U.S. Repatriates Nearly 300 Haitians From Guantanamo : Caribbean: Administration wants more room at base for Cuban refugees. Returnees say they are still in danger.
Nearly 300 Haitians, somber and disconsolate, were forcibly returned to their country Saturday as the United States stepped up its program to clear the refugees out of their haven at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Boutwell arrived at midmorning with 289 refugees. Some had been at Guantanamo since last summer after fleeing Haiti’s poverty and political terror in makeshift and overloaded rafts. All were returned under protest, saying that they remain in grave danger despite President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s return to power in October.
Two of the men carried by the Boutwell were brought on shore in handcuffs. One was carried down the gangplank by heavily armed American soldiers. He moaned constantly, ignoring a U.S. soldier’s admonition: “This is your country. Be a man.”
“I don’t want to come back to a country like this and die in the streets,” the Haitian said, tears streaming down his cheeks.
U.S. officials said the two were manacled when they indicated they would not leave the ship voluntarily. They were released after they calmed down, the officials said.
Also returned Saturday were 147 men, 70 women, 36 boys, 15 girls and 19 infants under 2 years old. Eyes downcast, they filed off the Boutwell quietly for the most part, carrying plastic bags filled with personal items.
When they stepped onto the dock, each was given a pink slip of paper and ushered to a nearby building for processing by International Red Cross officials. About 200 American and Bangladeshi troops stood guard against any resistance.
Each returnee was given Haitian currency worth about $13.50 and a little bag holding toothpaste and soap. Yellow school buses brought from the United States then transported the Haitians to a nearby bus terminal, where they were released.
The repatriation is the result of a policy announced last month by the Clinton Administration to clear out the estimated 4,000 Haitians who remained at Guantanamo’s refugee camp after Aristide was restored to power.
Administration officials said Haiti’s repressive and often violent political atmosphere, which had led to the creation of the havens, ended with the U.S. intervention that dismantled the military dictatorship that overthrew Aristide in September, 1991.
At one point, more than 30,000 Haitians were in U.S.-operated havens in the Caribbean and Central America, most at Guantanamo. Some returned after U.S. troops landed here Sept. 19, with many more coming back after Aristide’s restoration a month later.
Those who stayed insisted that, even with Aristide’s return, Haiti remained dangerous, particularly in rural areas where military and civilian thugs still use terror to repress people.
Some U.S. officials, asking not to be named, acknowledged that “some problems remain” in the countryside. “Port-au-Prince is generally OK,” said one official, “and the places controlled by (U.S.) Special Forces, but in some places the same goons are still running things.”
He said that “in the long run, even those people will give it up, at least we hope so. In any event, the pressure was on to clean out Guantanamo so there would be room for the Cubans.”
He was referring to the 8,000 or so Cubans who were taken temporarily to Panama in late summer after they fled their island nation in an effort to reach the United States. Panama has given the United States until March to relocate the refugees. About 20,000 Cubans are already being held at Guantanamo.
Marylou Bissonette, a 38-year-old resident of the northern village of Dauphin, said she fled Haiti last summer after her husband and brother were killed by so-called attaches , civilian agents of the military.
“I am afraid to go home,” she said. “The men who killed my husband and brother are still there. The Americans haven’t caught them.”
Another refugee, who gave his name only as Edy, said that when the U.S. troops leave, “it will be the same. Those of us who support Aristide will be victims again.” He said he would remain in Port-au-Prince rather than return home to the city of Gonaives.
U.S. officials said the repatriation, which began Friday with the return of 54 Haitians, will resume Monday with the return of about 400 refugees. Officials hope to empty Guantanamo in about 10 days.