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Cuban rafters now a regular feature

Jan 1, 2003

CUBAN RAFTERS NOW A REGULAR FEATURE in Florida waters. The tide of Cuban refugees fleeing their still-communist homeland continues to increase. In the first few months of this year more than 1,200 refugees reached the beaches of Florida, and officials are expecting this to be a record year for Cuban "migrations."

"The number of refugees that we help every month has skyrocketed in recent years and especially this year," said an officer aboard a Coast Guard cutter stationed near Key West.

In 1987, barely 50 Cuban refugees were known to have made the sometimes-perilous journey across the Straits of Florida. More than 3,500 made the passage in 1993.

In January, 248 refugees reached the shores of south Florida. In February the number was reported at 384, according to Coast Guard reports. March's tide of migrants leapt to 474, and April's numbers were already on the rise as of press time.

"Economic conditions in Cuba have deteriorated incredibly since the Soviet Union collapsed and they lost their primary trading partners," said a foreign-affairs official who follows U.S. relations with Cuba. "Until then, Cuba's industries revolved around sugar export to the Soviet Union in exchange for everything. Now, they are trying to convert the sugar production to production of other goods for their own consumption."

The Cuban Democracy Act, which was passed in the last days of the Bush administration, forbade any subsidiaries of U.S. companies to engage in trade with Cuba. More recently, the Clinton administration has refused to consider lifting or lightening Cuban embargo policies even though the U.S. government has lifted the embargo with Vietnam.


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