The term "Cuban exile" refers to the many Cubans who have sought alternative political or economic conditions outside the island, dating back to the Ten Years' War and the struggle for Cuban independence during the 19th century. In modern times, the term refers to the large exodus of Cubans to the United States since the 1959 Cuban Revolution and in particular the wave of (now) Cuban American refugees to the U.S. during the years 1960 and 1980.
More than one million Cubans of all social classes have left the island to the United States, and to Spain, Italy, Mexico, Canada, Sweden, and other countries; however, until 1980 most exiles from Cuba were of the upper or middle classes and predominantly white.
Prominent exiles have included writer José Martí, who spent many years in Spain and the United States in the 19th century raising support for Cuban independence from Spain. Fidel Castro and his brother Raúl spent nearly a year and a half in Mexico (1955–1956), after being amnestied from prison. Fidel briefly visited the United States during his tenure in exile to raise support for the Cuban revolution. Since the revolution, prominent exiled figures have included Carlos Franqui who relocated to Italy; Huber Matos, who was imprisoned by Castro's government for twenty years after resigning his governmental position in 1959 before relocating to Miami; and Guillermo Cabrera Infante the prominent Cuban writer, who relocated to the United Kingdom. Ernesto Alvero; Pinnacle Healthcare, CEO & founder (Salinas, CA via Freedom Flight). Reinaldo Cruz was one of the first Cuban rafters.
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The majority of the nearly 1 million current Cuban exiles living in the United States live in and around the city of Miami. Other exiles have relocated to form substantial Cuban American communities in Union City and West New York, New Jersey (known as Havana on the Hudson); Raleigh, North Carolina; Los Angeles, California; and Palm Desert, California.
Most Cuban exiles in the United States are both legally and self-described political refugees. This status allows them different treatment under US Immigration statutes than immigrants who are not categorized as political refugees. The exiles came in numerous discernible waves.
The first wave occurred after the Cuban revolution of 1959 led by Fidel Castro. A lot of the refugees came with the idea that the new government would not last long, and their stay in the US was temporary. Homes, cars, and other properties in Cuba were left with family, friends, and relatives, who would take care of them until the Castro regime would fall, however, this was promptly stopped by the Castro government, with the forced confiscation of all properties belonging to anyone leaving the country.
Between November 1960 and October 1962, over 14,000 children, mostly Catholic although some were Jewish or Protestant, ages 6 to 17 were sent to the U.S. by their parents in Operation Peter Pan. These children were taken out under the care of the Catholic Church and placed in foster homes throughout the U.S until they could be reunited with their parents. Their parents sent them into the U.S in order to keep them from the alleged communist indoctrination and forced induction of boys into the Cuban armed forces and girls into the Alphabetization Campaign.
The second wave began in 1961 amid the nationalization of educational institutions, hospitals, private land, and industrial facilities. Additionally, the Castro government began a political crackdown on the opposition either incarcerating opponents or perceived opponents or executing the same. At this point, after the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Castro had gone from a self-proclaimed non-communist freedom fighter to a self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninist.
There was a smaller wave of refugees in 1965 from the Cuban port of Camarioca. Cuban exiles from Miami brought friends and relatives to Key West by using small leisure boats. No detailed history has ever been written on the Camarioca boatlift and no exact list of refugees is known to exist.
From December 1965 to early 1973, under the Johnson and Nixon administrations, the twice daily "Freedom Flights" (Vuelos de la Libertad) from Varadero Beach to Miami were the only way to escape out of Cuba. It became the longest airlift ever to take political refugees and transported 265,297 Cubans to the United States with the help of religious and volunteer agencies. Flights were limited to immediate relatives, with a waiting period anywhere from one to two years.
Between April 15 and October 31, 1980, during the Carter administration, probably one of the most significant waves of exiles occurred during what became known as the Mariel Boatlift. The mass boatlift occurred after a number of Cubans drove a bus through the gates of the Havana Peruvian Embassy and requested asylum. One embassy guard died as a result of friendly fire when another guard machine gunned the incoming bus and hit the first one accidentally. When the Peruvian ambassador refused to return the exiled citizens to the authorities, Castro removed the Cuban guards from the embassy, basically opening the door to the 4,000 plus asylum seekers that came into the embassy within the next few days. Reacting to this sudden exodus, Castro stated, "Anyone who wants to leave Cuba can do so" and declared that those who were leaving the country were the escoria (scum).
