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ABC StoryHunger Strike Highlights Efforts to Influence U.S. Policy
By Jeffery Kofman
August 19, 2006 |
Activist Fights for Cubans' Rights
Ramón Saúl Sánchez ends his hunger strike in Miami on Jan. 18, 2006,
now that it appears the Bush administration will discuss its
Cuban immigration policy. (Lynne Sladky/AP Photo)
MIAMI, Jan. 18, 2006 — The setting was dramatic. The scene chaotic. In the heart of Miami's Little Havana, on the sidewalks of Calle Ocho — Eighth Street — Ramón Saúl Sánchez lay sprawled on a hospital bed under a curbside tent. A few dozen passionate Cuban-Americans stood vigil, sometimes chanting, sometimes cheering. Their spirits rose as cars and trucks blasted their horns in support.
It was no accident that Sánchez lay at the foot of the Monument to Cuban Martyrs. Twelve days into his hunger strike, Sánchez insisted he would join those martyrs if the White House did not agree to meet a delegation of Cuban-American leaders to talk about how the United States was handling Cuban migrants these days.
Sánchez started his hunger strike Jan. 7 after the U.S. Coast Guard picked up 15 Cuban migrants who were found on the pilings of an abandoned bridge in the Florida Keys. Because that bridge is no longer directly connected to land, the Coast Guard determined the Cubans did not actually touch American soil. They were sent back to Cuba.
Under the so-called "wet foot/dry foot" policy, Cubans who reach U.S. soil are allowed to stay and become permanent residents after a year, but those caught at sea are returned to Cuba unless they can prove a fear of persecution. It is an extraordinary law, left over from the Cold War. Only Cubans benefit. People from North Korea, China, Burma (Myanmar) and even Haiti have no such right. Sánchez and his supporters want the policy loosened ever more — for Cubans.
Fighting the Old Fight
Sánchez, 50, looked astonishingly spry after 12 days of just drinking water. But for the stubble on his chin, he seemed to have weathered his ordeal well. And with the outcome he felt vindicated.
Overnight, the White House issued a statement saying it wanted to hear and understand Sánchez's concerns about the U.S. migration policy toward Cubans. That was enough for Sánchez and his supporters to declare victory.
More than 46 years after Fidel Castro's revolution, Miami's Cuban exiles are still fighting the old fight. And remarkably, they still have the ear of the White House.
Surrounded by a crush of cameras and eager loyalists, Sánchez declared his work had been done — for now. He was wheeled to a waiting ambulance. The invigorated crowd sang the Cuban National Anthem.
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