How events in Cuba shaped and reshaped Miami

Cuban women rafters plead for rescue, during massive flotillas in fall of 1994.
Cuban women rafters plead for rescue, during massive flotillas in fall of 1994. Miami Herald Staff

Key events in the history of the Cuban exile community:

January 1959: Fidel Castro’s revolution triggers the departure of President Fulgencio Batista and an initial exodus of wealthy and upper-class refugees to Miami.

January 1961: United States breaks relations with Cuba.

April 1961: Members of the Cuban exile community, recruited by the CIA, invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in an ill-fated bid to overthrow Castro.

October 1962: The Cuban Missile Crisis ends when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev agrees to remove missiles from the island and President Kennedy promises not to invade Cuba.

December 1962: Kennedy addresses Bay of Pigs veterans at Miami’s Orange Bowl, vowing to return their Brigade 2506 flag in a “free Havana.”

October 1963: The number of Cuban exiles registered at the Cuban Refugee Center in Miami reaches 168,897.

September-October 1965: Castro opens the port of Camarioca, allowing Cubans to leave for the United States. Exiles flock there to pick up relatives, bringing 5,000 to Florida.

December 1965: “Freedom Flights” begin, following an agreement between the United States and Cuba to control the flow of refugees. Two flights a day depart Cuba for Miami.

April 1970: The number of exiles registered at the Cuban Refugee Center reaches 364,000; Cubans now represent about 23 percent of the population of Dade County.

July 1972: Businessman Manolo Reboso is appointed to the Miami City Commission, becoming the first Cuban exile to hold the position.

April 1973: “Freedom Flights”' are halted by Cuba after bringing 260,561 people to Miami.

April 1974: Exile leader Jose Elias de la Torriente, criticized for failing to invade Cuba after collecting large sums of money for the operation, is shot to death by an unknown assailant. The killing sparks a period of political violence in Miami.

December 1974: Three bombs explode near a Spanish-language radio station, followed by 19 other exile bombings within a year.

February 1975: Exile leader Luciano Nieves, who campaigned for improved relations with Cuba, is shot to death in a hospital parking lot.

November 1975: Andrés Mejides is elected Hialeah’s first Cuban-born councilman.

April 1976: A car bomb severs the legs of Cuban radio commentator Emilio Milian, who advocated an end to exile violence.

January 1979: A short-lived era of detente and dialogue between Castro and the exile community begins. For the first time since 1959, exiles are allowed to visit the island. In the first month alone, 3,640 do so.

April 1980: More than 10,000 Cubans seeking asylum occupy Peru’s embassy in Havana, triggering the Mariel boatlift. On Sept. 25, Castro halts the exodus, after more than 125,000 Cubans have left the island. About 100,000 settle in South Florida.

November 1980: Cuban-American businessman Paul Cejas is elected to the Dade School Board, the first Latin elected to a countywide office.

September 1981: Former Sweetwater Mayor Jorge Valdes is appointed to the Dade County Commission, becoming the first Cuban exile member.

November 1981: Raul Martinez is elected mayor of Hialeah, the first Cuban-born mayor of a U.S. city of more than 100,000.

June 1984: U.S. and Cuban governments come to an agreement that allows the U.S. deportation of some 2,700 Mariel criminals and mental patients. In exchange, Washington liberalizes legal immigration, allowing 3,000 political prisoners and a maximum of 20,000 Cuban immigrants per year.

April 1985: A federal jury convicts Eduardo Arocena, reputed leader of the anti-Castro group Omega 7, of planting nine bombs in Miami between 1979 and 1983. He is sentenced to 20 years, on top of a life term from an earlier conviction for murdering a Cuban diplomat and other terrorist acts.

November 1985: Xavier Suarez is elected the first Cuban-born mayor of Miami.

August 1989: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is elected to Congress, becoming the first Cuban-American representative in Washington. She is followed in 1992 by fellow Miamian Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and New Jersey’s Rep. Robert Menendez.

March 1990: As the Cold War ends and Communist regimes collapse worldwide, police departments in Dade County begin to draft contingency plans in case Castro falls.

February 1992: With Castro still firmly in power, more than 200,000 exiles sign a petition asking President George H.W. Bush for permission to resume military raids against Cuba.

November 1992: Miami Spanish-language television station WSCV Channel 51 reveals that Francisco Avila, one of the highest-ranking leaders in Alpha 66, the oldest and biggest exile paramilitary organization, has been a double agent for the FBI and the Cuban government. Avila acknowledges the allegation and leaves Alpha 66.

June 1993: Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo, once an anti-Castro commando leader and prisoner in Cuba, becomes the principal exile spokesman for dialogue with the Cuban leader. He returned to Cuba in 2003.

August 1993: Angry exiles in Miami stage demonstrations against Mexico after eight Cuban rafters who had washed up on Mexican shores are deported to Cuba. Eventually, Cuba returns the rafters to Mexico, and then they travel to Miami.

April 1994: Members of exile community who favor dialogue with Cuba set off a storm of protest in Miami when a videotape is shown of them chatting with Castro at a Havana meeting and one — Miami lawyer Magda Montiel Davis — kisses Castro on cheek and calls him a “great teacher.”

July 1994: U.S. government launches a crackdown against Cuban exile commando groups, seizing their boats and weapons, after receiving reports that several are planning to attack tourist resorts in Cuba.

August 1994: Amid an economic crisis and an unprecedented street riot along Havana’s seaside Malecón avenue, Castro announces that any Cuban who wants to leave on rafts can do so — and 30,000 do. President Clinton, in his first major reversal of U.S. policies on Cuban immigrants, orders that balseros picked up by the Coast Guard at sea be taken to the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo, Cuba. Eventually, thousands arrive in Miami and 30,000 are taken to Guantanamo.

