'Boat lift' brings Cubans to US

A fleet of small private boats from Florida picked up nearly 300 Cuban refugees and ferried them to US shores April 22 and 23. Although the US State Department discouraged the "boat lift," calling the refugees coming to the United States in this manner illegal aliens, a number who have already come across have begun filing through US immigration offices.

Cuban premier Fidel Castro appeared to be wholeheartedly supporting the exo dus -- to the point of welcoming the flotillas.

The refugees are among the more than 10,000 Cubans who sought refuge in the Peruvian Embassy in Cuban in recent weeks. About 50 vessels -- from fishing boats to cabin cruisers -- are involved in the boat lift.

A Cuban exile leader in Key West says no particular group is sponsoring the evacuation. Money to finance the lift has been collected privately over the past week, he said.

The effort is similar to one in 1965, when 5,000 refugees fled Cuba in small boats to Florida. That prompted an airlift that ferried some 250,000 Cubans to Miami between 1966 and 1973.

Some diplomats in Havana speculate tha t Mariel, the port from which the refugees left, could be made a free port by Cuba and that the current exodus might exceed 100,000 people.

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