Funeral services were being arranged Thursday for a 26-year-old Haitian refugee who died of AIDS two weeks after he was permitted to leave a detention camp at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and join his father in Homestead, Fla.
The death Tuesday of Joel Saintil touched off a new wave of criticism by refugee advocates over the refusal of the Clinton Administration to grant humanitarian parole to 150 other HIV-infected Haitians being held at Guantanamo. Saintil had been held there for more than 14 months and his death was the first among 79 Haitians with full-blown AIDS who have been brought to the United States this year.
“There is in Guantanamo a potential Waco situation. I’ve heard threats of mass suicide,” said Michael Ratner, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. “Some have been confined for 18 months and they are getting increasingly desperate.”
The HIV-positive Haitians, along with a few dependents who are not infected, are the last of about 40,000 Haitian boat people who were interdicted at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard in the months following the September, 1991, military coup in Haiti. That coup drove elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide into exile.
All of the Haitians being held at Guantanamo, on Cuba’s eastern tip, have been found to have plausible claims to political asylum and thus cannot be returned to Haiti. But both the George Bush and Clinton Administrations have been reluctant to bring them into the United States all at once, citing an immigration ban on HIV-infected migrants.
Last month a federal judge in New York ordered the government to provide the sickest of the sick with adequate care at Guantanamo or allow them into the United States. The Justice Department conceded that the critically ill could not be adequately cared for in Guantanamo’s tent city.
Two weeks ago Saintil was deemed sick enough to warrant special care. He was flown to the United States and released to his father, a Homestead resident. He entered the hospital Sunday and died there Tuesday night.
Moise Saintil, a nursery worker who has lived here 12 years, was disconsolate Thursday over his son’s death. “He never did nothing bad,” he said. “Why did they keep him so long over there? I had him only eight days and he was so sick.”
The Clinton Administration’s refusal to parole all of the Guantanamo Haitians into the country now, instead of waiting until they become sick enough to meet the threshold set by U.S. District Judge Sterling Johnson Jr., is a “cruel and unjustifiable policy,” according to Lisa Daugaard, of the American Civil Liberties Union immigrants’ rights project.
Roseann Micallef, director of Church World Service refugee program in Miami, which resettled Saintil and more than 70 others, said: “My concern is mainly with people remaining on Guantanamo.
“I hate to see their arrival delayed so that tragedies like this happen again. If (Saintil) had been brought over here a year ago, at least he could have spent that time with his family and maybe prolonged his life with better medical care.”