The 17th Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan to Cuba crossed back into the United States via Hidalgo, Texas, on the morning of July 17, after delivering 60 tons of humanitarian aid to Cuba and participating in an eight-day educational visit to the island.

IFCO/Pastors for Peace reported that its executive director, the Rev. Lucius Walker Jr., told reporters in Texas, “The motto of our 17th caravan has been ‘Cuba is our neighbor: end the blockade now.’”

“We are called by our faith to resist any law which would keep us from fulfilling our biblical mandate to love our neighbor,” Walker said.

When the group arrived at the Hidalgo border at 7:15 a.m., they were met by many familiar faces — some of the same Homeland Security agents who had interrogated and searched them in 2005 and in previous years.

Caravan members said that apparently they had not been expected so early at the border, since agents were still making multiple copies of blank interrogation questionnaires when the caravanistas entered the immigration facility.

Caravan members were interrogated and searched by more than 75 Homeland Security and Treasury officials. The caravanistas resisted efforts to fingerprint them and isolate them for questioning.

“We are not criminals,” said the Rev. Thomas Smith, president of IFCO/Pastors for Peace. “We are responding to an unjust law with a ministry of love and compassion.”

The process took five hours, including attempts at interrogation and hand searches of personal luggage.

IFCO/Pastors for Peace said international members of the caravan from Canada and Europe received the highest level of harassment. They were isolated and interrogated in a back room, and were threatened with denial of re-entry into the U.S. if they failed to fully cooperate.

A high-level official of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which oversees enforcement of Cuba sanctions, observed the process. A plainclothes agent, who repeatedly refused to identify herself or the U.S. agency for which she works, spent 20 minutes rifling through papers in the Rev. Walker’s briefcase.

“Today’s ‘welcome home’ ceremony by our government is yet another desperate attempt by a failing empire to try to defend an indefensible policy,” said Walker. “It is shameful that they continue to cater to extremist interests in South Florida, in order just to win a few votes.”

— Radio Havana Cuba