lots when this is over.
But that rough weekend didn't really deter exiles. Many just started renting bigger boats.
It was easy at first to mingle and chat with new arrivals as they milled around the tree-shaded lawn of the Latin American Chamber of Commerce waiting for transportation to Miami and INS processing.
But bureaucracy quickly took over. All arriving boats were directed to the Truman Annex in the former Key West naval station and chain-link fences went up around the docks. There was no more hopping aboard boats, but there were still opportunities to learn about who the new arrivals were.
From the first days of the boatlift, the official communist press had vilified the refugees as "degenerates,'' "antisocials'' and "lumpen'' who didn't want to work, insisting that many who had streamed into the Peruvian Embassy were criminals.
"In this stage of our revolutionary development, the counterrevolutionary and the common criminal tend to become one,'' said one editorial in Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party.
But that wasn't the picture down at the docks. There were grandfathers who fell to their knees to kiss the soil of the United States when they arrived; little girls who tripped off the boats with their mothers. and young men like 27-year-old Hugo Landa, who told me: "I think this country is so large, there are so many opportunities. Perhaps I will clean the toilets or be a millionaire. I just don't know, but I'm full of hope.''
Rather quickly, the makeup of those aboard the boats began to change. If the Granma editorials weren't at first true, Fidel Castro -- always a master of stagecraft -- would make them true. Salted among the family groups were people the government wanted to dump -- criminals, the mentally deficient, the infirm.
More boats, their crowded decks packed with men -- lone men -- started to arrive.
In an April 27 dispatch from Key West, I wrote the INS had interviewed refugees whose passports said they had been in the Peruvian Embassy but who admitted they had been taken from jail directly to the departing boats at Mariel.
On April 30, the INS southern regional commissioner said that at least 41 suspected criminals had been found among the refugees. "We found the whole gamut of crimes among them -- murder, some narcotics violations, you name it,'' said Commissioner D.E. Powell.
The INS got its first tipoff when Cubans coming off the boats told them there were people aboard who had come directly from Cuban prisons. Some of them were political prisoners. But others -- the ones who kept to themselves and tried their best to keep their mouths shut -- had been convicted of violent crimes.
By May 1, the INS had stiffened its screening procedures to ferret out suspected criminals and I watched as they marched many male refugees -- four abreast -- into the old Coast Guard station for questioning.
Castro also included other surprises to hammer home his message about ridding the island of so-called degenerates. I remember one boat loaded mostly with prostitutes and another that ferried a group of transvestites. Before coming ashore they combed their hair and primped so they would look their best as they took their first steps toward a free life.
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