The U.S. Treasury Department said Tuesday it will not release 40 packages of medical equipment and supplies seized at the Canadian border Monday.
Maine activists had hoped to ship the seized items to Cuba, along with supplies that made it across the border during a scuffle with federal agents.
Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the U.S. Customs Service in Washington, said the Brunswick-based Let Cuba Live Committee of Maine which was confronted at the border in Coburn Gore did not have a license to ship items to Cuba.
The items, including two anesthesiology machines, were held at the border overnight Monday after agents and police stopped a caravan of committee members. The Office of Foreign Assets Control, a branch of the Treasury Department, made the decision to retain the items on Tuesday, Boyd said.
But the committee, which seeks to end the U.S. embargo on Cuba and ships humanitarian supplies to Cuba via Canada and Mexico, nonetheless won a partial victory.
When agents stopped the caravan Monday, the activists and 10 Canadian supporters who met them started carrying items into Canada.
Government agents tried to stop them, said Renee Cote of Auburn, who was among those trying to cross the border on Route 27.
"There were more of us than of them, so we were able to get about 30 boxes over to the Canadian side," she said. "But there were many scuffles where they grabbed boxes and knocked people over."
She said "a sizable pile" of boxes ended up on the Canadian side and were taken to Montreal, where a group called the Quebec-Cuba Friendship Association will send them to Cuba by boat.
Boyd said the agents at the border handled the dispute properly.
"There was nobody hurt, no violence," he said. "We acted with a lot of restraint."
Federal officials knew in advance that the group planned to try to move equipment without a permit.
The group had issued a news release before its personnel and vehicles reached the border that said members knew they needed a license but would refuse to apply for one, Boyd said.
"They knew what the rules are and obviously wanted to make a point and draw some media attention," Boyd said.
Officials at the border sent a license application to the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control in Washington, D.C., for the committee. But the committee did not want a license and doesn't think it should be required, Cote said.
"The reason we refused (to accept a license) is because we want to draw attention to a law we consider unjust and ridiculous," she said.
Late Tuesday afternoon, six of the activists remained at the border awaiting a decision on whether the government would keep the seized vehicles and equipment.
Dr. Thomas Whitney, a Norway pediatrician and activist, said the group spent the day standing along the road with signs expressing their views of American relations with Cuba.
The committee can file a petition with the government to seek return of the supplies and equipment, which are on two pickup trucks and a U-Haul. The vehicles will be returned to the committee, Boyd said.
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