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Prison Riots Divide New Jersey’s Cuban Community

November 25, 1987

WEST NEW YORK, N.J. (AP) _ New Jersey’s Cuban community - the nation’s second-largest - is divided over deportation threats for some Cubans, but many said Wednesday that those targeted for return deserve their fate.

″The people that came over here and were making crime or something like that ... that is different people,″ said Rodolfo Pardo, director of custodial services for Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken.

He said those people should be among those deported, if any are sent back.

″We need to respect the law here,″ said Pardo, a 60-year-old who left Cuba in 1960. ″The United States is free to do whatever it wishes with those people.″

Other Cuban immigrants believe no one who escaped the rule of Fidel Castro ever should have to go back.

″As a human being, and as a Cuban, from the heart point of view, I’m sad that anyone would have to go back to Cuba,″ said Guillermo Estevez, who came to the United States in 1979 after spending his 18 years in Cuba as a political prisoner.

Estevez, 53, is director of the New Jersey office of the International Rescue Committee.

In talks with some of the 80,000 Cubans who live in northern New Jersey, Estevez said he senses the lack of unity concerning the planned deportations and the proper response to the prison riots in Atlanta and Louisiana.

The United States announced Friday that Cuba had agreed to accept 2,545 excludable refugees, mostly criminals or mentally ill, who had come to the United States in the 1980 exodus from the port of Mariel.

Estevez said some Cubans feel the prison rebellions will cause resentment against all Cubans.

″It gives us a bad reputation,″ said Carlos Flores, a Union City real estate developer who came to the United States in 1962.

Flores supports the deportation of Cuban criminals and mentally ill detainees. ″We know who should go back,″ he said.

Rafael Leon, one of those to arrive in the United States from Mariel, also favors the return of mentally ill Cubans to Castro.

But Leon, like many others, said people in the United States should blame Castro for the prison disturbances and any other problems that might arise from the deportations.

″He is the criminal,″ said Leon, a 38-year-old West New York automobile repair shop owner who spent two years in a Cuban jail as a political prisoner.

″The principal problem here is Castro,″ added Pardo.

Pardo said he fears political prisoners are among the Cubans who might be sent back.

″If some people came here and did not (do) anything wrong, that is my concern,″ he said. ″You know, when Castro sent the Marielitos, he is the one that said who was a criminal and who was insane. Are we to believe him?″

Pardo and the others said that if the detainees are shipped back to Cuba, their lives will be difficult.

″They will be sent to labor concentration camps,″ Pardo predicted, adding, ″If they make the trouble they’re making here, they will be shot down.″

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