Eduardo Garcia, lately of Cuba, speaks no English, but he doesn't need it to understand that he is stuck in another Big Muddy of American policy and politics.
If Garcia could see as far south as Washington D.C., he would see a bitter, offended Congress denouncing the Carter administration for its handling of the Cuban refugee invasion that began in late April.
If he could hear the talk in Harrisburg, 20 miles down the interstate, he would hear angry officials in the state capital berating President Carter for the same reasons.
Even closer, if he could see past the rows of old Army barracks, he would see the fedeal clerical work force slowing down and heading home each afternoon with a calm that belies his emergency.
Garcia and about 19,000 other Cubans, here since the base was opened to them on May 19, are increasingly restless over delays that keep them penned up in a curious limbo without answers or movement. Only a handful have been released.
"If we have to wait, they should tell us. But they should tell us the truth. Nobody is communicating around here and we are told very little," Garcia said.
"We are becoming very anxious. We are not like some of those Cubans who rioted at Fort Chaffee. We are all ready to defend our dignity and work in this country. But we just want to know what is going on."
Officials of the U.S. Army and the Federal Emergency Management Administration, overseers of refugee housing and processing, claim they are moving as quickly as they can in a monumentally complicated situation.
But no bureaucracy moves without electrical jolts from the top. And in Washington, particularly congressional Washington, the rap is that the generator turns with only a quizzical hum at the White House.
In 40 months of dealing with the Carter administration, Congress has become accustomed to quirky undulations of policy at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Debates over energy, water policy, defense spending, human rights, to name a few, left lasting marks on the legislative brain.
But the zigs, zags, swings, swerves and indecision over Cuban refugees as the influx grew to more than 100,000 have produced a new froth of unhappiness in their wake across Capitol Hill.
Pennsylvania Republican legislators, for example, are angry that they were not consulted in advance about the use of Indiantown Gap. Gov. Dick Thornburgh learned about it in the newspapers, and he and other state officials still are miffed.
Sen. H. John Heinz iii (R-Pa.) was not invited this week to a White Houe briefing on reffugee policy options. An aide called to ask why and was reminded that Heinz had opposed Carter's wage-price legislation.
"Do you want me to tell the senator that's the reason he wasn't invited?" the aide asked. "No," came the answer, "I'll get back to you with an explanation."
GOP Reps. Robert S. Walker and William F. Goodling, whose districts surround the base, weren't invited to the briefing either, and both were mightily disturbed. Even Rep. Allen E. Ertel, a Democrat whose district includes the base, is critical of the processing delays and languor here.
"Some of us who were openly critical at the start have been shut out of what is going on," Walker said. "We are forced to spend our time trying to get questions answered, when we could have been drawn into the process of making policy decisions here in Washington."
House and Senate immigration panels, headed by Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D Mass.), have raked the administration for failing to move promptly and decisively to resolve the refugee questions.
Another Democrat, Sen. Quentin N. Burdick of North Dakota, like Walker and Goodling unable to get answers, was so angry at the White House that he suspended action on extension of the federal Disaster Relief Act of 1974.
Burdick, usually unflappable, was left seething by Carter's decision in May to use the disaster act -- designed soley for natural disasters -- to deal with a refugee problem.
Before the act was invoked, Burdick talked with presidential adviser Jack Watson and understood the administration would seek separate appropriations to care for the Cubans -- which has not occurred. Burdick later talked with Carter, expressed his displeasure and asked for a statement on policy intentions toward the disaster act.
"I am very distressed," Burdick said the othr day. "I asked for a statement about their future intent to use the act, but so far I have had nothing explicit from them. They saw the use of this act as a convenient way to get money. But it was never designed for this."
As a result of his distress and the White House silence, Burdick halted legislative work on extension of the law, which is to expire in October. His committee missed a May 15 reauthorization deadline, and now must seek a budget waiver to proceed with its work on the bill.
The irony of a disater-relief agency, FEMA, being assigned to administer a social and political problem is lost on neither the refugees nor the private religious and relief organizations working on resettlement.
Although complimentary of their treatment there, by FEMA and the Army, some refugees smile at the idea of being regarded as a natural disaster. aResettlement workers wince at it, and agree that the processing should be quicker.
Through midweek, of the 19,093 refugees sent to here, only 179 had been released to outside sponsors. William J. Fradenburg, overseeing resettlement work here for the U.S. Catholic Conference, and FEMA officials said the processing will quicken in coming days.
