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Castro Tightens Legal Measures to Avoid Illegal Exodus


Cuba says it does not plan to allow a mass-exodus of illegal immigrants into the Florida Straits. The announcement follows rumors circulating in the U.S. Cuban community.

In a statement broadcast by state-run radio stations Wednesday, the Cuban Government said no citizen will be permitted to leave the island illegally, and that any foreigners entering Cuban waters to ferry would-be immigrants to the United States will face vigorous prosecution under Cuban law.

For days, rumors of a possible exodus have circulated throughout Florida's large Cuban exile community. Exiles took note of a recent speech by Cuban President Fidel Castro in which he threatened to close the U.S. Interests Section in Havana and dissolve bilateral migratory accords with the United States. Mr. Castro said provocative actions by the Bush Administration, including support for opposition groups on the island, were forcing him to consider such moves.

Many Cuban exiles took Mr. Castro's words to mean that Cuba was preparing to open the floodgates of illegal immigration, as Cuba has done in the past, most recently, in 1994. Then, some 30,000 Cubans took to the Florida Straits in hopes of reaching the United States. Most were intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Reports from Havana have noted a surge in demand for items that could be used to build makeshift rafts.

But, despite historical precedent for mass-departures, Cuban-American Miami Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen says she does not think the Cuban government has any interest in allowing a new exodus.

Ms. Ros-Lehtinen said Fidel Castro makes mistakes, but is not stupid. She said a mass-exodus would be a dangerous thing for the Cuban leader, something he could not control. The congresswoman also said it could provoke a U.S. naval blockade of Cuba, a cut-off of monetary remittances from the United States and a tightening of the U.S. economic embargo of the island.

Last month, during a visit to Miami, President Bush pledged to work tirelessly to foster democratic change in Cuba. Mr. Bush promised that U.S. economic sanctions will remain in effect until free elections are held on the island. Cuban officials have denounced what they regard as U.S. provocations and interference in their country's internal affairs.

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