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Exiles Hit Back At Mexican Rejection of Refugees

August 27, 1993

MIAMI (AP) _ Cuban exiles are canceling Cancun vacations, boycotting Corona beer and urging their political leaders to scuttle the North American Free Trade Agreement, all to punish Mexico.

The source of their anger: Mexico’s decision to return eight seafaring refugees to their communist island-homeland.

The refugees, plucked Aug. 19 from Mexican waters that drowned up to seven others, are now in Cuban jails, exiles say.

″It was an act of callous complicity with (Fidel) Castro’s regime that will shock the conscience of many members of Congress, precisely as they prepare to focus in on NAFTA,″ U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., said Thursday.

He and the other Cuban-born member of Congress, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R- Fla., say they will cite the incident in opposing the trade accord.

Students at Florida International University held a candlelight vigil for the refugees Thursday night outside the Mexican consulate. And the Cuban Patriotic Junta, an umbrella group of exile organizations, scheduled a Saturday motorcade and rally for a boycott of Mexico and its products.

Mexican flags and sombreros were burned at weekend rallies as protesters waved signs urging ″Don’t buy Mexican beer.″ Miami has the largest Cuban population of any city except Havana. More than 500,00 Cubans live in Dade County, according to the 1990 U.S. Census.

″This has disturbed many in our community,″ said Augusto Monge, a college student whose parents are Cuban-born. He helped organize the vigil and a campaign to draw attention to the refugees.

Activists demand that Mexico’s government ask Havana to return the refugees to Mexican or U.S. authorities for political asylum in the United States.

Repeated telephone calls Thursday to the Mexican consulate got busy signals or were unanswered.

In Mexico City, Janet Brussi, a spokeswoman for Mexico’s Interior Department, said the Cubans were repatriated in accordance with immigration laws.

″They were adrift and they did not intend to come to Mexico. They never asked for asylum, or applied for it,″ she said, adding that Mexican authorities gave them medical treatment and other aid.

Miami travel agents said some clients have changed vacation plans to Mexico because of the incident.

Jack Guiteras, Cuban-born owner of Lorraine Travel, said his agency has cut back on promoting trips to Mexico. The electronic billboard at his agency flashed, ″Shame on the Mexican government, Violator of Human Rights.″

The Hispanic-owned Sedano’s supermarket chain said it has halted promotions of its Mexican goods.

On the NAFTA, which would liberalize trade between the United States, Mexico and Canada, Ros-Lehtinen fired off letters of protest to the U.S. State Department, the United Nations and Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Goitari.

″The inhumane and cruel actions perpetrated by the Mexican government should be kept in mind,″ she wrote to President Clinton. ″The United States should not seek closer economic integration with a government that befriends a tyrant.″

Fernando Rojas, a spokesman for the Cuban American National Foundation, a powerful exile lobbying group, said it is considering a campaign against NAFTA, which it had supported.

The trade accord, backed by the Clinton administration, already faces some opposition in Congress from critics who say it will give Mexican businesses competitive advantages because of cheaper labor and lower environmental standards.

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