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Meanwhile, two broad diplomatic moves were under way. The most pressing was to convince the Cuban government that the 389 Cubans who have taken refuge in the former U.S. embassy in Havana should be given safe conduct out of the country. At the same time, the U.S. was trying to get other nations to join in accepting some of the refugees. Costa Rican President Rodrigo Carazo Odio called a conference last week attended by representatives of 22 nations, but the conferees decided only to send a delegation to Havana.
That means that the U.S. will have to accept far more of the refugees than any other country. Equally as troubling, the "open arms" policy toward the Cubans inevitably angered other nationalities seeking entry into the U.S. The most glaring inequity was between the ready admittance of the Cubans and the very slow processing of an equally large number of poverty-stricken Haitians who have also been making their way to Florida. Some 30,000 Haitian refugees have come to the U.S., mostly in a slow and relatively unnoticed trickle over the past ten years. About 13,000 have applied for refugee status. Very few have been accepted. Nearly all face possible deportation.
The Justice Department contends that there is a logical distinction between the two groups of refugees. Says one official: "The standard is whether they would be persecuted, and very few Haitians can meet the standard." But the congressional Black Caucus charged last week that the U.S. policy is "racist," discriminating against Haitians. Supporters of the Haitians contend that Haiti's President Jean-Claude Duvalier is a right-wing dictator whose government is every bit as repressive as Castro's left-wing regime.
In the end, it is Congress that probably will have to face the dilemma, since it controls the money that the acceptance of large numbers of refugees entails. By one official estimate, each thousand refugees will cost the U.S. $5 million in welfare and health aid, $2 million in food stamps and another $2 million for transportation. The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled hearings on the refugee problem this week.
It is Castro who largely decides whether refugees can start streaming toward the U.S. Why the latest exodus? It seems that Castro is using the episode as a way to vent some of the anger and frustration that have been rising in Cuba. Economic conditions have worsened after some improvements a few years ago. The selling price of sugar on the world market has fallen from 660 per lb. in the mid-'70s to a current low of 60. The tobacco crop has been nearly wiped out by blue mold. Cuba today survives on a Soviet subsidy of about $8 million a day.
A Castro miscalculation is also a factor in the exodus. Perhaps as a propaganda gesture, perhaps simply to raise foreign currency, he admitted 100,000 Cuban Americans for short visits to relatives over the past two years. Said Enrique Torres, 36, a Havana auto mechanic: "Seeing all those watches and good clothingit blew people's minds."