Their 13-day uprising over, the imprisoned Marielitos are no longer in the news now. And the Cubans' pleas for freedom—that is, for life in the United States? Those pleas are now in the hands of the Justice Department, their status little changed since before defiant survivors of the "freedom flotilla" and of seven years of legal uncertainty took over two federal prisons, many of them vowing that "I'll die before I go back to Cuba."
We should let them stay, as we should have done in the first place. If justice did not and does not demand it, then mercy surely does.
"I don't think we yielded to the demands of hostage-takers in this case," said Attorney General Ed Meese at the successful conclusion of negotiations between the government and the prisoners. "I don't think we violated our principles." That his first claim is false but his second true reveals a great deal about the Cubans' strange plight.
The prisoners surely did take hostages, and the government surely did make concessions to them as a result—behavior on both parts that we normally condemn. And yet, Americans, while not condoning the Cubans' seizing of hostages and destruction of property, showed great generosity of understanding.
Wouldn't I hope to be so bold in a similar circumstance? We all thought. Wouldn't I, having crossed the sea in flimsy vessels in which many fellow refugees perished, having put down roots in the fabled land of opportunity, having been labeled "excludable" by one of the most powerful bureaucracies in the United States but then offered hope of a reprieve of that sentence thanks to the tangled course of foreign policy, wouldn't I, when my host government announced a "successful" deal with the dictator of the country I fled, a deal that might result in my forced deportation—wouldn't I resort to drastic, even violent, measures?
And so in dealing with these hostage-takers we—our government—indeed did not "violate our principles." We understood that freedom is the core of our national identity, the bedrock of the very well-being that attracts the world's tired and poor.
Yes, under immigration rules and regulations, thousands of the Cubans should be sent back to Castro for having committed crimes in the United States or for being deemed mentally ill. But surely, excepting murder, we can forgive the former (most had already served out their sentences) and absorb the latter.
"We don't want to go to any Communist country," declared one of the imprisoned refugees. "We are ready to die in this attempt. We believe our cause is just."
We know it is. Free them.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Free the Cubans".