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July 1998, Volume 5, Number 7

Caribbean, Central America

Caribbean. As the weather improves, more Cubans and Haitians are setting out for the US. According to the INS, more Cubans are using smugglers in an attempt to leave, as indicated by the absence of makeshift rafts and boats where they land.

Nicaragua's president in May offered to accept the 191 Cubans who fled by raft to the Bahamas. Instead, the Bahamian government returned them to Cuba. Accepting the offer of Nicaragua would, according to Luther Smith, permanent secretary in the Bahamas Foreign Ministry, open "the floodgates for more (Cubans) to come." The Bahamas has returned 489 Cubans since the return agreement was signed in 1996. In early May, about 400 Cubans were in detention in Nassau.

The Cuban government has said it would allow anyone to go to Nicaragua, except the group of 191 who violated Cuban law by leaving the country without permission. The Cuban police have imposed tight security around the Nicaraguan embassy in Havana in an apparent effort to prevent a rush of visa-seekers. A similar rush occurred in the 1980s when visa-seekers entered the Peruvian embassy and resulted in the Mariel boatlift.

The US Coast Guard reported that the number of Cubans picked up at sea rose from 45 in the first quarter of 1997 to 120 in the first quarter of 1998.

The US in June 1998 announced the annual visa lottery, "El Bombo," that allows up to 20,000 Cubans to immigrate to the United States each year. To win a US immigration visa, eligible Cubans--those aged 18 to 55 who have completed high school or have three years work experience and relatives in the US-- must send applications via the Cuban postal system to the US Interests Section in Havana between June 15 and July 15, 1998. The lottery--the Special Cuban Migration Program--was begun in 1994. The first lottery in November 1994 attracted 189,000 Cuban entrants and the second in March 1996 attracted 435,000.

On May 12, more than 150 Haitian immigrants jumped from a freighter in the Miami River. Those located were detained at Krome Detention Center in Miami.

On the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez made a three-day visit to Haiti in June 1998-- the first time a Dominican leader will have spent the night in Haiti since a 1936 trip by Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo--to discuss illegal immigration and drug trafficking. According to US officials, Colombian traffickers send cocaine by speedboat on the 10-hour trip to Haiti, they are then smuggled into the Dominican Republic and then sent to Florida.

Dominicans are worried about being overrun by Haitians; some estimate that 500,000 to one million Haitians live illegally in the Dominican Republic. Both countries have about eight million people, but Haiti has half as much land. Creole-speaking Haitians are blacks descended from African slaves and have lived under French colonialism. Dominicans speak Spanish, and most are of mixed European and African descent.

Central America. California Senate candidate Liz Figueroa, daughter of Salvadoran immigrants, is favored to win a seat in a district near Oakland in November 1998.

Remittances to El Salvador in 1997 were estimated to be $1.2 billion, equivalent to 10 percent of the country's GDP.

Stephen Gregory, "Salvadorans Come to L.A. to Seek Their Countrymen's Aid," Los Angeles Times, June 26, 1998. Carol Rosenberg, "New visa lottery will help Cubans migrate to U.S," Miami Herald, June 6, 1998.