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Closed-Door Policy Fails to Stem Tide of Cubans : Immigration: Coast Guard is still picking up rafts in Florida Straits. Cash remittances to Havana are banned.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A day after a stunning change in U.S. immigration policy intended to shut down the mounting exodus of Cubans heading for Florida on homemade boats, the flood of refugees continued unabated Saturday.

Even as President Clinton was announcing a package of measures aimed at ratcheting up the pressure on Cuban President Fidel Castro--including banning all cash remittances to Cuba and placing new restrictions on flights--the U.S. Coast Guard was rescuing more than 860 Cubans in the Florida Straits.

The refugees were being ferried to a tent city detention camp at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba, already home to more than 14,000 Haitian refugees.

The new arrivals, along with 365 other Cubans being held at a U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service detention center west of Miami, are the first to be affected by the policy reversal that has left Cubans subject to the same immigration rules that Haitians and other asylum-seekers face.

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Outside the Krome Detention Center on the edge of the Everglades, about 300 anxious Cuban Americans from South Florida gathered in the blazing sun, hoping to find the names of family members on a list of those being held inside.

“My 17-year-old brother left on a raft Wednesday with a cousin, his wife and two babies,” said Julio Canto, 23, who himself rafted to South Florida three years ago. “We have no idea where he is now.”

Although those on the list face detention rather than the immediate prospect of a new life in the United States, they did succeed in escaping death on the high seas. Some fleeing refugees in recent days did not.

Atty. Gen. Janet Reno announced Thursday that Cuban migrants no longer would be welcomed routinely to the United States but would have to apply for asylum like other would-be immigrants.

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The move was the Clinton Administration’s response to a steadily growing crisis in which more than 8,700 Cubans have fled to Florida this year. That represents the largest number of Cuban refugees to attempt to sail here since the Mariel boat lift of 1980, when more than 125,000 Cubans arrived in South Florida.

Reports from inside Cuba suggest that even those who may have heard of the U.S. detention policy--and the news has been broadcast to Cuba by U.S. government-run Radio Marti and commercial Miami stations--many on the economically strapped island prefer to take their chances at sea. Some apparently would even prefer detention at the Spartan Guantanamo encampment to staying in their homeland.

Rafters, unimpeded by Cuban guards, reportedly were leaving beaches near Cojimar early Saturday.

“I don’t know if the word’s reached them or not, but the boats are still coming,” said Coast Guard Petty Officer Amy Gaskill in Miami. “We’re still picking up rafts.”

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At the White House, Clinton formally ordered a ban on cash remittances to Cuba, effectively prohibiting Cuban Americans from sending money to relatives and friends on the island. U.S. officials estimated that these remittances--which were permitted in amounts up to $300 every three months--have totaled $500 million a year and have been an important source of hard currency for the Communist nation.

The White House also imposed new restrictions on charter flights to Cuba, effectively banning those that are expressly for family visits or tourism. Only humanitarian flights will be allowed.

In addition, the United States will try to “increase and amplify” its broadcasts to Cuba over Radio Marti and will take to the United Nations what U.S. officials claim is evidence of new human rights abuses by the Cuban government.

Clinton’s announcement of tighter sanctions against Cuba, which already faces a U.S.-led economic blockade, follows meetings Saturday with Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles and a group of Cuban American leaders. All had urged the President to balance his immigration order with tougher measures against Castro.

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“We are extremely satisfied,” said Jorge Mas Canosa, chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation. “I think the President has done the right thing.”

Clinton’s new series of measures adds up to a careful balancing act in his handling of Cuban American groups.

The curbs on refugees announced by the White House on Friday ran counter to the longstanding efforts of Cuban exile organizations, which have encouraged the broadest possible immigration from Cuba into the United States. But the package of other measures adopted Saturday is in line with other efforts by Cuban American groups, which have sought to tighten the trade embargo against Castro.

In an interview on Cable News Network, the Cuban Foreign Ministry denounced the Administration’s actions. “The U.S. government in no way tackles the essence of the problem, which is the fact that there is a policy (the U.S. embargo of Cuba) deliberately aimed at making life unbearable in Cuba,” said Carlos Fernandez, director of the ministry’s North American section. “The natural and logical outcome is to have people wanting to leave the country.”

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Polls conducted by Miami television stations hours after details of the policy change were spelled out by Clinton indicate that a majority of South Floridians, including Cuban Americans, support the decision to detain Cuban refugees rather than allow them free entry. Many here believe that Castro was using the flotilla to relieve internal pressures caused by severe economic privation and growing social unrest that led to an Aug. 5 riot on the Havana waterfront.

But there were signs of disaffection too. In heavily Cuban Hialeah and in Key West, Cuban Americans took to the streets to protest the policy change. “Miami Si , Guantanamo No " read some signs.

For those left waiting in Miami for missing relatives to show up, both anger and anguish were close to the surface. “It’s easy to say, ‘I agree with the policy’ when you don’t have loved ones risking their lives for freedom,” said Julio Canto’s wife, Aida, near tears as she waited to see the list of those held at Krome.

Those who did not find their relatives at Krome could only hope that they would show up at Guantanamo. But there was no word Saturday on the identity of the 499 Cubans en route to the camp on Cuba’s southeastern coast, and that too provoked frustration among those who waited.

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“We need to know if our family members are dead or alive,” said Marlene Rodriguez, 28, a Miami schoolteacher who waited outside the Krome gate with her husband, Javier, for word of two cousins who left Mariel on Thursday. “My aunt in Artemisa (Cuba) is having a nervous breakdown. These are her two children out there.”

Inside the Krome Detention Center, emptied of 172 illegal immigrants of other nationalities to make room for as many as 1,000 Cubans, the 223 men among the first 336 to arrive were segregated from the 76 women and 37 children. Men were housed in a large circus-type tent, while the women and children slept indoors. All wore bright orange camp uniforms.

INS spokesman Lamar Wooley said the Cubans were being screened for health problems. He had no comment on what would happen to any refugee found ineligible to stay in the United States.

“That is something to be settled at a higher level.”

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