ON DEC. 3, German Pompa, a Cubana Airlines pilot, stole a helicopter, picked up his wife and 32 other relatives and friends in a field near Havana and then took off for Miami. To avoid Cuban radar, they flew only 6 to 30 feet above the water. At the end of the 200-mile escape, Pompa kissed the ground.
"Now we can begin to live," said Maria de la Caridad Carrazana, Pompa's wife. "In Cuba, there's no freedom. There's nothing."
The Pompa-Carrazana family has added a daring chapter to how immigrants who seek our shores can get here. At the same time, their status as heroes, the kisses of relatives and the figurative hugs from immigration officials are being denied to families just as courageous as they.
What if the helicopter came from Haiti?
As Pompa and his 33 passengers fled Cuba, 6,000 to 7,000 Haitians languished at a U.S. base at Guantanamo, Cuba. They had neither copters nor submarines. They had boats that could sink at any moment. They fled a nation that is soaked in the blood of the overthrow of a democratic government.
Haitian-American broadcasters wait in vain to boast that their refugees have made fools of the new regime. President Bush puts these refugees behind barbed wire and wants to send most of them back to Haiti.
Pompa was welcomed here, even though he claimed no physical danger in Cuba. Bush's minions say Haitians are unwelcome, even though many claim the fear of repression. The Bush administration says Haitians come here because of low wages and not because they fear violence.
All this means that Bush, the same president who whipped up fears at home of black people taking jobs from white people by shouting "quota," now has a perverse quota for black folks abroad. Haitians have not yet died in big enough numbers for the White House to light up "tilt" and to stop saying these human beings in raggedy clothes are liars.
In a recent report, Americas Watch, the National Coalition for Haitian Refugees and the Physicians for Human Rights said interviews in December with priests, doctors, nurses and local leaders in Haiti have led them to conclude that 1,000 people were killed in the first two weeks of the September coup that ousted Jean-Bertrand Aristide; 500 may have died since then.
The report cites intimidation, arrests, house burnings and torture of journalists by the military. It notes the arrests of at least six priests and nuns. It says peasants have told them that the military has ravaged or destroyed food stocks and livestock. Rural health clinics, hospitals and ambulances used to tend to people wounded by the military were shot at or burned.
A month ago, a man on radio called for the return of the Tonton Macoutes, the murderous men who enforced the Duvalier dictatorships. The man read 100 names and 150 organizations said to be Aristide allies. The man said, "Crush them, eat them, drink their blood."
For Cubans, Bush asks no questions. For Haitians, the Tonton Macoutes get the benefit of the doubt. The United States' passivity comes even as Haitian soldiers, instead of customs officials, made searches of Haitians who voluntarily returned home after being blocked from the United States. The soldiers said they looked for "everything" that was "compromising."
Bush does not view this as a compromising situation to return Haitians to. The president who welcomes anyone who hates Castro is waiting until the blood-drinking in Haiti claims enough lives to give him a political burp.
Derrick Z. Jackson is a Boston Globe columnist.