Rogelio Cordova has been crying. His transition from Cuba, where he was forced to leave his two children behind, to the 10 weeks he has spent waiting in this refugee camp -- this is what set him off.
Too many memories: the police dogs in Cuba, the journey on the overcrowded boat in which 14 people died. His body shook so with crying, he had to get up and walk away.
Now he has regained his composure, but he is still struggling to remain calm and organize his thoughts. He is a writer, a leader in this camp; it is important to make himself clear. He stops in mid-sentence to swallow; his voice occasionally breaks.
"It's so easy to understand, so easy to understand," he says again and again.
This is, most of all, what he wants to say:
That the people who caused the riots this week in Fort Indiantown Gap came from a small, "antisocial" group.
That this group -- while he is angry at it and does not condone it -- caused trouble because its members had just come out of prison and felt, after so long a time at the camp, that they were in prison again.
That life in the camp, while sometimes good, is sometimes very bad.
That there are people with families waiting to receive them who cannot because the paper work is so slow.
That because of "los malos" and fighting in the barracks, there is fear.
"Those of us who were political thought we would have met success," Cordova says. "We didn't think this would happen. We have comported well and we have had faith in the goodness of the American people . . . Our exile . . . has been a disgrace."
"Los malos" to Cordova and the rest of the Cubans in the camp stands for a small band of criminals that has been effectively terrorizing the processing center.
Unreported and unprosecuted by the State Department, or local authorities, they have reportedly been responsible for a number of rapes and assaults within the camp, and for more than 15 robberies in nearby towns.
This long line of incidents was overshadowed last Tuesday, when rioting broke out, bringing more than 2,000 troops to the fort. Fifty-eight people were injured, and officials and refugees blamed the criminals. The explanation may not be that simple. Early this week, FBI agents were asked to investigate military personnel as well as possible violations by the refugees.
In their wake came the charges of administrative mismanagement at the camp.
"We have 15 beds in our mental health holding center, in a community with at least 100 people who have been diagnosed as seriously mentally ill," said one Department of Health and Human Services official.
"Two percent have varying degrees of mental disturbance," the official complained.
"But we have nowhere to send them, except in an emergency situation, for a short period of time, and we will have nowhere to send them until President Carter makes a determination on their status."
The number of refugees at Fort Indiantown Gap is 5,000, down from a total of 19,000 who arrived in May. The 5,000 remain because they are the difficult cases in this human reclamation project -- the people without family or friends to sponsor them, the ones whose families the half-dozen volunteer organizations working here have been unable to locate. Seventy-nine percent of them are single males, mostly in their mid-20s. Eleven percent are families, 6 percent women, 5 percent children.
The State Department's Cuban-Haitian task force is glad to provide statistics, but only of a particular sort. On the subject of problems in the camps or abuses to the Cubans, its figures fluctuate or simply are not there. Originally claiming there were only three stabbings and not reporting any sexual assaults, the State Department conceded after a press inquiry that the number of stabbings and rapes from the time the camp opened was "approximately" 12.
"No criminal charges were brought because the victims did not want to bring formal charges," Diana Diaz, special project director, said. "The perpetrators were placed in Area Detention One, for the amount of time felt appropriate."
And then, State Department spokesmen say, the "prepetrators" were returned to their quarters.
This handling of the criminal activity has enraged a number of politicians, both local and national. "They're too damn many bureaucratic requirements that impose restrictions on the guy in charge," said Rep. Allen E. Ertel (D-Pa.). "It's mismanagement on that level."
Ertel said that until Tuesday his appeals about separating hard-core criminals from the rest of the camp's population went unanswered.Meanwhile, local officials, attempts to increase security around the base to protect citizens had been ignored.
Indeed, the local officials were so enraged by the robberies allegedly committed by the "walk-aways" that last month they filed a lawsuit against President Carter, Attorney General Benjamin R. Civiletti, base commander Brig. Gen. Gail Brookshire and Federal Emergency Management Agency Deputy Director Robert Adamchik.
The suit, pending in U.S. District Court, claims that the Cuban refugees are subjecting the citizens of Lebanon County to "irreparable harm," and asks that the government be forced to install a barbed wire fence around the base and provide permanent foot patrols. i
By this week, their demands still ignored, local citizens turned angry. The night of the riots, they talked of forming vigilante groups.
"I'm telling people, if you see them on your property, shoot them, Donald Blouch, a Union Township supervisor, said.
The next night, at the Board of Supervisors meeting, that idea was being discouraged, but there was still tremendous anger directed against the federal government and the refugees.
Supervisor Ed Arnold compared the problem to Three Mile Island. "You can't shoot Krypton, that's the difference," he said, "and you can't vent Cubans."
Two days after the rioting, the State Department was still not allowing anyone into the refugee compound, but at length it agreed to bring out another leader, Manuel Larino, the "mayor" of Area Three.
He is forty-six, a gray-haired man with black glasses, wearing a white short-sleeved shirt with pens stuck in the pocket. There is an air of quiet dignity and respectability about him; in Cuba, he was an accountant.
His posture, however, is that of a depressed man -- shoulders and knees pulled protectively about his body, head down, expression flat. Asked what he thought he would do when he gets out of the camp, he shrugged off the question.
"I'm not the sort of man who spends time dreaming," he said.
Asked how long he had spent in the camp, he knew to the day.
"Among the Cubans, anxiety exists," he said. "Eighty days have passed . . . and many don't have the same patience as the rest. But you remember that Castro mixed, with the workers and professionals who came here, some delinquents who were in prison for serious crimes."
Kids, then, are the problem?
He shrugged that off, too. "Well, you know kids."
Larino told a familiar story. He spoke out against Castro and was put into prison. He was not allowed to return to his profession when he got out. When he saw a chance to escape, his family insisted he take it.
Now he lives, with the others, in this camp. He gets up at 7 for breakfast, he takes an English class in the morning. He counsels the young refugees. He smokes the pack of cigarettes the government gives him. He has never been into town because refugees are not allowed into town.
He has no money. He really does not mind having any money, he said, laughing, because there is nothing to spend it on.
As for the other aspects of his life -- the idea of being a man without a penny in his pocket, of not being allowed to go into town -- he is mature, he understands.
"I am not happy," he said, slowly and carefully. "But I realize that this is something . . . that has to be. If I go into your house, and you don't know me, how can I go through your house?
"I am waiting for you to know me . . . and let me go into your house."