September 1994: Castro agrees to halt the rafter crisis in exchange for a U.S. promise to issue at least 20,000 visas to Cubans per year, to encourage legal and safe migration.

May 1995: In another sweeping reversal of policy, President Clinton orders that the 21,000 Cubans still in Guantánamo be allowed into the United States but that all refugees rescued at sea be returned to Cuba unless they can prove fear of persecution. Since the 1960s, the United States had welcomed all Cuban migrants as victims of the Cold War struggle against communism. Eventually, the new policy becomes known as wet foot/dry foot, because any Cuban who manages to set foot on U.S. soil is not turned back.

January 1996: The last 127 rafters at the Guantanamo Bay naval base arrive in Miami.

February 1996: Cuban air force MiG fighters shoot down two unarmed civilian planes of Miami-based Brothers to the Rescue, killing all four people in the planes.

May 1997: Jorge Mas Canosa, chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation and the most influential Cuban exile leader in America, discloses he’s suffering from Paget’s disease, a condition that damages the bones but does not endanger life.

September 1997: The Mas family announces the purchase for $4.2 million of the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami and plans to restore the 17-story landmark and open a museum of the Cuban exile experience. Built in 1926 as headquarters for what became the Miami News, the tower served as a government processing center for Cuban refugees from 1962 to 1974.

November 1997: Mas Canosa dies at his home off Cutler Road at the age of 58. His family discloses he had lung cancer.

July 1998: In the wake of Mas Canosa’s death, efforts to improve U.S. relations with Cuba intensify. Several prominent Cuban exiles in Miami, Tampa and Jacksonville form the Florida State Council of Americans for Humanitarian Trade with Cuba.

July 1999: Mas Canosa’s son, Jorge, is elected chairman of CANF. He would later push the foundation toward a more moderate position on exile support for dissidents in Cuba and all but break CANF's links to the George W. Bush White House.

November 1999: A 6-year-old Cuban boy named Elián González is rescued by fishermen off Fort Lauderdale after his mother and several other refugees drown when their boat capsizes. Elián’s arrival sets in motion an international custody battle that bitterly divides Cuban exiles and sparks an anti-exile backlash around the United States.

April 2000: The Elián impasse is broken at 5:07 a.m. April 22 when 131 federal agents wearing SWAT gear and packing submachine guns raid a Little Havana home and take the boy away. After the U.S. Supreme Court refuses to intervene in the case, Elián later returns home with his father.

February 2001: FBI arrests Mariano Faget, a senior U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service official, on charges of revealing classified information to a childhood friend just before the friend was to meet with Cuban diplomats in the United States. Faget, the highest ranking Cuban-American in the INS, is sentenced to five years in prison.

December 2001: Cuban spy Gerardo Hernández is sentenced in Miami to two life terms, the maximum punishment for his role in tipping off Havana to the plans of the four Brothers to the Rescue members killed in 1996. Earlier, four other Cuban defendants had been convicted of espionage-related charges.

December 2001: Msgr. Bryan O. Walsh dies at age 71. Walsh was revered by many in the exile community for his initiation and leadership of Operation Peter Pan. From 1960 to 1962, the operation brought to the United States 14,000 unaccompanied Cuban children whose parents were unable to leave the island.

October 2002: Ana Belén Montes, the most senior spy for Cuba ever captured, declares at her sentencing that U.S. policy toward Cuba is ‘‘cruel and unfair.” A former senior Cuba analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency of Puerto Rican descent, she is sentenced to 25 years in prison, followed by five years of parole.

April 2003: Nilo Cruz, 42, a playwright who arrived on the Cuba refugee airlift at age 10, is awarded the Pulitzer Prize for drama for his work Ana in the Tropics.

July 2003: Celia Cruz, the queen of Afro-Cuban music from the mambo to salsa and a steadfast Castro critic, dies in exile at 77. Cuban government media had long banned her music.

August 2003: Thirteen Florida state legislators of Hispanic descent warn in a letter that President Bush risks losing exile support for his 2004 campaign if he does not toughen his Cuba policy.

August 5, 2006: Ramping up a campaign to reach out to ordinary Cubans during Fidel Castro’s health crisis, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice goes on Radio and TV Marti to offer U.S. support for those who work for democratic change on the island.

September 2006: At least 10 South Florida journalists, including three from El Nuevo Herald, received regular payments from the U.S. government for programs on Radio Martí and TV Martí, two broadcasters aimed at undermining the communist government of Fidel Castro. The payments totaled thousands of dollars over several years.

August 4, 2007: The Cuba Study group, a moderate exile organization, plans to raise $300 million to help develop Cuba’s post-communism economy by aiding business start-ups.

May 23, 2008: In a lunchtime speech to the Cuban American National Foundation, Sen. Barack Obama says if elected president he would ease travel and remittance restrictions on Cuba but would maintain the trade embargo until Havana made some changes.

October 2012: Pictures of Castro are released to dispel rumors surrounding his deterioration in health and possible death.

May 2014: Juan Reinaldo Sanchez, former bodyguard for Castro, publishes a book of memoirs titled “The Secret Life of Fidel Castro,” portraying the Cuban leader as a feudal lord who ran the island as a personal fiefdom.

September 2016: American Airlines begins flights from Miami International Airport to various Cuban cities.

Nov. 26, 2016: Miami Cubans take to the street after the death of Fidel Casrto is announced.