Over bitter protests from Cuban-Americans, the United States returned 13 Cuban boat people to their homeland Tuesday, the first refugees to be sent back under a new policy that ended 35 years of open arms.
“This is a day of infamy for the United States,” said Francisco “Pepe” Hernandez, president of the Cuban American National Foundation and a former Marine.
The Cuban men, ages 28 to 45, were picked up from two wooden boats by a passing cruise ship near the Cayman Islands last Thursday. The Coast Guard left them off at Bahia de Cabanas, a Cuban naval base about 40 miles from Havana.
The Clinton administration incensed Cuban exiles last week by announcing that refugee rafters would be returned instead of routinely admitted to the United States as they had been since Fidel Castro took power. The U.S. policy was changed to head off an exodus of Cuban refugees to U.S. shores like the one that occurred last year.
Under a new visa process, a minimum of 20,000 Cubans a year can legally leave their country for the United States.