'We stand by our policy,' the Defense Secretary, William Perry, told a hastily convened White House press conference. Washington would not be 'intimidated' by the tide of refugees unleashed by Fidel Castro. The 10,000 capacity of the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, a US enclave on south- eastern Cuba, would be increased to 40,000 by the end of next week, Mr Perry said. 'We have the resources to deal with this.'
They may be needed. Already 2,000 Cubans are at the base along with 14,000 Haitians, and a further 7,000 are on their way, after US Coastguard cutters picked up a record 3,253 Cuban boat people on Tuesday alone.
In New York, Cuba's UN ambassador, Fernando Remirez, told the press that Havana was ready to negotiate. But talks would have to embrace all outstanding issues: not just the emigration crisis but the future of Guantanamo Bay, US radio broadcasts to Cuba, and the American trade embargo, which Havana says is the root cause of its economic plight.
But Peter Tarnoff, the third-ranking State Department official, replied there was 'nothing to be gained' from direct talks. The crisis was Cuban-made, he said, and up to the Cubans to resolve. The only concession the US appears willing to make is to increase legal immigration. Recently only 3,000 to 5,000 entry visas have been granted to Cuban applicants, compared with a theoretical ceiling of 20,000 or more.
Whatever the longer-term problems it may be storing up, the Clinton administration is running into little criticism at home of its harsh response to the Cuban refugee crisis - not surprisingly, given that the policy was largely tailored to placate domestic constituencies.
The biggest of these constituencies, of course, is the vast majority of Americans who, well before the exodus from Cuba began, opposed further large-scale immigration into the US.
And the administration has been equally careful not to upset the 1.1 million Cuban- Americans, rabidly anti-Castro and a potent force in Miami politics. The end to Cubans' right to automatic asylum, announced by the President last Friday, which, in effect, puts them on the same footing as refugees from Haiti or anywhere else, was a shock. But his moves the following day to step up pressure on the Castro regime largely stilled the fuss. In political terms, therefore, Mr Clinton has done himself no harm.
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