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Forget Boat Lift, U.S. Tells Cuba

<i> The Washington Post</i>

After threats by Cuban President Fidel Castro to unleash a mass exodus of refugees, U.S. officials Saturday warned the Communist regime that they will not permit a replay of the chaotic Mariel boat lift that brought about 120,000 Cuban refugees to South Florida in 1980.

The exchange followed an extraordinary few weeks in Cuba. In the past 10 days, three passenger ferries have been hijacked in Havana harbor by Cubans desperate to flee. And thousands of angry Cubans gathered in Havana on Thursday and Friday, some taunting government security forces and chanting “down with Fidel.”

Crowds, estimated by some to have reached 10,000, gathered in Old Havana when rumors spread that another Mariel boat lift was beginning. Thousands of Cubans watched as a ferry hijacked by passengers Thursday headed out to sea. Saturday evening, the ferry, which had run out of fuel, was back under the control of Cuban authorities, according to news reports from the island.

At one point Friday, hundreds of Cubans also tried to board Chinese and Canadian freighters in the port. Police and members of rapid response teams, many wielding guns and clubs, dispersed hundreds of rock-throwing protesters.

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