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Ministers Given OK to Deliver Supplies to Cuba

August 21, 1993|LIANNE HART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAREDO, Tex. — A small band of ministers on a 23-day hunger strike protesting the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba won permission Friday from federal officials to ship their busload of supplies to the Communist island via Mexico.

The agreement followed two days of negotiations in Washington, D.C., between leaders of the Minneapolis-based Pastors for Peace and officials of the Treasury and State departments.

The standoff ended after the government declared the bus to be humanitarian aid instead of an illegal export.

"We have determined that it was humanitarian aid," said Michelle Smith, a Treasury spokeswoman. "We went around the provision that they had to apply for a permit to take the bus to Cuba."

Fourteen members of the clergy group, an offshoot of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization, holed up in their school bus at this border crossing and began a hunger strike after the bus was seized by Customs officials on July 29. The bus was part of a 90-vehicle caravan carrying 100 tons of powdered milk, medicine and Bibles bound for Cuba.

Under the terms of the 1963 trade embargo, food and certain medical supplies can be shipped to Cuba for humanitarian reasons; buses cannot. Pastors for Peace organized the convoy believing the island nation's needs have grown more critical with the fall of the Soviet Union and the aid it provided.

During the hunger strike Customs officials provided a doctor, water and military Meals-Ready-to-Eat. But the protesters survived on a mixture of maple syrup, water and lemon juice passed to them over a chain link fence by supporters, who rented office space, faxes and phones in Laredo to generate publicity for the hunger strike.

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