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Convoy Members Say Next Stop is Washington

June 16, 1988

LAREDO, Texas (AP) _ Members of a convoy organized to bring humanitarian aid to Nicaragua have vowed to take their fight to Washington after U.S. Customs officials at the border blocked their mission.

″What we are going to do is take them (the vehicles) to Washington, D.C., and park them across the street from the White House and hope to use them as a national rallying point for the majority of Americans who oppose the war against Nicaragua,″ said Gerry Condon, a national coordinator for the convoy.

″We’ll probably be there for months,″ he said Wednesday.

His sentiments were echoed by Hal Muskat, a convoy member from San Francisco.

″We’re pretty strong in our desire to take it to Washington,″ Muskat said this morning from the Alma de Mujer campground west of Austin, where most of the group spent the night. He said convoy leaders would meet today to plan the trip to Washington.

Customs agents impounded four vehicles Wednesday after the 38-vehicle Veterans’ Peace Convoy attempted to cross into Mexico without export authorization.

The 106 convoy members had planned to take 30 tons of food, medical supplies and clothing to Nicaragua. But Treasury Department officials served notice that leaving the 38 vehicles there would violate a 3-year-old trade embargo.

James Purser, chief customs inspector in Laredo, said he was under orders from Washington not to allow the group’s trucks, buses and other vehicles out of the country.

Charles Conroy, customs spokesman in Houston, said the detained trucks will either be seized or returned to their owners pending the outcome of an investigation.

Sen. Phil Gramm supported the custom officials’ action, saying that the humanitarian aid could be used against U.S. interests in the region.

″Unfortunately, the situation has made it obvious that while much of the cargo they are carrying may constitute humanitarian assistance, the trucks are destined for the Sandinista government, where they could be pressed into service against those who are fighting for their freedom in Central America,″ the Texas Republican said.

Convoy members and supporters from Mexico formed a human chain to block traffic on the principal export bridge spanning the Rio Grande, but a Mexican federal official quickly broke up the blockade.

Asked why the group did not try to take their humanitarian aid across the border quietly, Condon said: ″This is a very public thing. People around the country have been organizing for months. I don’t think we could have snuck across the border.″

Raul Valdez, a convoy coordinator from Austin, said if the group had not been stopped at the border, ″we never would have gotten the attention that we have gotten in the media, for one thing, and it has helped to bring people to realize that there is an embargo,″ which he said many people oppose.

The convoy left from four different regions of the United States on May 21 and arrived in Laredo June 7. The vehicles have been camped in Laredo since then.

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