“We won’t pay any fines, and we will demand our rights at Washington hearings, and we’ll kick up a fuss for a change in the policy to Cuba.” That was Ellen Bernstein, spokesperson for the New York- based ecumenical group Pastors for Peace.

Determination to continue the fight for Cuba was evident as members of the 17th Pastors for Peace Cuba-Friendshipment Caravan and 37th Venceremos Brigade returned to the U.S. from Cuba on July 17. The 50 Venceremos Brigade travelers crossed the border at Buffalo, N.Y. The Friendshipment group returned via the border station at Hidalgo, Texas.

Confrontation at the two borders was no surprise. The returning travelers did not have the Treasury Department licenses required for legal travel to Cuba. (Legal categories of travel to Cuba recently have all but disappeared.) And Treasury Department bureaucrats have sent requests for information to 200 travelers from the previous two years, presumably a first step in the process leading to fines.

The activists defy the U.S. government on purpose. U.S. citizens, they say, have the right to go to Cuba to learn, work alongside Cubans and express solidarity with the Cuban people. And Pastors for Peace contends that it doesn’t have to ask for permission to help a neighbor with its humanitarian aid. This year they took 100 tons of donated material.

All agree that compliance with any part of an illegal, unfair and cruel blockade represents complicity.

At the Texas border 75 security and border officials spent five hours quizzing the Friendshipment returnees, unsuccessfully trying to fingerprint and isolate them. They particularly harassed Canadian citizens and Europeans traveling with the group, threatening to deny them re-entry into the U.S. The Rev. Thomas Smith of Pittsburgh, Pastors for Peace president, said, “We are not criminals. We are responding to an unjust law with a ministry of love and compassion.”

Members of the Veneceremos Brigade received similar treatment, with individuals randomly being targeted for extra harassment. The returned travelers refused to provide officials with details as to their travel arrangements and experiences in Cuba. They were told to expect communications from Treasury officials in charge of enforcing restrictions. Observers noted that members of both groups manifested discipline and dignity as they resisted interrogators’ efforts to extract information.

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