It was April 3, 1980, just days before the Mariel boatlift erupted, and senior Carter Administration officials were meeting to consider the turmoil lashing Cuba.
An avalanche of Cuban exiles had returned to the island for the first time, delivering capitalist gifts like blue jeans to relatives who suddenly realized that Fidel Castro had only beggared their island.
Ten groups of asylum seekers had crashed vehicles into the Peruvian and Venezuelan embassies in Havana, and growing numbers were hijacking boats and planes to Florida. Washington estimated up to 1.2 million wanted out.
The Carter administration officials agreed to draft a contingency plan in case Castro unleashed another mass exodus like the Camarioca boatlift in 1965, which brought 5,000 Cubans to U.S. shores.
It was too late.
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