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Cubans Wait in Mexico, Hope for Entry to U.S. : Exodus: Eleven who first sought refuge in Havana pose a quandary for officials wary of copycat refugees.

September 14, 1993|PATRICK J. McDONNELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MEXICO CITY — Eleven Cubans who were flown to Mexico after refusing to leave the Mexican Embassy in Havana last week remained ensconced Monday in a hotel outside this city, anticipating their eventual entry into the United States.

Their case--coming in the aftermath of the sensational plight of eight Cuban shipwreck victims who were allowed to fly to Miami from Mexico earlier this month--has posed a quandary for U.S. and Mexican authorities anxious not to trigger an exodus of U.S.-bound Cubans seeking entry by way of Mexico.

"We're clearly sensitive about what signal we're sending," said one U.S. official who is monitoring the situation. "We are not entertaining Mexico as a springboard to the United States for all the Cubans who want to leave."

Similarly, a high-ranking Mexican official voiced concerns about the prospect that Mexico could become a "trampoline" for those fleeing the beleaguered island nation, which is less than 150 miles off the coast of Mexico's Quintana Roo state. The case of the 11 is "an exception, and in no way will we permit it to become the norm," Beatriz Paredes, Mexican ambassador to Cuba, said in Havana.

While the 11 Cubans--many of whom have relatives in Florida--had not applied formally for entry into the United States as of Monday, they left no doubt about their intentions.

"We want to go to Florida," Leonardo Castaneda, one of the group, said Monday by telephone from the hotel where the Cubans are being housed as guests of the Mexican government. "We're all enemies of the politics of Fidel Castro," added Castaneda, a former police officer who is accompanied by his wife, his 4-year-old son and his father.

However, the Mexican government pointedly refrained from granting political asylum to the 11; they were allowed to enter Mexico as visitors. To give them asylum would have been a slap in the face of Fidel Castro, a onetime exile in Mexico whose government enjoys warm relations with Mexico City.

U.S. authorities have not signaled whether they are inclined to grant entry visas to the group.

The 11 Cubans flew to Mexico on Saturday, two days after they entered the Mexican Embassy in Havana and requested political asylum.

Alarmed at the prospect of its citizens besieging foreign missions, Cuban authorities warned that such tactics would not be tolerated. Officials appeared eager to avoid a repeat of the so-called "embassy crisis" of 1990, when dozens of Cubans entered European missions seeking to leave the island, triggering a protracted standoff.

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