The Associated Press
HAVANA — Fidel Castro barred children and teen-agers Sunday from leaving aboard rickety rafts and boats fleeing the communist island.
The report of the ban in a government newspaper was the first sign the Cuban leader could be cooperating with American efforts to stem the huge outflow of Cubans bound for U.S. shores.
Recent storms that slowed flight from Cuba subsided Sunday, and hundreds of people gathered on beaches with inner-tubes and rafts to prepare to leave the island. A total of 130 refugees were picked up Saturday and taken to the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Thousands have been intercepted in the past week.
“There is no work, no clothing, not even shoes. Every day things are getting worse,” said Esteban Varela, 28, who was on the beach preparing to leave. He said his wife and child have left Cuba.
A group of Cubans escaped Friday aboard a fishing boat after threatening the captain with a pistol, the official newspaper Juventud Rebelde reported.
The Cuban coast guard could not catch them, the report said. It did not say how many hijackers were involved, but said they were headed for the United States.
The Interior Ministry said it would ask America to return the boat, the newspaper said.
Defense Minister Raul Castro, Castro’s brother, warned against trying to enter or leave the U.S. base at Guantanamo.
“It would be madness to try to enter or leave the base,” he said, noting it had the largest concentration of land mines in the Western Hemisphere.
The Cuban coast guard will patrol territorial waters up to 12 miles from Cuba’s coast to “provide help if necessary” for people leaving aboard rafts and boats, Juventud Rebelde said in an article signed by Fidel Castro.
If refugees already are at sea, the article said, Cuban soldiers will warn them to turn back, but won’t arrest them.
The United States and Cuba agreed Saturday to open a new round of talks aimed at resolving the refugee crisis. The discussions, to be held in New York, are expected to open by midweek.
President Clinton earlier this month reversed a Cold War policy of accepting all Cubans, and started shipping them to Guantanamo for detention.
“Despite repeated warnings ... not to attempt to leave the country with children and adolescents in unsafe craft, some people have ignored the warnings,” said Castro’s article.
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