Castro announces Mariel Boatlift - HISTORY
Year
1980

Castro announces Mariel Boatlift

On April 20, 1980, the Castro regime announces that all Cubans wishing to emigrate to the U.S. are free to board boats at the port of Mariel west of Havana, launching the Mariel Boatlift. The first of 125,000 Cuban refugees from Mariel reached Florida the next day.

The boatlift was precipitated by housing and job shortagescaused bythe ailing Cuban economy, leading to simmering internal tensions on the island. On April 1, Hector Sanyustiz and four others drove a bus through a fence at the Peruvian embassy and were granted political asylum. Cuban guards on the street opened fire. One guard was killed in the crossfire.

The Cuban government demanded the five be returned for trial in the dead guard’s death. But when the Peruvian government refused, Castro withdrew his guards from the embassy on Good Friday, April 4. By Easter Sunday, April 6, some 10,000 Cubans crowded into the lushly landscaped gardens at the embassy requesting asylum. Other embassies, including those of Spain and Costa Rica, agreed to take a small number of people. But suddenly, two weeks later, Castro proclaimed that the port of Mariel would be opened to anyone wishing to leave, as long as they had someone to pick them up. Cuban exiles in the United Statesrushed to hire boats in Miami and Key West and rescue their relatives.

In all, 125,000 Cubans fled to U.S. shores in about 1,700 boats, creating large waves of people that overwhelmed the U.S. Coast guard. Cuban guards had packed boat after boat, without considering safety, making some of the overcrowded boats barely seaworthy. Twenty-sevenmigrants died, including 14 on an overloaded boat that capsized on May 17.

The boatlift also began to have negative political implications for U.S.President Jimmy Carter.When it was discovered that a number of the exiles had been released from Cuban jails and mental health facilities, many were placed in refugee camps while others were held in federal prisons to undergo deportation hearings. Of the 125,000 “Marielitos,” as the refugees came to be known, who landed in Florida, more than 1,700 were jailed and another 587 were detained until they could find sponsors.

The exodus was finally ended by mutual agreement between theU.S. andCubangovernments in October 1980.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Massive oil spill begins in Gulf of Mexico

On this day in 2012, an explosion and fire aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, kills 11 people and triggers the largest offshore oil spill in American history. The rig had been in the final phases of ...read more

“Mambo King” Tito Puente is born

Tito Puente, the bandleader and percussionist who helped popularize Latin dance music and jazz in America, is born on this day in 1923 in New York City. During a career that spanned six decades, the dynamic showman nicknamed “El Rey” (The King), recorded over 100 albums, won five ...read more

Siege of Londonderry begins

James II, the former British king, begins a siege of Londonderry, a Protestant stronghold in Northern Ireland.In 1688, James II, a Catholic, was deposed by his Protestant daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange, in a bloodless coup known as the Glorious Revolution. ...read more

Ku Klux Act passed by Congress

With passage of the Third Force Act, popularly known as the Ku Klux Act, Congress authorizes President Ulysses S. Grant to declare martial law, impose heavy penalties against terrorist organizations, and use military force to suppress the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).Founded in 1865 by a ...read more

Curies isolate radium

On April 20, 1902, Marie and Pierre Curie successfully isolate radioactive radium salts from the mineral pitchblende in their laboratory in Paris. In 1898, the Curies discovered the existence of the elements radium and polonium in their research of pitchblende. One year after ...read more

Columbine High School massacre

On this day in 1999, two teenage gunmen kill 13 people in a shooting spree at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, south of Denver. At approximately 11:19 a.m., Dylan Klebold, 18, and Eric Harris, 17, dressed in trench coats, began shooting students outside the school ...read more

Nivelle Offensive ends in failure

On this day in 1917, an ambitious Allied offensive against German troops near the Aisne River in central France, spearheaded by the French commander in chief, Robert Nivelle, ends in dismal failure. Nivelle, who had replaced Joseph Joffre in December 1915 as head of all French ...read more

Nixon announces more troop withdrawals

In a televised speech, President Nixon pledges to withdraw 150,000 more U.S. troops over the next year “based entirely on the progress” of the Vietnamization program. His program, which had first been announced in June 1969, included three parts. First, the United States would ...read more

“Fragging” on the rise in U.S. units

The Pentagon releases figures confirming that fragging incidents are on the rise. In 1970, 209 such incidents caused the deaths of 34 men; in 1969, 96 such incidents cost 34 men their lives. Fragging was a slang term used to describe U.S. military personnel tossing of ...read more

Jordan scores 63 points in playoff game

On April 20, 1986, the Chicago Bulls’ Michael Jordan scores 63 points in an NBA playoff game against the Boston Celtics, setting a post-season scoring record. Despite Jordan’s achievement, the Bulls lost to the Celtics in double overtime, 135-131. Boston swept the three-game ...read more

First detective story is published

Edgar Allen Poe’s story, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, first appears in Graham’s Lady’s and Gentleman’s Magazine. The tale is generally considered to be the first detective story.The story describes the extraordinary “analytical power” used by Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin to solve ...read more

New sound process for films announced

By the mid-1920s, several competing systems had been developed to add sound to motion pictures. In 1923, inventor Lee de Forest demonstrated Phonofilm, in which music was recorded on a narrow strip at the edge of the film. When De Forest tried to sell Phonofilm to the major ...read more

A massacre at Columbine High School

Two teenage gunmen kill 13 people in a shooting spree at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. At about11:20 a.m., Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, dressed in long trench coats, began shooting students outside the school before moving inside to continue their rampage. By ...read more

Lee resigns from U.S. Army

Colonel Robert E. Lee resigns from the United States army two days after he was offered command of the Union army and three days after his native state, Virginia, seceded from the Union.Lee opposed secession, but he was a loyal son of Virginia. His official resignation was only ...read more