The Associated Press
WASHINGTON-As thousands of Cuban refugees pour into Guantanamo Naval Base, U.S. officials charged with maintaining peace at the camps are concerned about a volatile mix of heat, boredom and frustrated flights for freedom.
A Pentagon official said the military was considering sending additional medical and security personnel to deal with the influx of refugees at the base, which normally houses about 5,000 military and civilian workers and their dependents.
Defense Secretary William Perry, appearing Tuesday on several morning television shows, called the remote 45-square-mile base "basically a holding camp" and an "unattractive proposition" designed to discourage people from leaving Cuba.
"There's nothing, really, for them to do at Guantanamo. It'll be a boring and frustrating activity, which is again one of the reasons we're urging the people not to leave," Perry said.
The U.S. manpower commitment could be expanded to include several dozen more Marines to secure the perimeter of the remote site, military police units to maintain order inside the camps, an additional 50-bed field hospital and about 125 support personnel to feed the refugees.
A total of 2,548 Cubans were picked up by the Coast Guard on Monday and 5,883 since President Clinton last Friday announced that fleeing Cubans would no longer be admitted as political refugees.
Cubans picked up at sea are being transported to the parched military site on Cuba's southeastern coast, which currently houses some 14,000 Haitians in a makeshift tent city ringed with barbed wire on an old airstrip.
On two dusty fields several miles away across several steep ridges, the military is constructing a temporary home for up to 10,000 Cubans.
At the State Department, officials said the Clinton administration was close to an agreement with a half-dozen countries to provide havens for fleeing Cubans.
Those Cubans now at Guantanamo will be sent to the other countries when facilities are ready, the State Department said.
"We are moving everyone now to Guantanamo, and we are making every effort to offer them protection in safe-haven facilities in third countries," said David Johnson, a department spokesman.
"There's no doubt people are hearing the message," said Johnson. He said there were reports it was being broadcast by Cuban radio stations as well as by Radio Marti, a U.S.-financed anti-Castro service beamed to the island.
White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers said, "Clearly, we're concerned about the level of immigration." But she continued to insist that the U.S. policy will work once Cubans realize they cannot get to the United States by taking to the sea.
Myers said Panama has "expressed some willingness to be helpful" in providing safe havens and that officials have talked with Suriname, St. Lucia and Dominica about housing Cubans. Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica and El Salvador have said "they will be willing to explore the possibility" of housing Cubans, she added.
More than 40 babies have been born to the migrants in Guantanamo in the two months since the Haitians arrived, but even their future is uncertain. Military officials say the babies received birth certificates, but not U.S. citizenship, since the base is only rented from the government of Cuba and is not U.S. territory.
Perry noted the possibility exists for enlarging the numbers of refugees placed in Guantanamo. Other military officials who spoke privately cautioned that water and sanitation difficulties would ensue, given that Cuba's Fidel Castro cut off the water supply in 1964 and the base must produce its own power and water.
Too, all food and supplies must be flown or shipped in from the outside.
And while Perry repeated earlier assertions the United States was willing to house the Cubans indefinitely, he hastily added that he would not recommend such a step, given the difficulties of life in camps.
"It's a situation which ... I'm sure, is frustrating and boring. They would like to come to the United States, and instead they're being held in Guantanamo. ... Both the military and the private relief organizations working down there are setting up educational and recreational programs, but still, it's frustrating," Perry said. Read Next Article