A statement issued for Havana’s top Roman Catholic official on his encounter with U.S. immigration officials said he was discourteously treated—but not threatened with deportation.
BY ROBERT L. STEINBACK
Cuba’s Roman Catholic Church said Thursday its top prelate, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, was treated rudely by U.S. immigration authorities during a recent Miami stopover, but added he was never threatened with deportation or asked about his political beliefs.
The communique by Cuba’s Catholic Bishops Conference partly contradicted media reports that Ortega was harassed and threatened with being sent home upon being detained at Miami International Airport on Feb. 25.
It also partly contradicts a U.S. government statement that Ortega was treated professionally.
‘‘During the exchanges with immigration officials, the treatment received by Cardinal Ortega was brusque and discourteous,’’ the communique read. ``Nevertheless, it must be clarified that there was no type of reference made to the cardinal’s beliefs about the political situation in Cuba or in the United States.’‘
It added that U.S. immigration officials never mentioned a ``deportation order.’‘
Miami’s El Nuevo Herald newspaper, citing two unnamed eyewitnesses, reported in Saturday editions that immigration authorities at MIA harassed the prelate, who was traveling on a Vatican diplomatic passport.
The newspaper reported that immigration agents questioned Ortega about the reasons for his visit and about his political views on Fidel Castro’s government. When Ortega objected to a search of his luggage, the newspaper reported, he was threatened with deportation.
STAND BY REPORT
El Nuevo Herald City Editor Jose Cabaleiro said Thursday the newspaper stands by its original report.
Zachary Mann, senior special agent and spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, also reaffirmed his denial, first made Saturday, that Ortega was mistreated. He told The Miami Herald that Ortega was ‘‘processed just as any other foreign arrival would be processed when visiting the United States’’ after his arrival aboard a charter flight from Havana. Ortega was detained for about an hour, Mann said.
‘‘I stand by [my statement that] he was treated professionally and in a courteous manner,’’ Mann said.
A telephone message seeking comment from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Miami was not returned late Thursday.
The cardinal, who traveled to South Florida to visit family for the weekend, refused to be interrogated by the immigration officials, said the communique from the bishops conference. When told it was a requirement for U.S. entry, the cardinal suggested he could head right back to Cuba.
‘‘The official then took the cardinal’s return ticket and passport to gesture him toward his rapid return to Cuba,’’ the communique said.
Another official told Ortega he had been granted a stay of up to 30 days in the United States, the statement said. ‘‘By then, three hours had passed since the arrival of his flight from Havana,’’ it continued.
Mann said he wouldn’t comment on specific details of the encounter out of ``our utmost respect for [Ortega’s] privacy.’‘
Ortega, who held a multiple-entry American visa from the U.S. Interests Section in Havana in addition to the Vatican diplomatic passport, returned to Cuba on Monday for a regular meeting of the bishops conference. Then he authorized the issuance of the communique.