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Sharp Rise in Cuban Migration Stirs Worries of a Mass Exodus

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  • 1 month later...

some background to past machinations :


September 1994, Volume 1, Number 4
Clinton Reverses Policy on Cubans

President Clinton on August 19 announced a dramatic change in the 28-year old US policy toward Cuban refugees. Henceforth, persons from the island nation heading for the US on rafts and small boats are to be treated as illegal aliens, detained in centers outside the US, and not permitted to enter the US unless they can satisfy the criteria for refugee or immigrant status individually.

The US policy change was due to the rising number of Cubans arriving on rafts and small boats--about 20,000 in August, including 3,000 per day on August 24-25. Talks between Cuba and the United States to stem the exodus began on September 1.

Both the US and Cuba have been using migration policy as foreign policy instruments. The US put an economic embargo on Cuba in 1960 and, under the Cuban Refugee Act of 1966, Cubans who arrived in the US were paroled or allowed to remain and work legally, become US immigrants after one year of residence, and apply for US citizenship after five years. The US did not return to Cuba even Cubans who used violence to escape.

As economic conditions worsened in Cuba, Cubans began to slip out despite Castro's efforts to prevent their emigration. After several ferries were hijacked in August by Cubans bound for the US, Castro accused the US government of encouraging Cubans to use violence to escape. In mid-August, Cuba apparently began allowing Cubans to leave freely.

Cuba seems to be using the flood of migrants as a lever to get the US to negotiate an end to the economic embargo. The US response has been to instead tighten the embargo, which suggests that the US hopes that yet more pressure will lead to a change of government in Cuba. The US announced that the current "mid-level" talks with Cuba will cover only "orderly legal immigration." Cuba announced that it would prevent those leaving Cuba from taking children with them on rafts.

After the policy change August 19, some 18,000 Cubans were picked up at sea and taken to safe haven at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. There are already almost 15,000 Haitians at Guantanamo. On August 24, the US announced plans to expand the tent camps at Guantanamo to hold up to 40,000 Cubans there. Panama and Honduras promised to take up to 15,000 Cubans for up to 6 months.

Cubans taken to Guantanamo will not be admitted to the US unless they qualify individually for refugee or immigrant status. The US has an interest section in Havana that in 1994 granted refugee status to 3,000 Cubans. US authorities urged Cubans to seek refugee or immigrant status in Havana rather than risk their lives setting out to sea. Under a 1984 amendment to US immigration law, the US agreed to allocate up to 20,000 immigrant visas annually to Cubans and, under the 1990 IMMACT, this number rose to 27,845.

However, Cubans would have to compete with 3.4 million other foreigners who are awaiting immigrant visas to enter the United States. There is speculation that, if Cubans were to receive special treatment yet again by receiving a higher priority in the immigration queue, Asian-Americans may protest.

Cubans are attempting to flee in response to the economic crisis in Cuba caused by the sharp decrease in Russian subsidies and a poor sugar crop. In 1994, Australia is expected to replace Cuba as the world's top sugar exporter.

In 1980, during the Mariel boat lift, 124,769 Cubans migrated to the US in 159 days, usually via private boats that traveled the 90 miles from southern Florida to the harbor in Mariel, Cuba. The US is seeking to avoid another Mariel--US Attorney General Reno warned private US boat owners in August that they may be arrested and have their boats confiscated if they attempt to travel to Cuba and return with Cubans. However, private boaters are permitted to pick up Cubans at sea who are in danger of drowning.

By some estimates, from 1 to 2 million of the 11 million Cubans would migrate to the US if they could. Almost one-third of the 36 million people in the Caribbean live in Cuba, and there are about 1.5 million Cuban-Americans in the US.

"Castro threatens to let Cubans flee to America," Associated Press, August 5, 1994; William Booth, "Castro warned by US," Washington Post, August 7, 1994, A1; Jose de Cordoba, "Cuba Near Crisis as Opposition Grows," Wall Street Journal, August 11, 1994, A10. Steven Greenhouse, "US Considers Mainland Sites for the Cubans," New York Times, August 24, 1994, A1, A8; McNeil-Lehrer News Hour, August 24, 1994; R.W. Apple, "Castro vs. Clinton," New York Times, August 26, 1994, A1, A6. Roberto Suro, "With Legal Immigration Out, Rafts are In," Washington Post Weekly Edition, August 29, 1994, 17. Mireya Navarro, Successive Waves of Cuban Exodus Define Response to Shift by Clinton," August 23, 1994, p.C18. Steven Greenhouse, "US Will Propose Reducing Barriers to Cuba Migrants," New York Times, August 30, 1994, A1, A4.

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