Monday, July 28, 2008


This is the final posting in a series of stories from the 1998 Pastors for Peace Caravan to Cuba.
The punishment for breaking the embargo on Cuba is one good indicator of just how skewed the U.S. foreign policy on Cuba is. As I recall it (and it was very clear to me at the time) the maximum sentence for a conviction of this felony offence was: 1) a quarter of a million dollar fine, and 2) ten years in the federal penitentary.

I'm the nerdy kind of person who always gets caught. When I'd complain to a grade school girlfriend about our teacher, inevitably I'd turn around to find that teacher right behind me, listening to every word. So I pretty much figured that I'd get caught for breaking the embargo. I gambled on the fact that the feds have not prosecuted any caravanistas so far. (Still true as of 2008!)

The Department of the Treasury actually has to enforce this U.S. policy, and--surprisingly--the real deal-breaker is not so much entering Cuba as it is spending money in Cuba.

Pastors for Peace trained us on how to re-enter the country before we ever left it. We learned our rights and what we should not say to the Border Patrol. Lawyers in New York would be on call to assist us. As the caravanistas gathered in Texas after canvassing the nation, the Treasury Dept. offered the delegation a deal: they'd allow 20 of us to legally enter Cuba and deliver our aid if the rest of us would go home. "Submit a list of the 20 names," they said. Someone drew up a name list, including: Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., 18 other famous civil disobedients. But I doubt anyone ever actually sent in that list. Unanimously, we decided to continue undeterred.

As we left the country, a poker-faced man in a dark suit handed each vehicle a letter formally reminding us of the penalty for a conviction. This was sobering to a nerd like me.
On the return crossing, most of the group got through the border undetected. But the vehicle I was in did not. We had a Canadian on board who decided to bring home some Cuban rum--that's legal in Canada but not in the U.S.

"Were you in Cuba?" the agent asked us, his face registering incredulity. (gulp)

"Yes," we each responded--as previously instructed.

Thus ensued our detention. I took two photos of the holding tank before being reprimanded for taking pictures, so here's a (very rare!) look at where they put the drug runners, the human traffickers, incoming terrorists, the so-called "illegal aliens" and Pastors for Peace caravanistas:

Photo Caption: Apprehended caravanistas do not appear to be suitably repentant.

At this point in our day we were on hour 20. We were as blitzed as we looked (note the 2 caravanistas along back wall staring straight ahead with unseeing eyes):

A royal conflict swirled around us. This story is too long to tell here. We were released six hours later, but they took our passport numbers. They knew who I was; I was busted.
Now I hope the statute of limitations lifts the burden of a felony conviction from me. But still today, when I enter the country, I've noticed the eyes of the Border Patrol agent stay on the monitor just a microsecond too long before he clears me for entry.

Now when the undocumented workers are apprehended, detained...sometimes even convicted of trumped-up charges, penalized and then deported, I think, "It could have been me, but instead it was you."

And now you know why the Holly Near song is posted near the top of my blog these days. Thank you for your graciousness in reading my Cuban adventures all the way through.


eProf2 said...

Morning BE. I enjoyed your multipart posts on your travels to Cuba. Isn't it tragic that an American can go to China easier than they can go to Cuba, just 90 miles away? We certainly have more in common with the Cubans than we do with the Chinese of say 1972 when Nixon, the great anti-Communist, made nice with them. We need a president who will make nice with either Fidel or the next generation of Cuban leaders. Be careful, very careful the next time you cross the border into the US. Also, be afraid, very afraid because your government wants you to be afraid, all the time!

DivaJood said...

I applaud you. I really do. It was wonderful to take this journey with you in your posts.

Border Explorer said...

That's great, eProf: I'll be afraid!! Just what they want!

Actually, I regret that I am such a fraidy-cat. I wish I had the guts to be more "out there" in my resistance. But both Mr. B.E. & I don't really feel like spending time in prison is a productive use of our lives. And I'd rather donate money than pay fines. So I play it safe most of the time.

(sigh) You're on target once again with your observations--you and I both wonder why the USA can't be a better neighbor.

Border Explorer said...

Thanks, Diva, for your interest and support all the way through Cuba. We both have that travel bug. I still think about the great slideshow movie of Asian travel you produced.

[Your foreign travel will help with your presidential run, I imagine. Looks good on the resume, you know. But then again we have GWB who got elected without ever having left the country(??) or something like that.]

D.K. Raed said...

I am just catching up reading your Cuba posts, B.E. You know you are a hero? really, no really! It was a courageous thing to do. I think your self description as a "bit of a fraidy cat" should be revised to "midwestern lioness".

dada said...

Only half of the year, D.K. The other half border explorer and her husband belong to El Paso and the great American Southwest! (grin)

Thanks so much for this series B.E. Doesn't the way U.S. authorities prosecute you violators of their policies on Cuba say something of the travesty it really all is?

Border Explorer said...

Thanks, D.K.. Not wanting to contradict you about the hero thing...ha ha...actually I'm (seriously) just "middle of the road" compared to the people I met on the caravan and the REAL HEROs: the people who run the caravan...or the UNSUNG HEROS: the Cuban people who have valiantly built a humane nation with excellent free health care & education for all despite the mean-spirited U.S. embargo.

Border Explorer said...

Dada, thanks for reading & commenting. You (unknowingly) inspired the series with your genuine interest in Cuba. It really helped me to think through and compose the stories, discovering in the process a connectedness I feel to the undocumented immigrants in the USA. And yes, the punishment for spending money in Cuba indeed speaks for itself of the vindictive nature of the embargo.

Randal Graves said...

Despite the fact that you are obviously a thug and a criminal ready to destroy the carefully constructed world order, at least you didn't do anything as unsightly as sensory deprivation, physical torture or lie a nation into war. Those things could really get one into trouble.

dada said...

hate to contradict randall here, but I beg to differ. it appears to me those "virtuous" traits he described, i.e., "anything as unsightly as sensory deprivation, physical torture or lie a nation into war" are precisely the things, if not condoned by Americans, are certainly accepted and NOT to be challenged, lest we revert to 'a nation of laws.'

it's the bringing to justice those who commit such acts that is unthinkable except for traitorous radicals like Dennis Kucinich who apparently still feel some obligation to defend the archaic Constitution...."blah, blah, blah..."

(OK, Randall, it appears I have succumbed to the same sarcasm from which you suffer. My apologies.)

Border Explorer said...

Looks to me like ironic tone has doubled back on itself a couple times here, and if I'm a bit confused...well, blame it on my blond highlights & never ever think it's a "senior moment."

Thanks, guys. We're all on the same team here--Jood's team, to be specific.

Mariamariacuchita said...

I truly respect a person who is willing to put their money and their body where their mouth is.

Border Explorer said...

And for a good post on that topic, check out Maria's post on Cindy Sheehan.