The last Cuban refugees flew out of Panama on Saturday, headed for a U.S. Navy base on the island they had risked their lives to flee aboard rafts and rickety boats.
“We thought we had achieved liberty on arriving in Panama, but it wasn’t true,” said Evelio Souto on the eve of the final flight to Cuba. “It is very hard to return, a real step backwards.
“But I’m going to wait as long as necessary to reach my goal,” the United States, added Souto, a 40-year-old shipyard welder.
Souto was among 160 Cuban rafters on Saturday’s flight, the last of 7,500 who had been sheltered at U.S. military camps in Panama for five months after being plucked at sea during their flight from Cuba last summer.
Panama agreed to take in Cubans temporarily after President Clinton ended a policy of granting refugee status to almost all Cubans.
Thousands of Cuban refugees have been at the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, in eastern Cuba, and in Panama ever since.