Nearly a quarter of a million Cubans have arrived in the United States in the last five years as a result of the U.
Nearly a quarter of a million Cubans have arrived in the United States in the last five years as a result of the U.S. Government sponsored airlift-operation. An average of ten flights each week carry Cubans from Varadero Airport, 85 miles (136 kms) east of Havana, to Miami, where more than half of them have settled, significantly affecting the area.
The programme for airlifting the Cubans has long been a contested issue in American politics. Last year, Congressmen attempted to have the funds for the operation cut off, saying it had outlived its usefulness and that it is only bringing social rejects from Cuba. But Congress voted to continue financing the airlift -- at a cost of 114 million dollars (about 50 million sterling) a year -- and it seems likely to continue for at least another three years.
The Cubans arriving in Miami are received at a centre called "Freedom House", where they also receive information and advice. Arrangements are also made for housing and travel although most of the arrivals have close relatives already living in the United States. Private and religious organisations, as well as government agencies, provide help and assistance for the Cubans.
More than half of those arriving in the United States settle in the Miami area, whose semi-tropical climate is very similar to that of Cuba. The mass influx of Cubans into Miami has had a marked effect on the region: all-Cuban neighbourhoods with Cuban stores and businesses have appeared. The Cubans are considered hard-working and industrious, a number of them -- particularly the early arrivals -- are well-educated and were part of the rich upper-class in pre-revolutionary Cuba.
The United States Government continues to aid the Cubans after their initial settlement: "Freedom Tower" is a refugee centre financed by the government providing medical facilities with Spanish-speaking personnel.
There are still 130,000 filed applications for the airlift waiting to be dealt with. The agreement for the operation -- which began in December 1965 -- allows priority for those with close relatives already in the United States, but bars men of military age -- between 17 and 26 -- from leaving.