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Haitian and Cuban Refugees


Saul Landau

Over

the last two months, smugglers routinely drop Haitians and Cubans off the South

Florida coast. US authorities arrest these presumably "illegal"

immigrants and haul them off to Krome detention center. All the Haitians then

await hearings for deportation. But some of the Cubans, at the same center, will

receive processing to get them parolee status — the rapid route to a green card

and permanent residence.

Both

Cubans and Haitians fled islands engulfed in poverty and lack of opportunity.

But one can’t compare the plight of Haitian to those on the island only 30 miles

to the West. Cubans continue to enjoy free health care, education and state

subsidies for some of their food and other needs. Haitians, living under a

supposedly free-market regime and a "democratic" government remain

desperately poor. Thei "free" system offers them no cushions for hard

times.

Yet,

US politics demands that the Cubans, fleeing for economic reasons, receive

political heroes’ treatment for getting themselves smuggled into the United

States; Haitians should go back where they belong. Both Alfred E. Newman and the

Cigar Store Indian bow to the demands of the right wing anti-Castro lobby in

hopes of acquiring last minute money and votes. The Clinton Administration

acquiesces in the fiction that Cubans are special refugees, fleeing from

communism – as long as they prove clever enough to elude the Coast Guard, which

is supposed to repatriate them, and put a foot on US soil.

This

wet foot-dry foot wrinkle stems from the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, which

encouraged Cubans to risk their lives to defect. If they made it to the US

beach, we would welcome them and offer them preferred treatment. In the Cold War

days, Cubans who wanted to emigrate to the United States had little chance of

doing so legally. Then in the early 90s, as Cuba’s economy spiraled downward,

"too many" Cubans came here in rafts. As xenophobia swept the United

States undergoing the effects of recession, Florida officials, fearful of the

redneck reaction, complained to Clinton. So, the United States, which had

committed itself to the destruction of the Castro government, signed the 1995

Migration Accords with Cuba, in order to discourage "undesirable"

Cubans from embarking illegally in rafts.

This

accord, of course, strengthened the legitimacy of the Castro government. And, it

temporarily stopped the rafters’ tsunami. But Clinton didn’t have the courage to

confront the anti-Castro lobby and push Congress to overturn the 1966 Act. So,

the crisis had ended, but the problem remained. The State Department would offer

up to 20,000 visas a year to desirable Cubans, those without criminal records or

histories of mental illness; those with good education and affluent families

already living in the United States. However, because the 1966 Cuban Adjustment

Act remained as law, "unqualified" Cubans pay smugglers up to $10

thousand who try to elude the Coast Guard and get their passengers within

swimming distance of a US beach. Needless to say, not all of those whose toes

touch US sand would have qualified for legal visas.

Last

month a group of Cubans stole a crop duster and crashed the plane into the ocean

as soon as they spotted a ship which they assumed would pick them up. And, the

pirates qualified under the dry foot rule although they crashed in the ocean.

Get it? It’s election time.

Big

deal that such official approval of air piracy might set a bad Precedent. As

Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiasson suggests, US immigration has in effect

imposed a new rule: the black foot-white foot formula, which has become

superimposed on the wet foot dry foot ploy. Haitians/black, send ‘em back.

Cubans white / they’re alright. To hell with consistency! Winning elections in

the world’s greatest empire has its own logic. There might not be justice or

poetry in such policies, but the next imperial leader will do almost anything to

get a buck or a vote from South Florida.

 

 

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