- TRADE-POLITICS: Rats Likely Winners in Cuba-U.S. Smuggling DisputeCopyright 2001 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
By Fatin AbbasComment by Paul D - "Smuggling"!! Well I've never heard of drug smugglers who, when asked if they have anything to declare, shout "COCAINE!!" or "HEROIN!!" out the window, or of jewell smugglers who shout "EMERALDS AND DIAMONDS!!" or of arms smugglers who shout, "KALASHNIKOVS AND ANTI-TANK MISSILES!!"I've never heard of such people announce in advance their intentions and hold press conferences and have their intentions broadcast through the world press. I've never heard such people DEMAND that customs officials inspect their vehicles and then DEMAND to speak to a supervisor and then hold a telephone conference with their lawyers before they AGREE to cross the customs point AFTER being instructed so to do by the customs officials.And I've certainly never heard of such people then, in full view of those sams officials, holding a press conference with TV and press participation where they take the diamonds, cocaine, anti-tank missiles or whatever out of the vehicles and unpack it so that it can be filmed and documented.I'm not saying that I'm an expert on smuggling - just the odd bottle of rum and box of cigars etc. But an obvious plot by Fidel to launch a ratty salmonella attack on the White House should by all accounts be kept quiet, at least until one is ready to leave Washington DC, mission accomplished. But P4P have never shied from publicity. This time they got those White House rats quaking in their boots!! And the upshot is that the rats are now faced with a public debate about whether the act constituted germ-warfare or warfare on germs. This is an issue many poor people in the US (and around the world) take more seriously than the WH rat-pack. Rats are a serious problem facing working people everywhere - everywhere that Cuban Biorat has not laid waste to!Following the banana wars and the rum wars we now have the rat wars. Is is only natural therefore that such help as Cuba can offer is bound in the nature of things to lead to some kind of low level rodent-consciousness and rat-unity, even at the highest levels of rat power. Whether they will be the 'likely winners' as the article suggests, remains to be seen. It seems to me that by the action P4P took, they have opened up a debate and that is already a step forwards for us and a step back for the rats. Let's keep pushing them - PD
NEW YORK, Jul 27 (IPS) - It has been used to combat outbreaks of bubonic plague in Peru, haemorrhagic fever in Bolivia, leptospirosis in Nicaragua and other rodent-borne illnesses in Costa Rica, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic.
And earlier this month, a donated shipment of the Cuban-made rodenticide known as Biorat was on its way to vermin-infested inner cities around the United States.
But U.S. Customs Service officials would have none of it. Now, a group that routinely flouts the U.S. embargo against Cuba is being investigated for attempting to bring the Cuban-made rat poison into the United States via Mexico.
Customs said that the New York-based group Interreligious Foundation for Community Organisation/Pastors for Peace is under investigation for violating smuggling statutes and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, as well as for filing false statements.
Pastors for Peace routinely send humanitarian aid to Cuba. The group attempted to bring the rodent poison into the United States in a reverse challenge to the U.S. embargo against Cuba.
Customs officials seized the rat poison near the U.S.-Mexico border at Falfurrias, Texas Jul 12.
The active ingredient in Biorat is a strain of salmonella that Cuban researchers say is only harmful to mice and rats.
However, "Biorat is prohibited in the U.S. because it is a public health hazard," said Dean Boyd, a Customs Service spokesman. IFCO/Pastors for Peace might have violated EPA statutes, he added, because it did not seek permission from the EPA to bring the poison into the country.
According to the EPA, which registers all pesticides before they can be distributed here, "the pesticide product, 'Biorat,' is not registered for use in the U.S." and therefore "is not permitted to be imported into the U.S. for use in the U.S."
Although Biorat has been marketed in Latin America, Africa and Asia since 1994, the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also disputes its safety. In May 1998, the CDC issued an advisory that any rodenticide carrying a strain of salmonella can "easily cause foodborne disease in people." According to the agency, Biorat "is a product that poses a public health risk worldwide."
Gail Walker, a spokeswoman for IFCO/Pastors for Peace, denied these assertions and said that the group's lawyers are appealing to the EPA for permission to distribute the product in U.S. cities especially hard-hit by rat epidemics. These include New York, Washington D.C. and Chicago.
Boyd said U.S. Customs would investigate the group for smuggling and filing false statements because its members who crossed the border at McAllen, Texas by truck did not declare that they were bringing any goods into the United States from Cuba.
Walker insisted that the members of Pastors for Peace who brought the products across the border not only declared everything to Customs officials, but they also asked them to inspect the shipment.
She added that there were many witnesses - including members of the media - who were present at the crossing and who could confirm that the group declared everything that they were bringing into the country.
Customs officials have said that the investigation of the group is not driven by political tensions between the United States and Cuba, but is being conducted primarily in the interest of public health.
Pastors for Peace, however, asserts that the public health claims made by both Customs and the EPA are a tactic to divert attention from the embargo and the political issues at the heart of the U.S. sanctions against Cuba, the Trading with the Enemy Act.
By bringing in goods from the island, the group was challenging the Act, which has restricted both monetary and charitable interaction between the United States and Cuba for more than 40
Pastors for Peace, which is a project organised by IFCO, is dedicated to lifting the U.S. embargo against Cuba. Walker said that the group aims to "officially do away with the idea that Cuba is a threat to the United States."
For the past few years the group has been organising "friend- shipments" to Cuba to defy and draw attention to the embargo imposed on the island. This is the first time, however, that the group has attempted a reverse challenge to the embargo by bringing goods from Cuba into the United States.
Walker said that as long as the embargo remains in place, the group intends to challenge it by shipping aid to and from Cuba. "We will use whatever creative ways we can to draw attention to the embargo," she added.
Asked why the group chose to bring back a product as controversial for public health agencies as Biorat, Walker said that the group was only aiming to show that Cuba has products that could benefit the United States.
She added that the rat poison was chosen because it was clear from discussions with community groups working in poorer areas of U.S. cities that rats are a major problem for residents. She pointed to the fact that there are 10 rats for every person living in New York City. The problem is considered so grave that a "Rat Summit" was organised recently in the city.
The shipment carrying Biorat also included small solar panels manufactured in Cuba.
The Customs Service would not comment on whether or not the panels were allowed into the country. Pastors for Peace said that the panels were allowed through the Customs checkpoint near Falfurrias, Texas.
The group said it intends to install the panels at a Hoopa native reservation in Northern California that does not have electricity.