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Cuba Renews Refugee Pact With U.S. : Way Cleared for Return of Criminals and Mentally Ill

November 21, 1987|NORMAN KEMPSTER | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Cuba agreed Friday to reinstate an immigration agreement with the United States that will allow the return to Cuba of almost 3,000 common criminals and mentally ill persons who came to the United States among the thousands of refugees in the 1980 Mariel boatlift, the State Department announced.

State Department spokesman Charles Redman said the agreement, reached during two days of negotiations in Mexico City, restores the program that the Havana government suspended 30 months ago to protest the inauguration of Radio Marti, a U.S.-government operated radio station that broadcasts news, features and commentary in Spanish to Fidel Castro's island nation.

Redman said the agreement also calls for Washington to resume normal processing of Cuban applications for immigration to the United States.

Accept All Relatives

He said released political prisoners and the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens will receive priority among those who apply for entry visas. Washington has agreed to take up to 3,000 political prisoners a year and will accept all the relatives who apply.

In addition, as many as 20,000 other Cubans could be admitted annually under normal immigration procedures.

Cuba angrily canceled the immigration agreement May 20, 1985, the day that Radio Marti went on the air. At that time, the Cuban government denounced the station, which broadcasts on both AM and short-wave bands, as a "shameful provocation." Radio Marti is named for 19th-Century Cuban patriot Jose Marti.

Friday's pact is the first one between the two countries since the radio station, which U.S. officials describe as a "surrogate home service" for Cuban listeners unable to hear unbiased news on Cuban government-run outlets, went on the air. Redman warned, however, that Friday's agreement does not signal a warming of U.S.-Cuban relations in other areas.

Radio Marti is operated by the Voice of America although its broadcasts have a far more direct political message than regular VOA programs.

In a direct retaliation for Radio Marti, Cuba launched its own broadcasts to the United States, using powerful transmitters that frequently drown out commercial American stations broadcasting on nearby frequencies. In addition, the Cuban government frequently attempts to jam Radio Marti broadcasts in Cuba.

Broadcast Issues Remain

Redman said the United States and Cuba agreed to continue negotiations to sort out disputes over the AM radio band. But he said the United States will not consider restrictions on Radio Marti.

"We continue to believe that Radio Marti is doing an excellent job and is meeting the objectives that have been set forth," Redman said. He said Radio Marti broadcasts comply with international regulations on the allocation of radio frequencies but Cuban broadcasts to the United States do not.

Despite the new agreement, Redman said, Washington and Havana are far apart on many other issues.

Of the tens of thousands of Cubans who reached Florida in 1980, when Cuba briefly permitted anyone who wanted to leave the island to do so from the port of Mariel, a total of 2,746 were later determined to be ineligible for United States entry because of nonpolitical crimes or mental illness. In 1984, Cuba agreed to accept the return of the illegal immigrants, but only 201 of the individuals had been returned before Cuba suspended the program.

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