While in the past rafters caught at sea often have been taken to the base pending a decision on their case, the sprawling military complex also gained notoriety as a detention center for people captured by US forces during the 2001 Afghan campaign. The Cubans, aboard a boat carrying 19 people, were intercepted on Monday, and were likely to remain at the base while officials decide whether they should be granted political asylum in the United States.
Cuban-American lawmaker Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and fellow Cuban-American Republican Lincoln Diaz-Balart have pressed US authorities to grant asylum to the "freedom-seekers," who they say include known dissidents. "These rafters fear for their lives if they are returned to Cuba," Ros-Lehtinen said in a letter to US President George W. Bush. She pointed to heavy prison sentences recently meted out to 75 dissidents and to the summary judgment and subsequent execution of three men who hijacked a ferry in a bid to flee the communist-run island. In a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powel, the Cuban-American lawmakers said the group intercepted on Monday apparently included relatives of Enrique Copello Castillo, one of the men executed. ***
By existing Cuban constitutional law, the petition required 10,000 signatures to become a legislative initiative. Mr. Paya was constantly under surveillance and harassed by Mr. Castro's security apparatus and many Cubans were too afraid to sign their names on such an incriminating document. Despite this, he was able to collect 11,020 signatures. Mr. Castro was only able to block Mr. Paya's efforts with a hastily mounted counterpetition, acquiring signatures through pressure.
We need to realize Mr. Castro's death will likely mean for Cuba what the fall of the Berlin Wall meant for the Soviet Union. After 44 years of totalitarianism, it seems doubtful the Cuban people will stand for anything less than a free society - but how free remains to be seen. Furthermore, America needs to make sure Cuba does not become a haven for "dark-side"criminal capitalism, as Russia has. ***