Administration officials acknowledge they used FEMA to run the Cuban processing to allow them to dip into the disaster fund for cash, pending a determination of how to fund the resettlement permanently.
And despite the delays that are upsetting the newcomers and their anxious relatives, federal officials note that the Cubans are being processed much faster than the Vietnamese refugees who came to the United States in 1975. The average stay in camp for them was about 100 days. Most of the Cubans have been in processing centers only for a few weeks at most, they said.
But for refugees like Eduardo Garcia, getting cleared and getting out is the problem. Garcia and many other Cubans interviewed here said they have housing and jobs lined up by relatives waiting for them once they leave.
"I've been here 11 days and all my processing is done," said Mercedes Valdes. "My husband is already in Florida. They have a job for me. I just can't get out."
Xiomara Fernandez arrived here May 28. After answering a few questions that day, the wheels stopped turning. "They haven't done any further processing. When I ask, they say I just have to wait. My father is ready to receive me in Miami and I must go," she said.
"I'm desperate," said Julio Garcia. "I am here 13 days and they treat us all very well. But I am desperate. All I do is sit here in the sun and wait. My stepson is waiting for me in New York. He wants me to come, but I get no clearance."
Part of the problem, of course, is that nobody in Washington ever thought Julio Garcia or Mercedes Valdes would come here. More to the point, nobody was really ready for them when they got here and kept coming in waves.
Faced with an influx of giant proportions, the administration is under mounting pressure to declare the Cubans political refugees, a legal distinction that would assure federal aid to the states where they resettle.
Thornburgh and the Pennsylvania delegation in Congress, remembering the Indochinese situation in 1975, this week urged Carter to grant the Cubans political refugee status. Heinz, Gooding and Walker have introduced bills directing this.
This scenic old military base was used to process Indochinese refugees. About a third of the 21,000 who went through Indiantown Gap remained in Pennsylvania. A repeat, although to a lesser degree, is anticipated now with the Cubans.
Without the aid guaranteed by the Refugee Act of 1980, state officials here fear Pennsylvania may get stuck with social costs they believe to be a federal responsibility. Officials in Florida, Arkansas and Wisconsin, other camp sites, have similar fears.
"There are some very immediate questions and problems," a state welfare official in Harrisburg said. "There is no written information coming to the state saying the Cubans can get X, Y or Z. We get no answers from Washington. We have to rely on garbled, confused information.
"We want some answers about the unaccompanied children. And our governor's council on minorities is asking FEMA what it intends to do with the gays -- and there are a number of them, you know," she continued. "We want to be sure they know their rights and that they are told what the laws are here. These are things Washington seems not to be thinking about."
From the start of the boatlift in late April, the administration's shifts have put Congress and resettlement agencies in a quandary, leaving an impression that Cuban President Fidel Castro was calling the tune.
In mid-April, White House press secretary Jody Powell said the United States would admit up to 3,500 of the 10,000 Cubans who had sought asylum in the Peruvian Embassy in Havana when Cuban officials indicated that people could immigrate.
Ten days later, the boatlift from the United States began and Castro opened his doors. By late April, the White House warned that boat operators would be fined for bringing illegal aliens. The warnings were ignored and then not enforced.
By May 5, Carter was saying publicly that the United States would continue to "provide an open heart and open arms" to the refugees. He said he would ask Congress for money to care for them.
By mid-May, the president was telling visiting editors that "final touches" were being put on a new policy on the growing tide of refugees. This week, the White House was telling legislators it still is weighing the options, admittedly a ticklish political task in a tight budget year and shaky economy.
By month's end, with Carter having ordered the Coast Guard to stop all Cuba-bound boatlifters, a slowing of the flow appeared. Carter said he would allow 88,000 refugees to remain here. The president said in Ohio that he would allow refugees to come in, "in accordance with legal screening processing to be worked out with the Cuban government."
Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.) this week added another dimension to the story of the administration's dilemma over the refugees. He disclosed that the CIA had warned in January of the possibility of Castro forcing a massive exodus of Cubans to the United States. "With several month's warning, the administration didn't even bother to plan for a possible refugee influx," Aspin complained. "Instead we have been treated to the spectacle of a floundering administration declaring first a 'closed-door' policy and then an 'open-door' policy and then a 'closed-door' policy again."
In any case, the Cuban government is still not cooperating with Carter and this week the refugee total went beyond 100,000. Among them, of course, was Eduardo Garcia who, indisputably, is here and puzzled.
If Garcia knows not his fate, he is not alone. Washington doesn't seem to know either. This is more than a language problem.