Travelers who defied Cuba travel ban return to US

Participants in the 41st Venceremos Brigade walk across the Peace Bridge plaza after crossing from Fort Erie, Canada into Buffalo, N.Y., on Monday, July 26, 2010. The group of Americans who went to Cuba in defiance of the United States’ ban on most travel there, returned Monday after flying to Cuba from Toronto. (AP Photo/Don Heupel)

Carolyn Thompson, Associated Press Writer, On Monday July 26, 2010, 3:43 pm EDT

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Twenty-nine Americans who went to Cuba in defiance of the United States’ ban on most travel there were allowed to return to American soil without incident Monday, chanting as they arrived for an end to nearly 50 years of U.S. sanctions.

The Venceremos Brigade members walked from Canada across the Peace Bridge into Buffalo, where they cleared inspection by Customs and Border Protection before being escorted from the bridge plaza by a Buffalo police officer.

None was detained, according to CBP spokesman Kevin Corsaro, who had said no one would be held unless found to have contraband or improper travel documents.

The Venceremos Brigade, a nationwide organization, has sent groups of travelers to Cuba for 41 consecutive years to protest Washington’s 48-year trade sanctions and ban on American travel.

“We don’t even have to change our signs. We can have the same signs for 50 years,” said spokeswoman Ann Sparanese, who held a placard demanding the right to travel anywhere as she awaited the group’s arrival. “But we’re not going to give up. The policy will end. It has to end, it’s so insane.”

The House Agriculture Committee voted in June to lift the ban on American travel to the island and make it easier to sell U.S. agricultural exports there, something farm-state congressmen favor. Similar measures have died in recent years over concern that lifting the ban could prop up Cuba’s communist government.

President Barack Obama has said he will not support lifting general sanctions until the Cuban government improves human rights and political freedoms.

Liz Afton, 26, said she and the others were warmly received by Cubans as they traveled the country for two weeks.

“People were able to make a distinction between us as individuals and the actions of our government,” the New York City woman said.

Upon their return, the travelers were instructed by border agents to complete questionnaires, but several said they left blank anything that might be incriminating, such as what they had purchased.

Some past travelers have received letters and fines from the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the U.S. Treasury Department office charged with enforcing economic and trade sanctions. The fines have almost always been dropped when appealed.

In all, 33 people made this year’s trip. Four travelers are expected to return to the United States later.

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