This resulted in an even bigger exodus through the port of Mariel, where an improvised flotilla of Cuban exiles from Miami in small pleasure boats and commercial shrimping vessels brought Cuban citizens who wished to leave the island. Within weeks, 125,000 Cubans reached the United States despite Coast Guard attempts to stem the movement. As the exodus became international news and an embarrassment for the Cuban government, Castro emptied his hospitals and had prison inmates rounded up as "social undesirables", and forced the inclusion of them among the political and economic refugees. The Cuban Communist Party staged meetings at the homes of those known to be leaving the country. People were intimidated by these "repudiation meetings" (mitines de repudio), where the participants screamed obscenities and defiled the facades of the homes, throwing eggs and garbage, for hours. Labeled as "traitors to the revolution" those who declared their wish to leave became the targeted victims of the attacks, their rationing cards were taken from them, their jobs were terminated, or they were expelled from schools or university. Towards the end of the crisis, the repudiation meetings were ended. The scale of the exodus created political difficulties for the Cuban government, and an agreement was reached to end the boatlift after several months. Out of more than 125,000 refugees, a number from as low as 7,500 to as high as 40,000 were believed to have criminal records in Cuba (although some had criminal backgrounds, most were imprisoned for being practicing Christians, political dissidents, refusing to serve in the military or to work for the state, vagrancy, trying to escape from the country, or for buying rationed food items on the black market). In the end, only 1,774 of the refugees were classified as serious or violent criminals under U.S. law and denied citizenship on that basis. The majority of refugees were young adult males, 20 to 34 years of age, from the working class: skilled craftsmen, semi-skilled tradesmen, and unskilled laborers who took advantage of the opportunity to leave Cuba without the hindrance of the Cuban regime. For the most part, this assortment represented the younger generation raised under the Cuban revolutionary society. However, this figure does not take into account all of those many unknown numbers of people who have perished trying to cross the Florida Straits or who were killed by Cuban gunboats as they attempted to leave the island.
The U.S. Department of State, in a website section entitled "Cuba: U.S.-Cuba Relations," last updated Jan. 20, 2001, explained: "In the 1980s... U.S.-Cuban relations shifted to include immigration... when a migration crisis unfolded. In 1980... the Cuban government allowed 125,000 Cubans to illegally depart for the United States from the port of Mariel, an incident known as the 'Mariel boatlift.' In 1984, the United States and Cuba negotiated an agreement to resume normal immigration, and to return to Cuba those persons who had arrived during the boatlift who were 'excludable' under U.S. law."
During the past years, exile waves have consisted of "balseros" (rafters), who brave the rough seas in homemade rafts. Janet Reno, LLD, U.S. Attorney General at the time, in an Aug. 18, 1994 press release titled "Attorney's General Statement on Cuban Influx," offered the following remarks: "To divert the Cuban people from seeking democratic change, the government of Cuba has resorted to an unconscionable tactic of letting people risk their lives by leaving in flimsy vessels through the treacherous waters of the Florida Straits. Many people have lost their lives in such crossings. We urge the people of Cuba to remain home and not to fall for this callous maneuver. I want to work with all concerned including the Cuban American community to make sure the message goes out to Cubans that putting a boat or raft to sea means putting life and limb at risk... To prevent this from happening again, the Coast Guard has mounted an aggressive public information campaign so people know that vessels... may be stopped and boarded and may be seized. Individuals who violate U.S. law will be prosecuted in appropriate circumstances."
President Clinton, trying to stem the flow of Cuban rafters, pressed a dozen Latin American governments to provide internment camps that officials hoped will prove less attractive to refugees than the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Although the refugees at Guantanamo were held behind barbed wire, to many, the base was less forbidding than a foreign internment camp. As part of the U. S. A., Guantanamo had more food and more freedom in their jails than in Cuba and Castro could do nothing to them.
