FEET WET/FEET DRY POLICY: AN ONGOING INHUMANITY
by Agustín Blázquez and Jaums Sutton
On August 11, 1994, due to mounting discontent with his regime, Castro gave the order to the Cuban Coast Guard and security forces not to obstruct illegal departures (sinking their rafts and killing the people) from Cuban shores. Immediately Cubans began abandoning Castro’s hellhole in anything that would float.
According to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) timeline, on August 19, 1994, the U.S. Coast Guard initiated “Operation ABLE VIGIL, a Cuban Mass Migration Emergency Plan in response to uncontrolled migration from Cuba and the announcement by President Clinton prohibiting the entry of undocumented Cuban migrants into the U.S. The President directs the migrants are to be transported to safe havens outside the U.S.”
The INS defines a “migrant” as a “person traveling from one location to another.”
And a “refugee” as a “person who has been interviewed by a competent authority (ex. INS, a U.N. agency, etc.) and determined to have a well founded fear of persecution and that person requires protection. While a person may come from a country with poor human rights, they must be interviewed to determine if that particular individual is subject to persecution or torture.”
Cubans escaping Castro’s far left-fascist revolution have historically been classified as political refugees who leave their homeland seeking freedom in the U.S. No matter what the spin-doctors of the Clinton Administration and beyond say, Cubans are still coming looking for freedom, which is, in general, a very different story from most others seeking entry into the U.S. That’s why Cubans tend to love and appreciate the U.S. so much, in opposition to other groups that come here just for economic reasons.
But, by way of a secret arrangement between Clinton and Castro in 1994, a new policy was put into place effective May 2, 1995: all Cubans intercepted at sea by U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships will be automatically repatriated forcibly to Cuba.
In a May 14, 1995 article in The Washington Post by Lally Weymouth titled “A Sordid Deal With Castro,” she said, “ The Clinton administration has thrown Castro a lifeline. For the administration to abandon the traditional American policy of welcoming Cuban political refugees to U.S. shores – and to pick up Cuban refugees on the high seas and return them to Havana - represents a profound betrayal of principle.
“Thus far, only the State Department desk officer, Dennis Hays, who risked his career by asking to be reassigned after he found out about the secret talks, emerges with dignity from this sad and sordid episode.”
Policy Analyst John P. Sweeney, in the Executive Memorandum of the Heritage Foundation dated May 15, 1995, number 412 said, “But in a misguided attempt to avoid a future refugee crisis with Cuba, the Clinton Administration reversed more than 30 years of principled U.S. policy based on the defense of human rights and democracy in Cuba. This decision to return refugees who are willing to risk their lives to escape Castro is akin to returning to the former East Germany people who dug under the Berlin Wall to escape Soviet domination of Easter Europe.”
Unfortunately this inhumane and misguided policy has been followed to date by the Bush administration.
With horror, we have frequently watched on live television from South Florida the sorrowful spectacle of the U.S. Coast Guard engaged in techniques similar to the brutal regime of Castro. Sadly the U.S. Coast Guard has been reduced to follow what Castro ordered to his henchmen to do when he sank the tugboat “13 de marzo” on July 13, 1994, when 41 innocent men and women lost their live along with 12 children.
According to the INS, “President Bush directed the Coast Guard to interdict migrants at sea and return them in Executive Order 12807. Many migrant cases also start out as search and rescue cases, another mission of the Coast Guard.”
And, as callous as the mechanical repatriation policy is, the U.S. Coast Guard has been caught on videotape taking an aggressive stand against innocent, defenseless people trying desperately to get to freedom.
A person watching one of these horrid incidents on May 6, 2003, live on the Spanish television channel Telemundo said, “The treatment received [from] the Coast Guard is alarming. One can see that they are trying to maintain their route to the U.S. coast of Key Largo.
“A helicopter has come down [low] enough to cause [turbulence] in the water making it more difficult for the swimmers to keep going. Also, the two vessels of the U.S. Coast Guard are deliberately getting together as a barrier in their objective to cut off their route. Instead of giving up these rafters swam underwater to follow their route to shore and touch land.
“There is information that once rafters are picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard, there is seldom an interview. They are simply repatriated, their fate unknown.
“This policy by Clinton/Castro is still effective now. It is only a policy agreed to by two infamous individuals and not a law. This administration can write it off or make exceptions as they see fit. This policy is inhumane, at least they deserve a formal interview without running the risk of drowning or being repatriated.”
