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Renounce the Cuban Fugitive Slave Accords By: Myles Kantor
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, January 22, 2002


A GROUP OF CUBANS had their Christmas wish dashed last year, courtesy of the United States Coast Guard.

On December 24, 2001, the Coast Guard intercepted 31 Cubans attempting to emancipate themselves from communist bondage. "Repatriation" to Cuba followed.

America’s re-enslavement of Cuban fugitives is not isolated to this incident and has taken more flagrant forms.

On June 29, 1999, for instance, the Coast Guard used pepper spray and a water hose against six fugitive Cuban slaves who attempted to reach American soil. (Under the present "wet foot/ dry foot" policy, a fugitive Cuban slave will be "repatriated" unless he reaches American soil.) While the Coast Guard has modified the use of pepper spray and fire hoses against fugitive Cuban slaves, the re-enslavement remains: thousands of fugitive Cuban slaves have been "repatriated" by the American government.

Thank the Clinton Administration for these atrocities.

In August 1994, America’s nearest state sponsor of terrorism (a.k.a., Fidel Castro) authorized Cubans to leave the island. As when he made similar "authorizations" in 1965 and 1980, an exodus followed. (The Freedom Flights from 1965 to 1971 brought over 250,000 Cubans to America; the Mariel boatlift between April 1980 and September 1981 over 125,000. Castro’s moratoriums on captivity derive not from humanitarian impulses but the desire to antagonize America and purge opposition.)

In this instance, over 35,000 rafters fled, thousands of whom died at sea. The regime imprisoned dissident Francisco Chaviano for attempting to list the dead. (He is currently a prisoner of conscience.) Former American diplomat in Cuba Catherine Moses observes in Real Life in Castro’s Cuba: "Individuals seemed simply to have disappeared, and there was no real way to mourn. There was no funeral mass. The nation had to swallow its tears."

As is his wont, Castro blamed the United States for these deaths, comparable to a slaveholder blaming Massachusetts if a group of fugitive slaves died en route to emancipation. For Castro to appreciate his culpability would be unthinkably introspective—easier to stick with the reductio ad Americam.

The Clinton Administration responded to Castro’s malice by entering into a "migration accord" with him on May 2, 1995. The Immigration and Naturalization Service summarizes the crux of the accord: "Under the migration accord signed May 2, 1995, by the United States and Cuba, Cuban citizens interdicted by the U.S. Coast Guard in international or U.S. waters are returned to Cuba."

The federal government had a similar "accord" in the 19th century with slaveholders (who at least did not deny that they enslaved people). Under the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, federal marshals hunted new freemen and returned them to captivity—an apparatus of hideous welfare for the master class. (It cost $100,000 to re-enslave Virginia fugitive Anthony Burns in 1854.)

Frederick Douglass denounced the Fugitive Slave Act in 1852 with words all too resonant in 2002:

By an act of the American Congress, not yet two years old, slavery has been nationalized in its most horrible and revolting form. By that act, Mason & Dixon's line has been obliterated; New York has become as Virginia; and the power to hold, hunt, and sell men, women, and children as slaves remains no longer a mere state institution, but is now an institution of the whole United States…By that most foul and fiendish of all human decrees, the liberty and person of every man are put in peril. Your broad republican domain is hunting ground for men. Not for thieves and robbers, enemies of society, merely, but for men guilty of no crime.

The Migration Accords one-up the Fugitive Slave Act by internationalizing slavery. Although they are not identical, the 1850 and 1995 accords both subsidize slavery and punish individuals who seek nothing more than emancipation.

Today Castro is the slaveholding recipient of federal welfare. At taxpayer expense, the Coast Guard catches his citizens/chattel and returns them to Soviet-style subjugation. (Suffice it to say a "repatriated" Cuban is not looked upon fondly by the regime.)

It is peculiar for an exemplar of freedom in a War against Terror to subsidize an autocrat who sponsors terrorism. Out of strategic coherence and basic humanity, the Bush Administration should renounce the Cuban Fugitive Slave Accords. The alternative is to maintain complicity with Castro.


Myles Kantor is a columnist for FrontPageMagazine.com and editor-at-large for Pureplay Press, which publishes books about Cuban history and culture. His e-mail address is myles.kantor@gmail.com.


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