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Cheers, hugs for refugees

By Ruth WalkerStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 16, 1980



Boston

The group waiting to meet Eastern Airlines flight 46, from Miami, had surged well beyond the signs saying "Ticketed Passengers Only Beyond This Point." But none of the airline officials seemed to mind.

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As the first few passengers, mostly Bostonians returning from vacation, came off the plane, they wondered aloud who all those people were in the otherwise almost-deserted terminal.

Those people, 60 to 75 strong, were members and friends of the Massachusetts-based Cuban Refugees' Embassy Relief Fund, come to meet one of the first groups of refugees to arrive in Boston.

After a few anticipatory whoops and cheers from the crowd, the first of the new Cuban arrivals entered the terminal, setting off a roar of applause and cheers from the crowd, an electric storm of camera flashs, and cries of "Viva America!"

Among the newcomers: Liuva del Toro, 13 years a political prisoner in Castro's jails, and nine of his family.

The No. 2 man in an anti-Castro resistance movement whose leader was executed by a firing squad, Mr. del Toro was only 22 when he was sentenced to 30 years in prison. He was freed in a general amnesty of political prisoners last November, but the experience has taken its toll.

Refusing to wear either the blue prison uniform of common criminals, or the yellow uniform of Batista collaborators, he did without in the dank, damp jail. At one point he undertook a 37-day hunger strike to protest one of Castro's actions. Now at 36 he is in a wheelchair.

But like thousands of other Cubans in recent weeks, Mr. del Toro has made it to the United States, with his mother, two brothers, their wives, and their four children.

The new arrivals inch their way through the dense crowd of huggers and kissers as the airline officials try to nudge the crowd gently out of the gate area and into the terminal proper.

Three days after the Peruvian Embassy in havana was stormed by desperate Cubans seeking asylum, the Cuban Refugees' Embassy Relief Fund opened its office in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston. The fund's 14-member steering committee is made up of members of the Cuban committee thoughout Massachusetts, most of them professional people. They have subcommittees in Lowell, Lawrence, Chelsea, and Worcester -- "wherever there are Cubans," according to their spokeswoman, Regla Gonzalez Guerra.

They have set up an account with the United States Trust Company to receive donations; established a collection center for food, clothing, and furniture at a women's health club in suburan Watertown; and are opening a shelter in Chelsea. They have printed up questionnaires for the new arrivals, asking what their immediate needs are -- housing, food, money, jobs, education.

"With these, we can follow up on the people," explains Mrs. Gonzales Guerra.

The del Toro family had relatives in the crowd greeting them at the airport, as did most of the refugees. They will have a place to stay and help finding jobs and housing. But the Relief Fund people are putting out the word that they will provide help for any Cuban who needs it.

They are particularly concerned about a significant but undetermined number of teenagers, unaccompanied by adult relatives, among the 40,000 Cuban refugees who have landed in the US in recent weeks.