Don Bohning: Influx from Haiti? South Florida Takes It in Stride





[Don Bohning is a retired Miami Herald reporter and editor and the author of “The Castro Obsession: U.S. Covert Operations Against Cuba 1959-1965.” ]

For South Florida, it’s become old hat. A crisis erupts in one of its Caribbean neighbors and the area braces to accommodate the refugee deluge that often follows.

It happened in the early 1960s, after Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba. It happened in the 1970s, when Jamaican politics boiled over into political violence. It happened in 1980, with the Mariel boatlift from Cuba. It happened again in Haiti, both in the 1980s, with the collapse of the Duvalier family dictatorship, and the 1990s, as political turmoil roiled that long-beleaguered country.

Now, once again, South Florida’s watchful eye is on Haiti, where a devastating Jan. 12 earthquake virtually obliterated Port-au-Prince, the country’s ramshackle capital where more than a fifth of the country’s nine million inhabitants reside.

The Coast Guard says it has not yet detected any signs of Haitians trying to leave their country by sea, discouraged in part perhaps by U.S. warships off the Haitian coast. Still, in another pre-emptive move, American troops at the U.S. Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in eastern Cuba have begun setting up a tent city.

In Miami, Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr Christopher O’Neil told The Miami Herald that the tent city was part of a measured response ordered by Napolitano for “the deliberate planning and alignment of resources just in case we need it” and “certainly a prudent measure, based on the situation and based on past history.”

It seems most likely the decision was based on “past history,” the litany of refugee influxes outlined above, than any pressures exerted by South Florida officials....

Neither the public commentary in the local media nor street talk reflects any indication of the hysteria that someone such as the xenophobic Lou Dobbs might have exploited and expressed, given the hint of a major refugee influx.

If there are those South Floridians who share Dobbs’ views, they have yet to be heard. Maybe, if they have been in South Florida long enough, that’s because it’s all old hat.

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