Rally in Portland, Maine, July 21

Protest Seizure of Medical Supplies Bound for Cuba

The following was received July 11 from Barbara West, for Let Cuba Live, the leading Cuba Solidarity group in Maine.

As many are aware, on July 2, U.S. Customs seized a shipment of medical equipment and supplies being transported from Maine into Canada by Let Cuba Live, Maine’s solidarity organization, which has been active since 1992. We coordinated our shipment with Pastors for Peace, whose shipment was waved across the border from Texas into Mexico only hours before, and with three Canadian solidarity groups we work with regularly.

To our great surprise, a Customs supervisor imported for the occasion announced that the cargo, which was carried on four pickup trucks and a rented trailer, was to be seized. Although we hadn’t expected it, we all ran to the trucks and began carrying cartons across the border. With the help of our Canadian friends, we were able to move about a third of it across before the Customs, immigration, and border patrol staff on hand secured the rest. Unfortunately, they are holding the most valuable part of our shipment: two anesthesia machines, a complete newborn intensive care center, an infant warming and monitoring center, an angiographic machine, an EKG machine, and other items too large for us to move quickly.

We maintained our vigil with protest signs at the border the next day. It took 24 hours for officials in the Office of Foreign Assets Control in Washington, D.C., to decide that they would also “seize” not merely “detain” two of our pickup trucks and the rented trailer. Not until July 9 did we receive the official notification of seizure, nor do we yet have a date when we can retrieve even our personal vehicles.

Naturally, in spite of the hardship involved we see this seizure as an excellent opportunity for all of us, not just here in Maine, to publicize and challenge the vicious laws and regulations that interfere with sending humanitarian aid to Cuba. As often happens in smaller media markets, the major Maine newspapers and all four TV network affiliates have given this story lots of play, consistently describing this criminal blockade of Cuba and why we oppose it. In the past week, two of our four Congressional delegates have signed on to the current legislation in Congress that would roll back important parts of the blockade. A third one had already signed on, but these two never have in the past. (I mention our representatives not because we think they are so bold, but as an indication of the public pressure over this issue at the moment.)

We have certainly demonstrated to our local authorities our determination to oppose these unjust laws. But we need to show that the constituency for Cuba is not just a small group in rural Maine!

PLEASE JOIN US ON SATURDAY, JULY 21. Instead of inviting you to the border, which is hours from any population center, we will gather in downtown Portland, two hours north of Boston, for a rally at noon and a brief march to the US Customs House. We hope you will see this seizure as a challenge to our entire solidarity movement, and join us for a spirited response. Bring banners, signs, songs, and chants!

It will help our planning if you can let us know roughly how many from your organization may be able to attend. If you are traveling from a distance, we’ll do our best to house and host you.

In solidarity,

Barbara West, for Let Cuba Live

Photos of the border crossing, as well as information on how to protest OFAC’s decision, can be found on our website.