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Raul Castro, 96-year-old former US ambassador and Arizona governor, detained at Border Patrol checkpoint

Ross D. Franklin / AP file

Raul Castro, former Arizona governor, attends an event in Phoenix on Jan. 3, 2011. The 96-year-old former U.S. diplomat was stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint last week after a radiation detector was set off.

A 96-year-old former Arizona governor and former U.S. diplomat says he holds no grudges against the U.S. Border Patrol agents who he says detained him at a checkpoint for more than a half-hour in stifling heat after his pacemaker apparently set off a radiation sensor.

Raul H. Castro says although he wasn’t mistreated, agents could have been more sensitive to his age and condition.

I feel they’ve got a job to do and I don’t condemn them for doing a job,” he told msnbc.com on Thursday, “but once I was identified and I was 96 years of age and told them I had medical treatment the day before, I expected a little more.”


A friend who was driving the former governor at the time wasn’t so forgiving. Anne Doan, who teaches as the University of Arizona, called the treatment of Castro “humiliating” and “absolutely ridiculous.”

“I was embarrassed as I watched the governor being needlessly treated like a nuclear threat, especially because they knew he had just had a treatment at Tucson Heart Hospital the day before,” Doan wrote in an opinion column in the Nogales International.” I felt he was being disrespected as a senior citizen, much less the amazing statesman that he is.”

The Border Patrol says Castro was “delayed” for only 10 minutes and that it “regrets any inconvenience” caused by the stop.

Castro was governor of Arizona from 1975-77 before serving as U.S. ambassador to Argentina from 1977-80 under President Jimmy Carter.  He was U.S. ambassador to El Salvador from 1964-68 and U.S. ambassador to Bolivia from 1968-69 under Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.

The checkpoint incident happened on June 12. Doan, the daughter of former Nogales, Ariz., Mayor Arthur Doan and a family friend of the Castros, was driving Raul Castro from his home in the border town of Nogales to a luncheon in Tucson, about 70 miles north, to celebrate his 96th birthday.

Their car was stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint on Interstate 19 near Tubac, Ariz., about 24 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, after triggering a radiation sensor. Castro had a medical procedure for his heart and pacemaker the day before and he believes that’s what set off the sensor.

Doan said an agent directed Castro to a tented area for a secondary inspection, with temperatures approaching triple digits.

Doan said she asked the agents if Castro, who was dressed in a suit, could sit in his air-conditioned car instead but agents said he could not and that they had a fan blowing in the tent.

“I explained that he was a former governor and ambassador, a true statesman, and that he was 96 years old and that he shouldn’t have to be going through this. They knew it was the medical procedure that was coming up on their radar,” Doan wrote.

 “At that point I was begging them to leave him alone.” 

“It was very hot. It was uncomfortable,” Castro recalled.

Doan said agents asked Castro a series of questions, brought out a document for him to sign and then ran a detection machine over his body again before telling him he was free to go.

“We were walking away in the sun (back to the car) and they ask him for his ID,” Doan told msnbc.com. “By then he’s flustered – not because of the incident, but because of the heat. He stumbles around and drops his ID. One of the agents offered to pick it up and the governor said ‘No, I’ll pick it up.’ By then I could tell he was upset.”

Doan continued: “They just kept humiliating him, I felt. They never asked me who I was. I was driving the car and they never asked me for my name, my ID.  Why they didn’t they ask me, if there was a nuclear threat in that car?”

Doan and Castro estimated they were held up for more than 30 minutes.

“When we were leaving he (Castro) said, ‘Well at least they didn’t send me to Cuba,’” Doan said. (The Mexican-born Castro is not related to the Cuban president of the same name.)

Asked about the incident, U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Arizona released the following statement:

“CBP detection equipment at the I-19 Border Patrol Checkpoint discovered a possible trace of radiation on Governor Castro. As required by policy, agents must identify and resolve all sources of radiation, regardless of the circumstances. In this instance, CBP agents were able to identify and resolve the source of the radiation reading. Gov. Castro was delayed for 10 minutes from 11:42 to 11:52 a.m. CBP regrets any inconvenience the delay may have caused.”

A Border Patrol spokesman declined further comment.

Castro didn’t make a big deal the incident but his wife, Patricia, was more critical.

“They’re doing their job, which we understand. Ordinarily we pass through there with no problem. But there’s a certain time when somebody’s that old and highly respected; in that state it seems to me they would have given some consideration to that,” she told msnbc.com.

Doan said agents could have been more accommodating and sensitive.

“They had a job to do and this 96-year-old gentleman was nobody even though he was former governor and former ambassador,” Doan told msnbc.com.

“In the desert heat you have to be sensitive to people who are ill or aged.”

Alessandra Soler, executive director of the American Civil Liberties of Arizona, told the Arizona Republic that agents should have used discretion instead of solely relying on a machine to detain Castro.

"I think most people would agree that subjecting a 96-year-old man to secondary screening does little to secure our borders and a man who had just informed them that he had undergone this medical procedure," she told the newspaper.

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