Clinton tightens screw on Castro

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ONE DAY after abruptly closing the door on Cuban refugees fleeing to the United States, President Bill Clinton yesterday announced a series of punitive measures aimed directly at the Communist leader of Cuba, Fidel Castro.

The move is an attempt to damp down outrage among Cuban Americans in southern Florida - as well as the politically powerful Cuban lobby in Washington - who feel that patriotic Cubans who are risking their lives on the ocean are being unfairly treated. Cubans make up almost a third of Miami's population.

Though the President is treading a delicate line with the Cuban lobby, his decision to block the stream of refugees may bring him political rewards in the country at large. Most Americans are deeply hostile to refugee influxes. The administration, therefore, is likely to stop at nothing to avert a repeat of the 1980 Mariel boatlift, when 125,000 Cubans were allowed into America. In the past week, about 2,000 Cubans have been picked up.

There were sporadic protests in Little Havana, Miami, late on Friday, with locals chanting 'Down with Fidel' and 'Down with Clinton'. The Spanish-language radio stations in the city vibrated with debate and indignation.

In practice many Cuban Americans would not welcome another large-scale refugee invasion; their priority is to see Mr Castro toppled.

The decision to ship refugees to detention camps at Guantanamo Bay US naval base, near Cuba's south-east tip, marks a reversal of almost three decades of welcoming all asylum-seekers from Communist Cuba. The Cuban government yesterday rejected 'the arbitrary use of this portion of Cuban soil . . . as a concentration camp for Cuban citizens who have abandoned their country'.

The latest measures may be more symbolic than genuinely painful for Mr Castro. They include a halt to cash remittances from the United States to Cuba, in effect stopping Cuban- Americans from sending cash to their families in Cuba. Up to now dollars 300 ( pounds 200) could be sent every three months. There will be new limits on charter flights to the country and an appeal to the United Nations to condemn Havana for human rights violations. US radio broadcasts to Cuba will also be stepped up.