Seventeen Cuban refugees were jailed yesterday after they and other Cubans at Eglin Air Force Base in north Florida threw bricks and rocks and scuffled with outnumbered military police.
Last night, another 11 refugees tried to leave the base but were stopped. Beefed-up security patrols stopped the refugees as they tried to scale fences, a base spokesman said. He said there was no violence.
Last night's incident and Saturday's disturbance involved refugees angry over delays in processing.
On Saturday, about 200 Cubans at the cramped tent city stormed the gate at the processing center, shouting "Libertad! Libertad!" Libertad!"
Eglin officials said a few of the refugees managed to scale the fence around the center, called "Camp Liberty," but most were later returned. Officials said they believed most of the refugees were back in the center today, but they had no way of knowing how many were still outside the confines of the base.
"It's virtually impossible to take a census. No, it is impossible," said Eglin spokesman Maj. John Toner. "Our best guess is that a relative handful escaped."
Air Force police, vastly outnumbered by the Cubans, called for help from Marines on base, the Okaloosa County sheriff's deputies, Fort Walton Beach police and the Florida Highway Patrol to help in quelling the melee.
One of the big tents collapsed under the weight of some who were hanging onto poles and straining to see the scuffle. An 80-year-old Cuban woman fainted in the crush watching the fight. Five military police and one Cuban received minor injuries in the struggle, Toner said.
Residents of a nearby neighborhood, already angry at being so near the refugee camp, demanded that National Guardsmen patrol the tent city on the Fort Walton Beach fairground 24 hours a day.
The outburst began late Saturday after some refugees met with federal officials to demand that they be released from the processing center. Many of the 8,500 Cubans have been living in the crowded tents of Camp Liberty for three weeks. Only about 1,500 have been released so far.
They were all asking questions [in the meeting] for which there were no answers," Toner said. "The big questions were 'When can I leave?' and 'I want to leave now . . . '"
Yesterday, he told a reporter that the major reason for the delay is the difficulty in reaching sponsors to look after the refugees once they leave Camp Liberty.
"Each of the sponsors have to be contacted personally. We get busy signals, responses that 'He's not home now' and 'no, I will not sponsor him.'"
He said the refugees at the camp had been examined for health problems by physicians and had their backgrounds checked by the immigration and Naturalization Service, the FBI and CIA.
About 371 refugees were identified during these checks "as people we didn't want to let loose in the United States," Toner said, and they have been detained. Yesterday, he said, the 17 arrested after Saturday night's melee were sent to join them.
An INS hearings judge will decide whether they should be sent back to Cuba or allowed to remain here. Those proceedings usually are held within 24 hours after an alien is detained, but INS officials said last night they did not know when the hearings would be held for the detained Cubans.
Meanwhile, a steady stream of Freedom Flotilla" boats arrived yesterday in Key West, Fla., pushing the total of Cuban immigrants to more than 76,500.
Thirteen boats carrying a total of about 700 refugees had arrived by yesterday afternoon, and Coast Guard officials said the arrivals were orderly.
Spokesman at the two other military bases where Cuban refugees are being processed reported no significant problems.
Lt. Col. A. T. Brainered said the only unexpected activity at the Fort Chaffee resettlement camp in northwest Arkansas came on Saturday when about a dozen Ku Klux Klansmen demonstrated across from the base.
At Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa., spokeswoman Betty Petrush said, "I find the people to be in the main cheerful, glad to be here, very polite."