Church Members Sent Back To Mexico
UPDATED: 8:29 am PST December 28, 2009
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Nine people from a Portland church group hoping to
perform humanitarian work in Cuba were detained overnight at an airport
in Havana this weekend.
Rev. Kate Lore of the downtown Portland-based First Unitarian Church
first received word of the incident Saturday night.
Sixteen people from the church headed from Portland to Cancun, Mexico on
Friday. They then departed Mexico and arrived at the airport in Cuba,
but five were immediately sent back to Cancun. The other nine were
detained at the airport in Havana for hours.
"It was a scary situation for our members because the Cuban authorities
weren't forthcoming with the reasons they were detained," Lore said.
"(They were) forced to sleep on the floor. We had elderly people there."
Several hours passed before the detainees were allowed to contact their
church. Lore received an e-mail that said the group was being "held as
"They didn't know what was going to happen to them," Lore said.
The group was allowed to leave Cuba on Sunday. It appeared a mix-up with
their paperwork led authorities to believe the group was traveling as
tourists. It is unlawful for Americans to travel to Cuba without
obtaining a special license and tourist travel is not licensable,
according to the U.S. Department of State.
The First Unitarian Church holds a religious activities license
providing legal travel and has made several trips to Cuba for
humanitarian work, bringing medicine and helping the country's AIDS
patients. Members of the church have also performed as a choir and their
Web site said the church aims to keep the struggles of the Cuban people
on the radar screen for Americans.
Lore said the incident won't deter church members from returning to Cuba.
"This was a paperwork glitch and we will remedy it in the future," she said.
Group Of 9 Detained At Cuban Airport - Portland News Story - KPTV
Portland (28 December 2009)