Cuban flotilla to US is back in business

A new, but much smaller phase of the Cuban refugee flotilla to the United States is under way. Since early July, refugees have been arriving at Key West, Fla., at a rate of about 80 a day, far fewer than during "Phase I" of the flotilla, when hundreds -- sometimes thousands -- of refugees would arrive in a single day.

But "Phase II" of the flotilla shows:

* The ineffectiveness of the US Coast Guard's so-called "blockade" of Cuba-bound ships.

Cuban-American boat captains are dodging the blockade by heading first toward the Bahamas or Mexico, then veering toward Cuba once past the blockade.

* Only Cuban President Fidel Castro can stop the continuing exodus of Cubans to this country. And Dr. Castro is still showing no willingness to cooperate with the US to organize an airlift or orderly boatlift, according to Myles Frechette, Cuba desk officer at the State Department.

* The underlying force of the boatlifts is family ties.

Among the July arrivals, there appear to be fewer persons without relatives in the US (and fewer single males) than in Phase I. This makes resettlement easier, according to Siro del Castillo, who is in charge of processing the refugees in Miami.

"Most of the people who come [in the past few weeks], I release immediately [ to relatives]," Mr. del Castillo says.

For a while after President Carter ordered the Coast Guard blockade, it appeared the flow to the US would end as soon as the boats already in the Cuban port of Mariel loaded and returned to Key West.

But sometime during July -- Phase II has no official beginning date -- the number of Cuban-Americans defying the blockade began picking up.

Phase I brought an estimated 114,000 Cubans to the US between April 22 and June 19, after which new arrivals -- by Mr. Carter's order -- were eligible for fewer benefits and faced a tougher process to get permission to stay.

Since June 19, however, about 3,000 more Cuban refugees have arrived.

Some of the new arrivals had been in Mariel less than two weeks, including a continuing flow of would-be refugees to the port, Mr. del Castillo says.

No more than three boats a day have been arriving in Key West, but -- as in Phase I -- most are dangerously overloaded, says Lt. Tom Powell of the Coast Guard's Miami office. Most of the boats bringing the latest arrivals are smaller than those arriving in Phase I.

Coast Guard escorts are provided once the boats are spotted at sea, but as far as blocking indirect routes to Cuba is concerned, Lieutenant Powell says: "We do not have enough resources to cover all those areas."

Incoming boat captains are subject to arrest and fines. But enforcement of this policy has been uneven and confusing.

"We'd like to shut it [the boatlift] down, for sure," Mr. Frechette told the Monitor. The law against the transport of undocumented aliens can -- and will -- be "enforced much more vigorously than it is," he said.

Mr. Frechette, however, doubts the claims o some Cuban-Americans in Miami that Castro now is granting a greater percentage of places on the boats to those with relatives in the US than during Phase I. He said the "mix" between relatives and nonrelatives appears about the same as during Phase I.

Meanwhile, about 97,000 of Cuban refugees who have arrived in the US since April have been relocated with individual or family sponsors. Many already have jobs -- albeit mostly low-paying ones.

But those who remain are posing some tough challenges to the US immigration system. Most are single males who do not speak English and have no relatives or friends in this country.

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