CUBA: End of the Freedom Flights

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Anyone who has seen Cuban refugees literally kissing U.S. soil as they disembark from one of the twice-daily flights between Cuba and Miami is not likely soon to forget the sight. Since 1965, the "freedom flights," as they have come to be called, have brought 245,805 Cubans to live in the U.S. Last week, the 2,879th such flight landed in Miami with 85 passengers-the last of the refugees, at least for a while. The Cuban government informed the U.S. that it was suspending the flights for a few weeks to work out a final list of only 1,000 refugees. After they have been flown out, the flights would end.

The decision may leave stranded thousands of Cubans who have had to give up their jobs and property to apply for a flight to the U.S. The Cuban government gave no reason for its decision, but there seemed no lack of possible causes. One theory had it that Premier Fidel Castro had got rid of all the opponents he wanted to see depart. Another was that the Soviet Union was displeased with the exodus because it gave Communism a black eye. Cuba might also have been concerned that the airlift was creating a "brain drain" of skilled and professional workers. But a more immediately compelling theory centered around the fact that four Cuban athletes had defected during the recent Pan-American Games in Cali, Colombia, a defection that Castro charged had been instigated by the U.S.

On the U.S. side, too, the airlift had come under mounting criticism. In June the Senate Appropriations Committee, noting that the flights had cost a total of $4,000,000, threatened to cut off Government financing. U.S. critics also pointed out that the airlift discriminated against other Latin Americans who might want to emigrate, since the Cubans are given preference under the terms of the quota system. Canceling the airlift will likely bring an increase in derring-do attempts to cross the Florida Straits, which 14,684 Cuban adventurers have navigated since 1959 in everything from motorboats to makeshift rafts.