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Operation Safe Haven
Safe Passage

Under Operations Safe Haven and Safe Passage nearly 7,300 Cubans were transported from Panama to Guantanamo Naval Base between 01 February 1995, the date the movement began, and 20 February 1995. The mission of the transfer operation was to move the Cuban migrants from Safe Haven camps in Panama to Guantanamo in a safe, orderly manner.

Operation Safe Haven began 06 September 1994, when the first Cubans arrived in Panama from Guantanamo. Their arrival was the result of an agreement between the US and Panamanian governments permitting the Cubans to remain in Panama for six months. The influx of the Cuban nationals went on steadily through October, when the Cuban Safe Haven population reached its peak at around 8,600.

In mid-October 1994 the US Department of Justice announced it would allow a program of parole entry into the United States for humanitarian reasons. Approximately 1,280 Cuban migrants entered the United States from Safe Haven camps in Panama as part of this program. In addition, 110 Cubans were accepted by Spain, and 10 by Venezuela.

Due in part to uncertainly about their future, some of the Cuban migrants became increasingly restless as the weeks went by. The growing tension led to disturbances and riots on 07-08 December 1994, which were quickly controlled by US military members but not without taking a toll -- more than 200 US military personnel and 30 Cubans were injured. Two Cuban migrants drowned in the Panama Canal while attempting to flee from the camps. There also was considerable property damage, including the destruction of various military vehicles, computers, and telephones. Many tents were burned down as well. Because of these incidents, security was increased considerably.

As the expiration of the US-Panamanian agreement permitting the Cubans to stay in Panama approached, planning began for Operation Safe Passage--the return of the Cubans to Guantanamo Bay Naval Facility.

Redeployment of US Safe Haven and Safe Passage military units to the United States began 01 February 199 and was substantially completed by 01 March 1995. Over the course of the six months, Operation Safe Haven employed an average of 400 Panamanian workers, including doctors, teachers, and food service personnel. More than 1,700 contracts were awarded to 311 local vendors, representing nearly $20 million to the Panamanian economy. The total in-country cost for Operations Safe Haven and Safe Passage was approximately $44 million.

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