Stopover at Miami

in:

30 hours of humiliating and arbitrary treatment

by Paul Emile Dupret

Accompanying an official delegation of the GUE-NGL European Parliamentary group to Venezuela and Nicaragua (comprising 5 MEPs, with myself as staff member) I was stopped on 18th July during the return journey from Managua to Madrid,  by US immigration police.  The stopover would normally involve a wait of only about an hour.

The initial reason why the border police arrested me was the fact that they noticed that my passport, which is entirely in order, contained numerous visas relating to journeys to Congo-Brazzaville, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia (each of which was occasioned by Parliament business, by visits to ACP assemblies), but also to Guatemala, Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador. Each of these journeys concerned an official mission of the GUE-NGL, or of the Parliament as a whole. Venezuela, for example, I visited in July 2003, and Mexico for the Cancun WTO ministerial in September 2003.

Officers broke my suitcase apart and removed a business card  bearing the name of President Chavez which was glued to a book given to me by a civil servant at the Town Hall in Caracas who, on Friday 16 July, had arranged for us a visit to a working class district of Caracas (Caricuao) and a number of social schemes.

One of the officers who interrogated me had told me, at the very beginning of the interview, that henceforth I would no longer be allowed on to US territory without a visa.

The American authorities took no account of the fact that I was travelling as part of an official delegation of the European Parliament or that I was accompanying four Members of that Parliament.  During the various interrogations, they asked me with whom I had stayed in Colombia, if I had met Chavez in Venezuela or Fidel Castro in Cuba.

An Air Iberia flight left five hours after the one which I should have taken. Although I had already been notified of the fact that I would not be allowed on to American territory, instead of allowing me to board this flight, the US police decided to punish me by detaining me for 24 hours, in conditions which were quite scandalous, interrogating me hourly for the first six hours, then placing me in a prison in an airport basement, furnished with a television turned up to ear-splitting volume, with no chance to even lie down let alone sleep during the remaining 18 hours.

25 hours later I was led like a prisoner to the Iberia aircraft, and it was as a prisoner that I was treated by the Iberia personnel. They moved the passenger who was sitting in the place next to mine, so that he would not have to sit next to a deportee.  My passport was only returned to me on arrival at Madrid, where I was handed over to the Spanish police by the on-flight personnel. The Spanish police then took me to a police station and released me after checks. By the end of this, Iberia had added seven hours to my detention, making a total of 32 hours of arbitrary and humiliating treatment in the face of which I was powerless.  

Questions and Conclusions

  • It is unacceptable that the American authorities should question me on the grounds that I had travelled widely, knowing as they did right from the beginning of this episode that these journeys had been official European Parliament missions paid for by the Parliament. It is equally unacceptable that the American authorities should attempt to hinder contacts between MEPs (and their staff) and parliamentarians, public authorities, members of social movements or NGOs throughout the Latin American region or the ACP countries.
  • The American authorities have taken an administrative action against me, removing the right of access to the United States that I enjoy as a Belgian citizen (a reciprocal right which has as its corollary the right of US citizens freely to enter the EU). How is it possible that they can do this without giving me any idea of their motive for doing so, and how can I defend myself against any resulting defamation? It is possible, for example, that the Colombian government could put me on a blacklist, using this as a pretext, when the real reason for such a move would certainly be my involvement in human rights work in their country. This is in total contradiction of the rights of defendants, as well as being contrary to US law.
  • The American authorities' having, in violation of my rights, denied me access to their territory, what was the point in their detaining me further? Either send me back to Managua, or let me proceed to Madrid - yet not only did they not allow me to continue my journey on the flight on which I was booked, they did not allow me to do so by the next one, which left five hours later. They decided instead to hold me for 25 hours, a further unexplained punishment.
  • Why did the captain of the Iberia flight decide to deliver me to the Spanish police as if I were a criminal or a terrorist?  Why did Air Iberia not, on the contrary, return my papers ( passport and identity card)  as soon as the doors were closed in Miami, or at least as soon as we had left American airspace?

My experience was perhaps only one amongst many but if we do not react then things will get steadily worse. That is why I am asking people to protest to Belgian, EU or US authorities, and demand that they nullify their withdrawal of my right of access to their territory which I enjoy because I am a citizen of Belgium and the EU and cannot in any way be accused of being a terrorist. Access to the US is necessary for me as in my work at the European Parliament I have to travel often, and sometimes via America.  

Paul Emile Dupret works for the Secretariat of the United Left Group of the European Parliament (GUE-NGL) and is responsible for advising the Group's MEPs on issues related to trade and development. If you are a citizen of an EU member state please write to the US embassy in your country protesting his treatment. If you are a US citizen, please write to your Congress(wo)man to the same effect. Paul Emile's detention was a distressing personal experience for him and may have repercussions for his professional and personal life, but it was also - particularly as he was working for elected popular representatives - an assault on all of our democratic rights.