Prompted by the inhumane images on live television on May 6, Florida Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart wrote to President Bush, “As I write this letter four Cuban refugees are literally yards from arriving to Key Largo, Florida, after having been intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard. As you know, the current policy calling for the return of Cuban refugees captured at sea was initiated by the Clinton Administration. I have always opposed that policy and continue to do so.
“I have received information regarding these refugees. It is my understanding that one of the four was incarcerated in Cuba for 10 years and another has a charge pending by the dictatorship for owning a used television, which appears to be a punishable crime in Castro's Cuba. I am further informed that another one of the refugees is a legal permanent resident of the United States. The family members of the refugees have reiterated that they fear for their relative's well-being if they are repatriated to Cuba. It is important that these refugees not be repatriated to Cuba and be allowed to enter the United States.”
In the article “Cuba ‘The Voyage of the Damned’” by David Hoech dated May 19, 2003, he said, “Last Friday’s Miami Herald article ‘2 Migrants threatened officers, U.S. says’ referred to those fleeing slavery as migrants instead of immigrants. The article stated, ‘The two used a knife and part of a boat mast to ward off Coast Guard crew members trying to stop them and two other men, according to federal officials. At one point, a Coast Guard officer drew his handgun and other officers sprayed the men with pepper spray to try to control them.’
“Let’s get this straight-- these men are in the water with a pocketknife and a piece of wood, and they posed a threat to those who are secure on boats with guns. The ‘migrants’ were jailed in Key West, and bond was set at $70,000. If convicted they could face 20 years in prison and deportation after serving the time. I guess that is not so bad considering going back to Cuba would more than likely make them recipients of lead from Castro’s firing squad.
“These ‘migrants’ should have signed a paper before leaving Cuba that they would work at IBP, Tyson Foods, Perdue Chicken and other companies that hire illegal Mexicans . . .. If the people who lost their lives trying to reach freedom from Castro’s slave island were laid head to toe they would stretch from Havana to Key West. When the mini-series “The Holocaust” was shown in Germany in the seventies, German children asked their parents and grandparents what the hell were they doing when this was taking place. Our children and grandchildren will ask the same question-- what were we doing to help the voyage of the denied, detained and eventually deported fleeing slavery in Cuba.”
The office of Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen confirmed that three of the escapees were able to touch U.S. soil and were able to stay but the U.S. resident, Ramon Aguilar, was sent back to the U.S. Naval Base of Guantanamo in Cuba to clarify his immigration situation as a former U.S. resident.
Certainly after Castro’s April crime spree in which he summarily incarcerated 75 pro-democracy activists and executed three black men, the Bush administration needs to make significant changes in relation to the atrocious legacy of secret arrangements and deals made by Clinton with the tyrant of Cuba. Even the European Union has been more forthcoming than the U.S. in their condemnation and cancellation of their help programs that has served to keep the regime afloat!
The Europeans are even canceling their cultural exchanges with Castro’s Cuba, which the U.S. is not.
After the 1962 Kennedy-Khrushchev agreement (which neither the USSR nor Cuba respected), the U.S. was reduced to police and apprehend any pro-democracy group from attempting to liberate Cuba from any base in the Americas. So the U.S. has been protecting the Castro regime all these years from being overthrown.
It is that lack of long-term vision that has plagued the U.S. policy toward Latin America. That’s why in addition to Castro we now have a dangerous imitator in Venezuela, Chavez, the Marxist Lula in Brazil, the Marxist Kirchner in Argentina and the prospect of another communist being elected in El Salvador, Schafick Handal, the son of a Palestinian and for a long time a militant of Marxist-Leninism.
So while the U.S. is distracted in other faraway places, grave policy errors with regard to the countries south of our borders continue, unabated.
To return escaping slaves to the plantation of the tyrant is simply inhumane.
Those acts of inhumanity against Cuban refugees grew during the Clinton Administration and culminated with the criminal return of Elian Gonzalez to Castro.
It is long overdue for the Bush Administration to reverse these shameful practices.
Agustin Blazquez, Producer/director of the documentaries
COVERING CUBA, CUBA: The Pearl of the Antilles, COVERING CUBA 2: The Next Generation & COVERING CUBA 3: Elian presented at the 2003 Miami Latin Film Festival.
Author with Carlos Wotzkow of the book COVERING AND DISCOVERING and translator with Jaums Sutton of the book by Luis Grave de Peralta Morell THE MAFIA OF HAVANA: The Cuban Cosa Nostra.
For a preview and information on the documentary and books click here: ABIP
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