American Religious Group Lands In Cuba

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

( - An American religious group took advantage of the Fourth of July holiday by journeying to Cuba and landing on the island with an estimated 80 tons of "humanitarian" aid.

Radio Havana reported Wednesday that Pastors for Peace leader, Rev. Lucius Walker told the Cuban Prensa-Latina news agency that the Treasury Department confiscated two cardio-vascular machines and anesthetics.

The communist radio station said that the "Pastors for Peace" crossed the U.S. border into Mexico from Texas without any problems on Tuesday, but U.S. authorities confiscated several items from the "Canadian caravan" members attempting to cross the U.S.-Canada border at Maine.

The U.S. Customs Department said Thursday those Canadians were members of a group called "Let Cuba Live" and they didn't have a license to carry such goods whereas Pastors for Peace did have a license.

"There were about 40 boxes confiscated. The reason was because the (Canadian) group needed a license before they could export anything to Cuba," U.S. Customs spokesman Dean Boyd said in Washington.

"They acknowledged that when they arrived at the border. They told (U.S.) Customs officials, 'yes, we know we need a license' but we are not going to apply for one and if you offer us a license, we are going to rip it up," Boyd said.

He added, "They wanted to make a point, and that's fine. But those goods were seized, and they certainly have the right to petition to have those goods returned. But basically they knew they needed a license, and they didn't want to apply for one or receive one if we gave them one. By law, we were forced to detain those goods.

"That organization 'Let Cuba Live' fully knew that they needed a license," said Boyd.

Walker contends that the equipment and medicine save lives. He also called the Treasury Department condition "cruel and cowardly."

Radio Havana reported that the "Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan to Cuba" has radiology equipment, mobile shops for bicycle repairs and solar panels for remote rural communities among the items of "humanitarian aid."

The group plans to return to America with Cuban products to demonstrate its opposition to U.S. restrictions on Cuban imports. According to Radio Havana, it crossed the U.S. border into Mexico from Texas without any problems.

This is the 12th visit to Cuba by Walker, who founded Pastors for Peace in 1988 to deliver American donations to the Cubans.

Meanwhile, the State Department Wednesday denied permission for American artist Stan Herd to travel to Cuba to complete his work on a sculpture of the Jose Marti, a Cuban poet and statesman and hero of the Castro government.

A State Department official said Herd's visit would be violating the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba and would benefit the Castro government.

Insiders say the decision marks a change from Clinton administration policy of allowing cultural exchanges between the two countries and reflects President Bush's harder line toward the Castro government.