Veterans Protest At State Department; Request For Meeting Refused
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A group of veterans trying to take food and medicine to Nicaragua protested Friday at the State Department, but officials refused to meet with them over an order barring their battered convoy of trucks and buses from leaving the country.
Police blocked the circular drive in front of the State Department after several trucks and vans plastered with slogans and bumper stickers such as ″Children need rainbows, not Rambos,″ rolled past the diplomatic entrance.
More than a dozen officers were called to keep the chanting members of the Veterans Peace Convoy away from the doors of the building.
″When veterans decide to wage peace, they can’t handle it. If we were carrying bombs or weapons for the Contras, the would have let us right on in,″ said Hal Muskat of San Francisco.
″If we were working for (former presidential aide) Ollie North, we would have walked right across. But if we’re bringing food and medicine to children and trucks to transport it across that country, they don’t want to hear from us.″
State Department officials told one member of the group who was allowed inside, Stephen Somerstein of New York, that the convoy should take its case instead to the Justice Department.
″There’s no justice there,″ shouted one member of the group of veterans, most of them from the Vietnam War. ″They should change it to the criminal department.″
State Department spokeswoman Ellen Bork said officials refused to talk to the group because the matter is in litigation.
The veterans filed a federal lawsuit in Laredo, Texas, contesting a U.S. Customs order barring them from leaving the country at Laredo unless they posted bond and signed an agreement to return the aging fleet of 38 school buses and pickup trucks to the United States.
Customs seized four of the convoy’s vehicles in Laredo and another four had mechanical problems and didn’t make the long trip from the border to Washington. The convoy arrived Thursday and its remaining 30 vehicles circled the White House in protest for a couple of hours while the veterans rallied across the street.
The administration contends that to let the vehicles remain in Nicaragua would violate a trade embargo.
Convoy spokesmen said they wanted to meet with Elliot Abrams, assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, because they believe he played a major role in keeping the convoy from leaving the United States.
Members of the convoy said they would try to meet with other administration officials in Washington next week.
The convoy began in four cities - Seattle, Missoula, Mont.; Minneapolis and Caribou, Maine, and the four groups traveled through 100 cities in 42 states before joining up in Austin, arriving in Laredo on June 7.
The 30 tons of aid carried by the group includes oats and dry milk, medicine and medical supplies such as crutches and wheelchairs, and clothing.
An additional 140 tons of humanitarian aid collected by the group was shipped to Nicaragua, members of the convoy said.