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March 1996, Volume 3, Number 3

Caribbean Immigration

On January 31, 1996 the last 124 Cubans left the US base at Guantanamo for the US. After Cubans and Haitians set out for the US in the summer of 1994, the US erected a tent city at Guantanamo, on the eastern tip of Cuba, to house some 29,000 Cubans and 21,000 Haitians who were picked up by the US Coast Guard at sea in Operation Sea Signal. Most of the Haitians were sent home, and most of the Cubans came to the US.

The Guantanamo base maintains materials to house up to 10,000 people in future emergencies.

The Cuban exodus was halted by a US-Cuban agreement that guaranteed Cubans at least 20,000 immigration visas annually, provided Cubans applied in Havana--although the US reported in February 1996 that 280 Cubans have been intercepted since May 1995 attempting to flee the island on small boats, or to enter the Guantanamo base. The Haitian exodus halted after President Aristide was returned to power, and the US stood firm on its policy of not admitting Haitians to the US.

Under an agreement with Cuba, the Bahamas will return Cuban boat people and Cuba will accept them. More than 30,000 Cubans who are detained or living in the Bahamas will be returned. The conditions and a timeline for the returned have not be released. Some of the Haitians and Cubans in the Bahamas were employed as low-wage farm workers while there.

Cuban President Fidel Castro agreed to lower, in some needy cases, the fee Cubans are charged for migrating to the US. Castro agreed to lower fees for 1,000 cases immediately and an additional 1,000 cases each year. The fees will be lowered from $600 to $300 dollars. The migration fees have meant that it costs up to $900, including airfare to emigrate to the US.

Mireya Navarro, "Camps at Guantanamo close as last of Cubans enter US," New York Times, February 1, 1996. Frances Kerry, "Castro agrees to lower emigration fees for some Cubans," Reuters, January 20, 1996. "Cuba, Bahamas reach accord on illegal immigration," Reuters, January 17, 1996.