Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Cuban exiles in US are chilled by the thaw

Former political prisoners and regular immigrants from Cuba began arriving at the Miami airport last week, the first of thousands more on the way this year. To Cuban exiles here, this influx, though welcome, is small consolation for a perceived warming trend with Cuba that they find chilling.

For other Cubans in the United States, the bad news begins hitting closer to home this week.

About these ads

Five months after Cuban detainees rioted in Atlanta and Oakdale, La., out of fear they would be deported, the US Immigration Service has begun to notify about 1,000 detainees who have been deemed unacceptable for release in the US.

After a shaky start, the normalization of immigration relations between the US and Cuba is beginning to bear tangible fruit.

But for many leaders of the Cuban community in the US, this is the start of another betrayal by an American administration in which they once placed great hope.

Politically, the exiles see in the accord a legitimizing gesture toward Fidel Castro that they fear will lead to further accommodation to communism in Cuba.

Practically, they see the accord as a way for the Castro regime to let malcontents out, releasing pressure on a troubled society.

Morally, they oppose sending back to Cuba any of the detainees dubbed ``excludable'' by the US Justice Department. The most serious criminals among them should be allowed to stay in detention in the US, the exiles say, rather than be deported to what they say are worse conditions in Cuba.

Personally, Cubans fear a loss of refugee status. This, they say, could mean that many more of them will be deported to Cuba.

About these ads

The Reagan administration, on the other hand, is trying to bring some order to an immigration stream that runs in sudden droughts and massive flash floods. It also seeks to end the indefinite detention of Cubans excluded from the US but previously shut out by Cuba.

The State Department estimates that 12,000 to 15,000 Cubans will emigrate to the US this year. At least 75 percent of them, judging from past experience, will settle in the Miami area.

On the other side of the agreement, no detainees in the US are likely to be sent back to Cuba soon. After seizing control of two US detention facilities in December, the detainees struck an agreement with the Justice Department providing a ``full and fair'' individual hearing before a detainee will be shipped back to Cuba.

The detainees arrived in the US in 1980 during the boatlift from Mariel. All have committed crimes in the US, which violated their immigration parole status giving the Immigration and Naturalization Service grounds to exclude them from the country - even though they were already here, and even though they have all completed whatever prison sentences they received.

Since the December riots, about 800 of the detainees have been released in the US and another 1,000 have been approved for release. One thousand more will shortly be notified that the INS has disapproved them for release.

They will be able to appeal their cases in Justice Department hearings. In neither the INS nor the Justice Department hearing, however, are detainees allowed to present evidence on their behalf.

``It's terrible,'' says Rafael Penalver, a Miami lawyer. ``It's a total disregard of the standards of justice in this country.'' The Justice Department hearings, he adds, will be just a ``paper review.''

None of the benefits of a normalized immigration policy pull much weight among Cubans here - even the indirect benefit of faster exits for Cuban political prisoners. Roberto Martin Perez, an activist who spent nearly 28 years in a Cuban prison, decries the agreement: ``The Cuban political prisoners have never negotiated their freedom with Castro.''

The exiles are right in discerning a warming trend with Cuba, says Wayne Smith, a Latin American studies professor at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies. The immigration agreement has been followed by talks with Cuba over radio broadcasts and the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola.

The disappointment of Cubans here is palpable. Says Siro del Castillo, a longtime activist on behalf of the detainees: ``At the end, the Reagan administration has done nothing except Radio Mart'i for the Cuban community that has done so much for them.''

The Radio Mart'i broadcasts to Cuba, begun in 1985, caused President Castro to break off the original immigration accord reached in late 1984.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.