Cuban Exodus to US Continues Undeterred by Closed-Door Policy

DESPITE President Clinton's Friday reversal of the United States' longstanding open-arms policy toward Cuban refugees, the exodus that began Aug. 5 across the 90-mile Florida Straits hasn't slowed yet.

In the past Cuban refugees were virtually assured of asylum. Now, those who reach US shores are being detained indefinitely, and those picked up at sea are taken to Guantanamo Bay.

The Coast Guard picked up 1,293 Cubans on Sunday - the highest daily total since the 1980 Mariel boatlift that brought 125,000 Cubans to US shores in five months. Sunday's total broke Saturday's record of 1,189.

The numbers have surged since Aug. 5, when Cuban leader Fidel Castro threatened to open his coast, raising fears of a new Mariel. Dozens more Cubans left their country in rafts and boats yesterday, apparently undeterred by, or unaware of, the new policy.

Most of the refugees are leaving Cuba in tiny homemade rafts. The Coast Guard is plucking hundreds from the sea. Coast Guard helicopters, planes, cutters, and crews have been called in from as far away as Maine to help handle the influx.

But volunteer pilots helping search for the rafters say it's not enough.

``We have in excess of 300 rafts in the Straits of Florida - the rafts keep coming,'' said Jose Basulto of Brothers to the Rescue, a pilots' group. ``Many people - hundreds of people - are likely to die unless something is done in a rush.''

Mr. Basulto urged the Coast Guard to expand its search, and he pleaded with Cubans not to leave their country.

``It is suicidal,'' he said. Pentagon to order cuts in defense contracts

THE Defense Department's No. 2 officer has warned the military it may not get the money it wants for buying major new weapons, such as fighter planes or submarines, senior Pentagon officials said yesterday.

``This is a worst case scenario,'' a senior official said, describing the memo from Deputy Defense Secretary John Deutch to the military services.

The memo tells the services to prepare different ways of funding all new major weapons systems, ranging from the F-22 to the Navy's new attack submarine, in the years 1996-2001.

``This effort should look for different ways of funding these systems,'' the official said of the memo.

The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post reported yesterday that decisions on cuts or delays in the weapons systems could come as early as next month.

The shipyards most vulnerable to any Pentagon cutbacks are the Bath Iron Works in Maine and Litton Industries Inc.'s shipyards in Mississippi, which are desperate for work, since they're the last two US yards making conventional Navy ships, the Post said.

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