Tuesday, August 4, 2009

To the Editor ....

An AP article "Travellers Challenging Cuba Ban Return to U.S.," published in the NY Times on August 3rd, offers many insightful truths. It is illegal for U.S. citizens to visit Cuba; both the Venceremos Brigade and the IFCO Pastors for Peace have been challenging that ban for many years; and we were all able to return to the U.S. on August 3rd. The crossing was "without incident" for U.S. travellers, however three international travellers, who had broken no laws, were taken aside at the Reynosa border and threatened with deportation plus a lifetime travel ban to the United States.

International travellers routinely travel on the annual Pastors for Peace friendshipment caravan to show solidarity with their struggle to expose the injustices of this particular U.S. foreign policy. This is my second year working in that capacity. Last year's return crossing was without incident. This year I was isolated, threatened, and groped by a female border guard who insisted it was necessary - for safety and security.

I assured the border guard that I did not feel safe and secure, in a small room alone with her, all my possessions elsewhere, her hands touching my breasts and between my legs. She was concerned I might be carrying a weapon. I assured her we that we Canadians are not usually prone to violence, particularly those of us working for peace and justice. She didn't care. I learned later that my other Canadian friend, also a woman, and a male German Caravanista were treated similarly. We three comprised half of the international travellers returning to the U.S. after visiting Cuba.

Eventually we three were able to consult with Pastors for Peace representatives, and we signed the document that we had formerly been advised not to sign. It was this refusal that led to our interrogation and harrassment. While U.S. citizens respond "on advice of my attorney, I refuse to answer those questions," our response holds no merit since we are not entitled to the liberties offered by the fifth amendment.

My experiences crossing the U.S./ Mexican border on August 3rd were not "without incident." I would have preferred to have been barred from your nation for life rather than have a stranger's hands between my legs. My country does not deny me travel to Cuba, or anywhere else. Canadians comprise 50 per cent of the travellers who visit the beaches of Cuba each year, our dollar is valued more highly than the greenback, and as far as I know we are not subject to harrassment and intimidation from our government simply for chosing freely to travel to a small island nation determined to walk a different path.

Si se Puede. Yes we Can.

Janine Bandcroft


click here for the original ny times article

click here for an audio description of this incident (about half way through)