker. (Court update from Pastors for Peace, Aug. 1; Pan-African News Wire, Jan. 23 from AP, New York Daily News)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 3

See our last post on Cuba.