The Miami Herald
Mar. 13, 2002

Cubans seek asylum in Spain

                      From Herald Wire Services

                      MADRID - Government officials Tuesday were investigating the political asylum claims of 212 Cubans who arrived
                      at the Madrid airport over the weekend.

                      The number represents the largest wave of Cuban arrivals to seek asylum or humanitarian refugee status here,
                      according to Spanish officials. The mass influx appears to have come in response to rumors spread in Havana
                      suggesting the Spanish government would begin asking for transit visas on all flights from Havana to Moscow with
                      layovers in Madrid after March 15.

                      Without such visas, travelers could not enter the airport.

                      According to a leading Spanish newspaper, El País, the Spanish Ministry of the Interior gave 32 Cubans the right
                      to stay on humanitarian grounds on the day of arrival; 60 more were accommodated under this policy Monday;
                      and by today, police sources at the Madrid airport said, all the Cubans were being processed for conditional entry
                      into the country.

                      Most are expected to find shelter at the Red Cross Refugee Center or reunite with Cuban exiles already living in

                      Most of the travelers arrived on a traditional Havana-Moscow flight with a layover in Madrid.

                      On Sunday afternoon, 123 Cubans disembarked from their plane at Barajas International Airport and immediately
                      applied for refugee status.

                      Although few Cubans are granted political asylum, most are allowed to remain in the country on humanitarian

                      ''In theory, all refugees are allowed to enter Spain, but in practice, few other nationalities receive the same
                      treatment,'' said Madrid-based immigration lawyer Juan Ramón Rodríguez. ``Spain is much more permissive with
                      the Cubans.''

                      He said Cubans are believed to receive preferential treatment due to strained relations between Spain's
                      moderately conservative government and the government of Fidel Castro.

                      Several Cubans at Barajas airport in Madrid told the Spanish newspaper El Mundo that they had come for
                      economic reasons. They stated that the economy has sunk under the Castro regime.

                      Herald special correspondent Julienne Gage in Madrid contributed to this report.