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SOUTH GATE : Local Cubans React to Clinton Policy

August 28, 1994|SIMON ROMERO

Like other members of the local Cuban community, Angel Prada spent last week trying to understand the Clinton Administration's Cuba policy shift.

"I don't see Clinton's decision as beneficial to the Cuban people," said the 55-year-old Prada, referring to the decision that those fleeing Fidel Castro's regime will no longer automatically be granted asylum in the United States. Prada, a former boxer who left the island 30 years ago and now publishes the Cuban weekly La Voz Libre, takes an almost militant stance: "I'd rather see the U.S. remove Castro by force the same way they did to Noriega in Panama."

Rene Cruz, 67, director of the local Casa Cuba halfway house for recently arrived political refugees, said Cubans who do arrive in the United States would be welcome in Los Angeles, home to most of the Southland's 50,000-member Cuban community. "Miami can't absorb them all," he said. "Cubans in other parts of the country, like Los Angeles and New Jersey, will have to pitch in to help these people."

Until last week, Cuba prohibited its citizens from leaving without permission, and over the last three decades the United States welcomed Cubans who succeeded in their flight. Since the beginning of this year, the exodus increased dramatically. And since the Administration's recent decision to deny automatic entry to Cuban refugees to halt the flow, the Coast Guard has been detaining those it intercepts at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Abel Perez, 70, publisher of the Los Angeles-based news weekly 20 de Mayo, said Clinton's decision to prohibit Cuban-Americans from sending money to relatives on the island will help those opposed to Castro within Cuba.

"Now isn't the time for Cubans to send their money," he said. "The day after Fidel dies, Cubans can invest their money and make their country rich."

Blase Bonpane, director of the Office of the Americas, a nonprofit corporation specializing in conflict resolution, said the new policy may backfire.

"Previously, the people lacking dollars resented those that had them, and had more reason to revolt," he said. "Now, with the supply of dollars drying up, the Clinton Administration has shot itself in the foot. Instead of rebelling, many people without dollars will simply try to leave the island."

"Cuba is like one large hacienda," said Roberto de la Fuente, who arrived at Casa Cuba from the island nation two months ago. "And Castro is the hacendado --the owner of everything."

De la Fuente, 48, who was an accountant for a textile factory in Cuba, was imprisoned for seven years for conspiring to overthrow the regime.

"The misery gets worse daily. Last year I was able to eat a piece of bad fish about once every two weeks," he said. De la Fuente and other members of the local Cuban community were visited recently by Eusebio Penalver, 65, president of the World Federation of Former Cuban Political Prisoners, from Tampa, Fla.

Penalver, whose visit was to raise awareness about the island nation's dire situation, arrived in the United States five years ago after spending 28 years as a political prisoner.

"The country is on the verge of a catastrophe," Penalver said. "Castro's internal problems cause him to search for an escape valve. That's why we're now seeing hundreds of Cubans fleeing their homeland every day."

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