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Cheney OKs Use of U.S. Plane to Ship Gifts to Haitian Refugees

December 25, 1991| From Times Wire Services

After refusing for days to provide a military aircraft to ship privately donated Christmas gifts to more than 6,000 Haitian refugees encamped at the U.S. Navy's Guantanamo base in Cuba, the Pentagon decided on Christmas Eve not to play the Grinch after all.

Under pressure from human-rights groups and politicians, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney authorized the use of a New York Air National Guard aircraft to provide the Haitians with 16 tons of toys, clothing and food.

But the shipment was approved too late to get the gifts to the refugees by Christmas.

Cheney's approval ended several days of wrangling in which sponsors had accused the White House of delaying the shipment for political reasons.

Nearly complete plans called for the goods to arrive at Guantanamo late Friday or Saturday.

The goods were collected in a drive by two New York black-owned radio stations, WLIB and WBLS, to bring holiday cheer.

More than 6,000 Haitians fled their homeland after a Sept. 30 military coup that overthrew elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. They were rescued at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The refugees are being cared for at the base as U.S. courts decide their refugee status. The Bush Administration seeks to repatriate them as economic rather than political refugees.

In Elizabethtown, Ind., Christmas Eve was brighter for 27 Haitian children who became U.S. citizens in a special ceremony.

Dan and Kathy Blackburn, former missionaries to the Caribbean island nation, adopted 28 Haitian children, ages 4 to 16, earlier this year. One of the children was ruled ineligible for citizenship because she turned 16 before the adoption was finalized. But she was granted indefinite parole, which allows her to remain in this country.

Elsewhere, newly freed hostages spent their first Christmas Eve in years with their families.

"It's the kind of Christmas that I've dreamed about for six Christmases," former Beirut hostage Thomas M. Sutherland said at his home in Ft. Collins, Colo.

"It's a great Christmas," said Badr Turner, wife of former hostage Jesse (Jon) Turner of Boise, Ida. They and their 4-year-old daughter, Joanne, spent Christmas Eve at the nearby home of Turner's mother, Estelle Ronneburg, and stepfather, Eugene.

Other good things happened Christmas Eve:

--In Oklahoma City, a hotel opened its rooms, which usually cost $79 a night for a single, for homeless families, with dinner and a visit by Santa Claus. The lucky families were recommended by shelters.

--In a Pennsylvania shopping mall, a white-wigged Mrs. Claus has been taking a seat next to Santa and using sign language so that deaf children can communicate with St. Nick.

--In Grand Rapids, Mich., an anonymous benefactor was credited with saving a program for teen-age mothers. A check for $20,000 was wrapped inside a crumpled $1 bill and dropped into a Salvation Army collection kettle.

--In Boston, a coffee shop owner, a clothing manufacturer and the Boston Herald organized the giveaway of 5,000 coats on the morning of Christmas Eve. About 500 people lined up; any leftovers were donated to shelters.

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