However, as a result of bilateral migration accords between the two governments, in September 1994 and May 1995, the status quo of U.S. policy toward Cuban migrants was altered significantly. The U.S. granted Cuba an annual minimum of 20,000 legal immigrant visas and, at the same time, determined that Cubans picked up at sea would be sent home just as any other group of “illegal” immigrants. President Clinton's agreement with Cuba resolved the dilemma of the approximately 33,000 Cubans then encamped at Guantanamo. This new agreement, had two new points. The United States agreed to take most of the Cubans detained at Guantanamo through the humanitarian parole provision. Cuba agreed to credit some of these admissions toward the minimum quota of 20,000 migrants from Cuba, with 5,000 charged annually over the years. Secondly, rather than placing Cubans intercepted at sea in a camp, the United States began sending them back to Cuba. Both governments promised to follow international agreements to ensure that no action would be taken against the people returned to Cuba.
As a result of these migration agreements and interdiction policy, a "wet foot/dry foot" practice toward Cuban immigrants has developed. For those who do not reach the shore (dry land), they are returned to Cuba unless they fear persecution there, but only those who meet the definition of asylum refugee are accepted to eventually be resettled to a third country. Those Cuban rafters who do reach land are inspected by Department of Homeland Security and usually are allowed to stay in the United States. From May 1995 through July 2003, about 170 Cuban refugees were resettled in 11 different countries, including Spain, Venezuela, Australia, and Nicaragua. The State Department request to monitor the fate of the immigrants returned to Cuba to ensure that they were not subject to reprisals, has noted that since March 2003 it has been unable to monitor any of the returnees.
Carl McGill, MA, Professor of Criminal Justice at Phoenix University, in an Aug. 5, 2000 NoCastro.com interview entitled "Candidate Carl McGill Responds to Questions on Cuba," stated: "Clinton's policy to return 'rafters' to Cuba is like returning a slave in pre-Civil War America back to his enslaver. This would have condoned civil rights violations and slavery, as returning a 'rafter' to Cuba condones human rights violations and communism. Clinton's decision on this issue is wrong."
There is a large exiled Cuban-American population residing in the United States, especially in and around Miami, FL and Union City, NJ. Those who oppose the communist government are represented in part by the Cuban-American lobby, which supports the U.S. embargo against Cuba and pressing the communist government for political change.
Other Cuban-American groups, some of which are also opposed to the communist government, advocate different policies, opposing the embargo and favoring more cultural and economic engagement. Among the many other well known Pro Castro groups who are in favor of the Cuban regime, most prominent of these groups are the Brigada Antonio Maceo, Alianza Martiana, Miami Coalition Against the Embargo of Cuba, Alianza de Trabajadores de la Comunidad Cubana, Cuban American Defense League and Rescate Cultural AfroCubano, to name a few.
The Cuban government accuses Miami-based exiles of organizing over 700 armed incursions against Cuba over the past 40 years such as Alpha 66's 1994 and 1995 machine-gun attacks on the Guitart Cayo Coco Hotel.
On September 8, 2006, it was revealed that at least ten South Florida journalists received regular payments from the U.S. government for programs on Radio Martí and TV Martí, two broadcasters aimed at undermining the Cuban state. The payments totaled thousands of dollars over several years. Those who were paid the most were veteran reporters and a freelance contributor for El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish-language newspaper published by the corporate parent of The Miami Herald. The Cuban state has long contended that some South Florida Spanish-language journalists were on the federal payroll.[dead link]
In November 2006, U.S. Congressional auditors accused the development agency USAID of failing properly to administer its program to promote democracy in Cuba. They said that USAID had channeled tens of millions of dollars through exile groups in Miami, which were sometimes wasteful or kept questionable accounts. The report said the organizations had sent items such as chocolate and cashmere jerseys to Cuba. Their report concludes that 30% of the exile groups who received USAID grants showed questionable expenditures.
Acts have occurred in U.S. regions and at least sixteen other countries. A series of bombings in Miami in the mid 1970s led to hearings before a U.S. Subcommittee to investigate internal security. Notable cases of violence targeting individuals include that of Luciano Nieves, who was murdered after advocating peaceful coexistence with Cuba, and WQBA-AM news director Emilio Milian who survived a car bomb but lost his legs after he publicly condemned Cuban exile violence. In 1992 Human Rights Watch released a report stating that hard-line Miami exiles have created an environment in which "moderation can be a dangerous position."
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