Religious activists mount aid convoy to ravaged Nicaragua

Four months ago a 32-vehicle convoy organized by US veterans to deliver food and other supplies to Nicaragua was halted at the United States-Mexico border by federal officials. The reason given was that the trucks themselves were not ``humanitarian aid'' exempt from the US trade embargo. Eventually a federal judge ruled that the government had no grounds for stopping humanitarian aid, including vehicles, and the convoy proceeded to its destination.

This week a somewhat smaller convoy of 22 vehicles, organized by religious activists from across the country, is heading toward war- and hurricane-ravaged Nicaragua, planning to arrive in Managua by Christmas Eve.

Leaders of the convoy, called Pastors for Peace and including volunteers and vehicles from 22 states, do not expect any trouble when it crosses the border today. ``Our brothers and sisters in Nicaragua have been having a terrible time, especially after Hurricane Joan, so we're doing this to express our love for them, that's all,'' says Hogan Yancey, a Presbyterian minister from Pontotoc, Miss.

The idea for the convoy was sparked by Lucius Walker, a Methodist minister and executive director of the New York-based Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization. The Rev. Mr. Walker was wounded by rebel gunfire last summer in Nicaragua while part of an IFCO-sponsored fact-finding group.

Rusty Davenport, a San Francisco international development specialist, says the convoy is further evidence that ``there is more support in the US [for the Nicaraguan people] than Ronald Reagan has any idea.''

He further criticized the US government for not offering aid to Nicaragua in the wake of Hurricane Joan, which struck in October.

Congress did approve assistance to the children of Nicaragua, but it was coupled with humanitarian aid to the contras. The Sandinista government made it a treasonable offense to accept disaster assistance authorized by the US Congress.

This month Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega Saavedra was scheduled to visit the United Nations in part to seek disaster relief for his country, but he canceled his trip after the State Department limited his travel plans.

The convoy's aid will be distributed by two Roman Catholic and three Protestant ecumenical relief organizations operating in Nicaragua, according to Davenport.

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