A convoy organized by United States veterans and peace activists to deliver humanitarian aid to the people of Nicaragua remained stalled at the US-Mexico border in Laredo, Texas, yesterday in a standoff with the US Customs Service. Organizers of the ``Veterans' Peace Convoy,'' a collection of 38 vehicles from across the country loaded with more than 30 tons of food, clothing, and medical supplies, said they have no intention of abandoning their project because of government restrictions they consider illegal.
The stalemate between the convoy and customs officials arose last week after the Treasury Department informed the convoy that its plan to leave vehicles in Nicaragua for use by relief organizations did not conform with regulations of the US trade embargo on Nicaragua.
With assistance from US Rep. Mickey Leland (D) of Houston, four of the convoy's vehicles were allowed to proceed to a border station in Laredo Tuesday morning. But when convoy organizer and Vietnam war veteran Bob Livesey, who drove the lead vehicle, told customs officials his intention was to leave the vehicle in Nicaragua, he was denied permission to cross. He nevertheless attempted to cross, and the vehicle was stopped and seized.
Language in the Nicaraguan Trade Control Regulations exempts ``humanitarian aid such as food, clothing, and medicine intended to be used to relieve human suffering'' from the embargo. Convoy organizers say the truckloads of assistance they deliver to Nicaragua would be nearly impossible for relief organizations to deliver without the vehicles.
Federal officials concede that the rules on vehicles that were used to stop the convoy were written up two months ago when it was learned that the veterans' convoy intended to leave their trucks in Nicaragua. A Treasury Department letter delivered to convoy organizers last week said the trucks were an illegal export to Nicaragua.
Convoy organizers have been asked by the government to sign statements agreeing not to leave any vehicles in Nicaragua, any infraction of which could result in stiff fines and prison terms.
But convoy representatives in Laredo and Washington refuse to sign any documents with the government for fear of setting a restrictive precedent for future humanitarian efforts.