"Working together for a free Cuba"




Letter from Bob Menendez, Member of Congress, to President George W. Bush.

The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

I am writing to express my disagreement with your administration's treatment of Cuban nationals attempting to flee the Castro regime. During your 2000 campaign, you criticized the "wet foot, dry foot" policy which forces Cubans to return to a country run by a brutal dictator determined to carry out revenge on those who try to leave. Yet, over the past five years, your administration has repatriated over 7,740 Cuban nationals. You have had the power to change US policy on repatriating Cubans during those five years, and have not done so. I urge you to use this power to take immediate action, as I explain in detail below, to ensure that the United States does not repatriate Cuban nationals who are in grave danger of repression and mistreatment by the Castro regime.

Your administration recently repatriated 15 Cuban refugees, who, under current law, did reach US territory when they touched the Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys. This act only demonstrates another example of your administration's arbitrary and dangerous decision-making regarding the repatriation of Cuban nationals.

Over the past five years, the human rights situation in Cuba has deteriorated. In the spring of 2003, the Castro regime arrested 75 political dissidents, who were subjected to summary trials and imprisoned for nothing more than expressing a point of view not sanctioned by the Castro regime. Castro's human rights record has been repeatedly condemned by Amnesty International, Freedom House, and other human rights groups. Cuban refugees forced to return to Cuba would surely face political repression and even possible jail time.

I am deeply concerned, therefore, about the treatment of Cuban asylum seekers intercepted at sea. Less than 3 percent of Cuban asylum seekers, who were intercepted at sea between May 1995 and 2005, were taken to Guantanamo Naval Base (GITMO) based on the determination that they demonstrated a "credible fear of persecution." Yet, according to the Department of Homeland Security, 75 percent of Cubans who filed for refugee status in FY2004 were approved.

This apparent disparity in treatment cannot be allowed to continue and underlines the inadequacy of the existing process on board the Coast Guard vessels. In an effort to remedy this situation, I join my colleagues Representatives Lincoln Diaz_Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in recommending the following:

1. An immediate, through review of how the interviews of Cuban nationals intercepted at sea are conducted and "credible fear of persecution" is determined;

1. Legal counsel from recognized Volunteer Agencies should be allowed aboard the Coast Guard vessels in order to provide legal advice to refugees;

2. If it is determined that it is not feasible to have legal counsel on board US Coast vessels, all Cuban nationals intercepted at sea should be taken to GITMO for their cases to be properly evaluated and for the refugees to be afforded procedural rights consistent with Cuban nationals who seek asylum on land;

3. A percentage fo the unallocated reserve of 20,000 refugees in FY 2005 should be reallocated to Cuban nationals who are not relocated to a third country after 120 days of the date they arrive at GITMO; and

4. The United States Interests Section should issue a report on the status of Cubans who have been repatriated to determine if they have sought and obtained refugee questionnaires as well as the status of their applications for refugee visas.

I believe that your administration must take immediate action to protect people in danger of persecution from the Castro regime, whether they reach our shores or are intercepted at sea. The United States has long been a refuge for those from around the world fleeing persecution to obtain freedom. We must ensure that our current policy reflects this proud tradition.

I urge you to review these recommendations and look forward to your prompt response.


Robert Menendez
Member of Congress

cc: Secretary Michael Chertoff

Source: Netforcuba International
January 16, 2006