US-Cuba Pact Brings Relief To Some in Miami
MIAMI — THE one public official in Miami openly joyous of the Clinton administration's deal with Fidel Castro Ruz on Cuban refugees is Miami City manager Cesar Odio.
The Cuban-American city manager says he is ``proud'' of the administration's agreement with Cuba.
In fact, the deal reached on Friday saved Mr. Odio the task of having to deal with a massive number of refugees. He had warned repeatedly that the city doesn't have the resources to do so. The federal government still owes the city money from the 1980 Mariel boatlift, which brought 125,000 Cuban refugees to Florida.
On the other hand, Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R) of Florida, a Cuban American, says the administration's agreement violates international law because it encourages the Cuban government to stop people from leaving Cuba. ``The United States has asked Castro to do precisely what he has repeatedly been condemned for doing by the United Nations,'' he told The Miami Herald.
The agreement will also bring at least 140,000 more Cubans to the US over the next seven years - more than came during the Mariel boatlift - according to Thomas Boswell, a professor at the University of Miami who studies the Cuban community.
In addition, the more than 30,000 refugees in ``safe havens'' in Panama and at the US Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba will be let into the US once attention to the present crises fades, Professor Boswell predicts.
``I'm not convinced they are going to stay there [in safe havens] for a long time,'' Boswell says. ``A lot of them will go to third countries such as Mexico and Spain and later come quietly to the US.''
The Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), made up largely of wealthy exiles who fled Cuba when Castro seized power, neither supports the deal nor opposes it, according to the organization's President Francisco ``Pepe'' Hernandez. ``No pact nor negotiation with Fidel Castro has a satisfactory solution,'' he says.
President Clinton consulted with the Foundation's chairman Jorge Mas Canosa and others in the Cuban-American leadership before scrapping the preferential treatment that Cuban refugees received from the Immigration and Naturalization Service for 28 years.
The Foundation's support is considered critical for any major deal that Clinton cuts with Castro because the staunchly conservative organization is highly influential in the Hispanic community in South Florida.
Hispanics make up about 12 percent of the Florida's population. They represent about 5 percent of voters and are concentrated here in Dade County - the largest county in Florida.
Members of the CANF often go on Spanish-speaking radios and can persuade 80 to 90 percent of the Hispanic community to vote for a political candidate, according to Boswell.
The Foundation also lobbies aggressively in Washington for Cuban-American interests, according to Boswell, often casting itself as representing the interests of Hispanics all over the US.