WASHINGTON -- Acting on reports that the Cuban economy is on the verge of collapse, the Clinton administration is drafting contingency plans for dealing with a potential wave of Cuban refugees, officials say.
A new task force of representatives of about 40 different federal agencies met Tuesday for the first time to "look at possible U.S. responses" to a political crisis in Cuba.
"Cuban society has reached the state of total exhaustion," said a report submitted to the State Department by experts from Florida International University. "When Fidel Castro leaves power, Cuba will be bankrupted."
Administration officials said that the task force was a "working-level" group and that its work would "not touch on the basic U.S.-Cuba relationship."
But the creation of the group is the administration's first step toward developing a long-term policy for responding to the instability facing President Fidel Castro, whose 35-year grip on power has been severely weakened by the collapse of Communism and the loss of his patrons in Moscow.
Included in the group are the National Security Agency staff, the State Department, the Defense Department, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Administration and the Agency for International Development.
Officials said they wanted to avert a crisis like the Mariel boat-lift, which began when Mr. Castro freed waves of inmates from hospitals and prisons and allowed them to flee Cuba. The Carter administration was ill prepared for the 125,000 refugees who sailed for the United States.
One Clinton administration official involved in policy on Cuba said the group would take up a 1991 contingency plan developed by the Bush administration as a starting point. The plan called for appointment of a coordinator of federal efforts to deal with an exodus of Cubans; the interdiction of boats of refugees at sea; the detention of refugees in processing centers throughout the United States; and screening for illness and criminal records.