An article Saturday incorrectly characterized the Cuban government's 1983 position on immigration talks. The Cubans sought to discuss the entire package of immigration matters with U.S. officials but did not bring up or trade on other issues.
The United States and Cuba agreed yesterday to end a four-year disagreement by repatriating 2,746 Cuban "undesirables" to Cuba from U.S. jails and hospitals and by reopening U.S. gates to Cuban emigrants.
The agreement on the so-called "Marielitos," who arrived here in 1980 in a boatlift from the Cuban port of Mariel, is the first Cuban pact for the Reagan administration, which has routinely denounced Cuba for its policies in Central America and Africa.
However, it "does not signal any change in U.S. policy toward Cuba" nor is it an opening to talks on any other subject, said White House spokesman Larry Speakes.
"We want deeds, not words" proving Cuba is "reentering the family of nations" in Central America and Africa, where Cuba has sent troops and advisers. "We see no evidence that Cuba is prepared to change that behavior," Speakes said.
Still, the administration decision to announce the pact at the White House rather than at the State Department was viewed as an effort to demonstrate that President Reagan is amenable to reaching agreement with communist nations at a moment when preliminary talks with the Soviet Union on reopening arms control negotiations are set to begin in January.
Under the Cuban agreement, the mental patients and indicted criminals could in theory begin returning to Cuba in 30 days, when Cubans desiring to come to the United States could begin seeking visas at the U.S. Interests Section at the Swiss Embassy in Havana. The United States suspended diplomatic relations with Cuba in January 1961.
But only some 500 "undesirables" are likely to be ready then because of pending court action. About 400 Cubans acknowledged when they arrived in the United States that they had criminal records or behavior that automatically made them excludable under U.S. law. Another 100 are mental patients, now mostly in St. Elizabeths Hospital. The St. Elizabeths patients are unlikely to appeal their exclusion when hearings are held.
But at least 1,500 of the "Marielitos" in federal prison in Atlanta are part of a class-action suit fighting U.S. efforts to send them back, and court action could delay the departure indefinitely. The U.S. government filed an appeal Thursday to an Oct. 15 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Marvin Shoob in Atlanta that ordered the Board of Immigration Appeals to hold further hearings.
The rest of the Cubans are in state or local jails and have not gone through the required hearings and appeal procedures.
"Nothing in the agreement affects these people's rights under U.S. law," said a senior administration official in a background briefing for reporters. "It simply asserts Cuba's willingness to take them back should they be found excludable."
The pact also will allow normal immigration from Cuba to resume, with an estimated 3,000 Cuban political prisoners and their families receiving preference for U.S. visas.
Another 20,000 Cubans also will be allowed to enter the United States every year -- the same ceiling imposed on all other countries -- in addition to immediate family members of U.S. citizens. Some Florida officials expressed misgivings that a flood of immigrants would arrive in Miami, but Speakes said the pact provides for "phased and orderly" arrivals and departures.
About 125,000 Cubans arrived in Florida in 1980 in a ragtag armada of small, medium and large boats from the port of Mariel. Many drowned en route. It was soon discovered that the Cubans included many who had been misfits in Cuba -- like homosexuals -- as well as criminals and mental patients who are normally excluded from the United States.
The Carter administration opened talks with Cuba on returning these people, but Cuba said it would accept only those who agreed to return voluntarily. The United States then halted normal immigration procedures in May 1980, leaving thousands of Cubans who had applied for visas stranded in Cuba and leaving the "excludables" in U.S. jails.
Critics charged yesterday that a pact with virtually the same terms as yesterday's could have been reached in 1981. "We left things open and the Cubans indicated they were flexible," said Wayne Smith, a career diplomat who headed the U.S. Interests Section in Havana under President Jimmy Carter, "but unfortunately the Reagan administration refused to talk."
Reagan demanded that the excludables be accepted in 1983 and the Cubans responded that they wanted to talk about resuming trade, currency and diplomatic relations as well. In May, the administration renewed its offer to talk on the Marielitos, but the Cubans again refused, calling it an election-year ploy.
Only when Democratic presidential candidate Jesse L. Jackson visited Havana in June and told the Cubans the Marielitos were a bipartisan issue did talks begin. "The agreement is almost exactly the outline we were talking about back in 1980," Smith said. "If the talks had continued we could have had it then."
Frank Calzon, president of the Cuban-American National Foundation, which opposes Castro, said the pact would end "the illegal detention and violation of due process" for the jailed excludables. They had suffered for four years and thousands of people were forced to remain in Cuba because of Castro's behavior, not because of their own, he said.
"This was perverse logic . . . . I hope the agreement is the inception of a more-enlightened U.S. policy toward Castro," Calzon said.
Beginning in July, there were four U.S.-Cuba negotiating sessions in New York between negotiators headed by State Department Deputy Legal Adviser Michael G. Kozak and Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Ricardo Alarcon. Participants said the third round, in November, often went 14 hours a day, but was free of rhetorical posturing.
The last week of prolonged talks, one participant said, covered such questions as medical care and treatment of the excludables on return to Cuba. After a list of the 2,746 people was agreed upon, the Cubans received documents on each one and said Cuban law will allow them to be processed on a case-by-case basis. None will be automatically jailed or released, the official said.