Carol Rosenberg—The Miami Herald
The U.S. military has expanded plans for a tent encampment to shelter migrants in the event of a Caribbean boat crisis.
Since Fidel Castro became ill last year and ceded power in Cuba to his brother Raul, the Bush administration has been preparing for a theoretical humanitarian relief mission that would accommodate 10,000 people. It could be used for people fleeing a political crisis as well as a natural disaster.
In May, the Navy hired a Jacksonville, Fla., contractor to build concrete buildings with 525 toilets and 248 showers on an empty corner of the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, base. The military could quickly put up tents, if needed, around the site. The buildings should be completed by next summer at a cost of $16.5 million.
Now, under the expansion outlined on Wednesday, the military is planning on paper for a second phase that would shelter another 35,000 migrants.
No boat crisis is on the horizon: Experts tracking Cuban migration say the majority of those fleeing the island have avoided the heavily patrolled Florida Straits in favor of the western passage to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
But the planning is for a scenario on the scale of the 1994-95 crisis, when first Haitians and then Cubans, fleeing instability in their homelands, set out to sea in rafts trying to reach South Florida.
That migration crisis so overwhelmed the naval base that intercepted Cubans were sheltered in tents on an abandoned airfield and overflow rafters were housed in tents on a scrubby nine-hole golf course. In waves, more than 60,000 refugees lived in tents on the base then.
Marine Capt. Manuel Carpio, the officer assigned to plan for the crisis and coordinate with various American and international agencies, said Wednesday that the U.S. government was seeking bids for an estimated $40 million project that would expand the infrastructure to accommodate 35,000 people in a portion of the base called Leeward North.