Key moments in Cuban emigration

AP News
Posted: Oct 16, 2012 4:10 PM
Key moments in Cuban emigration

More than 1 million people of Cuban descent live in the United States and thousands more make their homes in Europe or Latin America. The elimination of exit visas announced Tuesday could swell those numbers. Some key moments in Cuban emigration:

— January 1959: Rebels led by Fidel Castro take power. Many loyalists of dictator Fulgencio Batista flee immediately, followed by an increasing stream of other Cubans opposed to the new government's swing toward socialism.

— 1960-1962: "Pedro Pan" flights organized by the Roman Catholic Church bring 14,000 Cuban children to the United States so they don't fall under the control of communist ideology. Some never see their parents again.

— April 1961: President John F. Kennedy expands a program that helps arriving Cubans settle in the U.S. Castro declares Cuba socialist. U.S. organizes failed Bay of Pigs invasion.

— December 1961: Cuba begins requiring its citizens to get exit visas to travel abroad. Those who try to leave without permission face possible imprisonment.

— September 1965: Castro says the port of Camarioca near Varadero is open for all those trying to reach "the Yankee paradise," though those leaving will forfeit their property. The U.S. Coast Guard says nearly 3,000 leave before program is shut down that November.

— December 1965: Castro allows regular, U.S.-sponsored "Liberty Flights" that carry some 260,000 Cubans to the U.S. before President Richard Nixon halts the program in 1973.

— November 1966: Cuban Adjustment Act is passed to allow even illegal immigrants from Cuba to remain in United States.

— April 1980: Castro opens port of Mariel west of Havana for all Cubans who wish to leave. More than 125,000 rush by sea to the U.S. including thousands of former convicts, causing an immigration crisis in the United States. In June, President Jimmy Carter announces that those transporting migrants will face punishment. The opening is closed in September.

— August 1994: Castro declares he will not stop Cubans trying to leave; some 40,000 take to sea heading for United States. Some reach Florida, some are stopped by the U.S. Coast Guard. Some die.

— September 1994: After talks to end the rafter crisis, Cuban officials agree to curb the flow of refugees and promises not to prosecute or discriminate against those returned by the United States. The U.S. agrees to give at least 20,000 legal immigrant visas a year to Cubans, making it easier to arrive legally. It also says most Cubans caught at sea will be returned to Cuba while those who reach U.S. shores can stay.

— October 2012: Cuba announces it will no longer demand exit visas for travel abroad starting in January.