Cuban father waits in dread for word of son: At Krome, Miami, Rupert Cornwell finds that the boat people are being sacrificed for politics

UP TO 100 Cuban-Americans jammed outside the gate are screaming at the blank-faced police guards, waving Cuban flags, and chanting 'Libertad'. But not Jose-Antonio Medina - he sits on a low concrete wall, waiting. Not for the revolution in his home country, nor in the expectation that the frenzy around him will produce any quick result. For the past eight hours, he has been waiting for word of his son.

Now in his 50s, Mr Medina made it to America in the legendary Mariel boatlift 14 years ago. But he left eight sons behind.

Now he has been told that one of them, Jorge, left the Havana beaches by raft on Tuesday or Wednesday. But by 4pm on Saturday, despite the clamour of the crowd, officials at the Immigration and Naturalisation Service 'processing centre' have not released any names.

At best, Jorge's will be on it, one of the 336 refugees brought to Krome since President Bill Clinton's announcement the previous day that the automatic right of asylum in the US which Cubans have enjoyed for three decades was ending. If so, his problems are over. The son of a US resident, Jorge would be automatically reunited with his father, instead of being sent straight back to join 15,000 Haitian boat-people already packed into America's fortress foothold on his homeland at Guantanamo bay.

At worst, who knows? 'The crossing can take two or three days or a fortnight, depending on the tide,' Mr Medina explains with a shrug. There are grimmer possibilities. His son's vessel might have been washed back to shore, or lost in the treacherous waters of the Florida Straits - a sacrificed pawn in this latest diplomatic war between Havana and Washington and the requirements of domestic politics.

At the weekend, moving to appease Cuban-Americans appalled by the demotion of their fleeing compatriots to Haitian status, President Clinton stiffened sanctions further. A ban on cash transfers to relatives in the island will deprive the Castro regime of dollars 150m ( pounds 98m) to dollars 200m a year in hard currency. 'Family reunification' visits and charter flights to the island will be curtailed, while propaganda broadcasts in Spanish from Florida are being stepped up. Thus, Washington calculates, will Cuba's isolation and the pressure on Mr Castro be increased.

But even these new measures still fall short of a the total blockade demanded by hard-line emigres. Mr Clinton's chief of staff, Leon Panetta, said yesterday a blockade was an option for the US unless the Castro's government made 'some legitimate movements toward democracy'.

'Clinton, are you playing Castro's game?' asks a placard carried by one of the 50-odd demonstrators now bivouacked at the monument to the Cuban-Americans who lost their lives in the Bay of Pigs invasion of April 1961, on Calle Ocho in the heart of Miami's 'Little Havana'. The figures would suggest in this desperate hour that the old fox in the real Havana is still calling the shots. Despite the new policy, a record 1,100 Cubans were picked up on Saturday alone, bring the August exodus to almost 9,000. From grandmothers to babies, los balseros were leaving on anything that would float.

If these malcontents want to leave, then so much the better, Mr Castro reasons. And if they come in numbers enough to overwhelm US facilities, then that is Mr Clinton's problem. Reports from Havana suggest security police continue to bundle would-be emigrants on to their precarious craft. As Arturo Vieja, a Cuban specialist at Miami's Florida International University and an avowed 'pragmatist' says, 'Every single action the US takes, Castro turns it to his advantage. What he is doing is awful, what Washington is doing is stupid.'

This sweeping reversal of US policy may yet comply with that rule. For 30 years Havana has been blaming Cuba's plight on the US embargo. 'These new measures will only increase the hardship,' Abelardo Moreno, minister at Cuba's UN mission said yesterday. As with Haiti, it is ordinary Cubans who will suffer. An invasion to put Haiti out of its misery this autumn is quite conceivable. Despite much probable huffing and puffing over Cuba at the UN, a military collision with Mr Castro is not.

Thus the Krome solution. This is not what Cubans are used to. The 'processing centre' is really a detention camp - barracks and tents surrounded by barbed wire and a 10-foot fence 25 miles west of central Miami. The warnings by the entrance gate are in Creole. Until Friday this was where they sent Haitians, not Cubans previously sure of a hero's welcome whether they actually made it to terra Americana or were picked up on the high seas.

The diehards with their loudspeakers at the Bay of Pigs monument, or who call into the Spanish- language radio talkshows in Miami are predictably furious: 'If you're going to treat Cubans like Haitians,' they argue, 'then treat Castro like (Haitian dictator Raoul) Cedras.' But most Cuban- Americans have mixed feelings. Their loathing of Mr Castro and all he stands for is visceral. But few want a repeat of Mariel, and another 125,000 refugees swamping facilities and wearing Florida's tolerance to breaking-point. The Miami Herald said Mr Clinton had made the best of a bad job.

His get-tough policy has drawn wide support in a state which has the fourth largest bloc of votes in the electoral college at the 1996 presidential election. An even more obvious beneficiary has been Lawton Chiles, Florida's Governor, who is running for re-election in November. His imposition of a state of emergency last Thursday forced Washington's hand. Their governor, Floridians have been shown, has clout.

And so back to Krome, where the waiting continues. Suddenly there is word that another 29 refugees are about to arrive. Just after 5 pm, the INS bus enters the camp without stopping. For the crowd held back by the police, there is just a tantalising glimpse of heads silhouetted through the iron mesh windows, a few defiant waves. Perhaps one of them is Jorge Medina.

Cuba creaks, page 15

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
News
Robyn Lawley
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Arts and Entertainment
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint)
newsBloomsbury unveils new covers for JK Rowling's wizarding series
News
scienceScientists try to explain the moon's funny shape
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
As Loki in The Avengers (2012)
filmRead Tom Hiddleston's email to Joss Whedon on prospect of playing Loki
Voices
voices In defence of the charcoal-furred feline, by Felicity Morse
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior IT Trainer - Buckinghamshire - £250 - £350 p/d

£200 - £300 per day: Ashdown Group: IT Trainer - Marlow, Buckinghamshire - £25...

Education Recruitment Consultant- Learning Support

£18000 - £30000 per annum + Generous commission scheme: AER Teachers: Thames T...

All Primary NQT's

£100 - £120 per day + per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Description Calling a...

Supply Teachers Needed in Thetford

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers neede...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star