Fleeing From Communist Oppression: The Great Cuban Exodus 1959
By Miriam B. Medina

Part II
The Cuban Exodus: A Brief Overview

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The story of the Great Cuban exodus over the years is a familiar one to the American people. As a result of these exoduses, changes were made by the United States government to immigration laws, changes affecting Cubans seeking political asylum in this country.

Starting in 1959 a massive exodus of the Cuban people began to leave the island of Cuba, after the government of Fulgencio Batista was over thrown by Communist ruler Fidel Castro. This rebellion of a surpassingly intended establishment of a Nationalist government turned out resulting in an emerging dictator and a menacing alliance of the Soviet Union. Castro would sign an agreement with Russia that would seal the fate of the Cuba-United States relationship. Castro flaunted his relationship with Russia. Castro at one time in 1959 stated "There could not be a revolution in Cuba, that He could not be the Cuba He wanted, unless He removes all American interests. "

Throughout the island the properties of the wealthy were seized. The American owned industries especially the oil and sugar refineries were  targeted for  confiscation as Castro's men cried out "Down with Yankee Imperialism", "Patria o Muerte, venceremos" (Victory or death, we will overcome) thus eliminating all presence of American capitalism and monopolies on the island. Other international properties were also seized by Castro, as well as  private enterprises that were considered capitalists. Those who openly opposed the Communist regime were either executed or imprisoned. Bullet riddled blood covered bodies of Batista's men and anti-Castro opponents, by the trigger happy guerrilla fighters were seen everywhere in the streets. The people lived in great fear for their lives, not knowing what to expect next.

Among the first wave of Cubans leaving the island, were the best of Cuba, labeled "the Golden Exiles", which included "Doctors, Lawyers, Businessmen, Teachers, Scientists, highly professional individuals, as well as the wealthy. The wealthy were the first who were targeted by the Castro Regime. For the businessmen who had previous business connections with the United States, the transition was easier for them, since they had already established their residency here, but for others it was not. Many of these Cubans, left all their possessions behind, and families to go to the United States wondering if they would ever see them or their beloved Cuba again.

During the years of 1959 to 1962, there was the availability of the means to leave Cuba, until the Cuban missile Crisis in October which eliminated regular commercial air traffic between the United States and Cuba. During this period of time, a total of some 200,000 Cubans left the Island. The Cuban Missile Crisis ended diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. Some Cubans still managed to leave the island by small boats or through third countries during 1964 and 1965.

In order to facilitate the Cuban's entry into this country, the United States government granted them refugee status, "allowing them to enter without restrictions imposed on most other nationality groups. This favored treatment continued until shortly after the termination of the 1980 boatlift." (1)

During 1960-1962 was the Operation Peter Pan: This was a program headed by Ramon Grau and Father Brian Walsh, under which 14,000 Cuban children under the age of 16 were airlifted to the US. (3)

The Cuban Refugee Program was established in February 1961. as a federal effort to provide assistance in handling the great influx from Cuba, as well as helping to ease the impact of the exodus on Miami's population. Between 1961 and 1978 some 300,000 Cubans were resettled throughout the United States. Although the bulk of the exodus of the early 1960s were directed to New York, New Jersey, California and Illinois, they still managed to find their way over the years back to Miami.(1)

On April 17, 1961, the U.S. supported a Cuban-American exile invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. The invasion failed three days later, and a total of 1,180 soldiers were captured and imprisoned until their release in December, 1962.

In 1965, the Cuban government responding to internal problems or pressures allowed Cubans in the United States to pick up relatives who wanted to leave the country. Some five thousand Cubans left the island for the United States until the boatlifts were brought to a halt and "both countries agreed to an orderly airlift. " Under the leadership of President Johnson, "freedom flights" program begins. These airlifts which were known as "freedom flights" lasted from December 1965 to 1973. The twice-daily flights brought 260,500 persons during those years." (1)

On November 2, 1966 The Cuban Adjustment Act allows 123,000 Cubans to apply for permanent residence in the U.S.

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