Doctrine of Asylum

February 25, 1959

Report Outline
Sanctuary for Political Offenders
Differences Over Diplomatic Asylum
Wide Acceptance of Territorial Asylum

Sanctuary for Political Offenders

Controversies Over Asylum for Cuban Refugees

Collapse of the Batista government in Cuba last Jan. 1 threw prominent officials and adherents of the fallen regime into a frantic search for safety abroad or in foreign embassies in Havana. Asylum—the protection a state may afford a foreigner in trouble with the government of his own country—was granted in both of its two prevailing forms. Batista himself, and more than a hundred of his aides and their families, found territorial asylum in the Dominican Republic, and 400 others were given similar refuge in the United States. So-called diplomatic asylum was extended to from 150 to 200 persons by 13 Latin American embassies in Havana.

The new Cuban government, as often happens when asylum is granted in the wake of sweeping political upheaval, reacted vigorously. Foreign Minister Roberto Agramonte said, Jan. 29, that steps were being taken to bring about extradition of “war criminals” who had fled the country. His government called on the Dominican Republic, Feb. 10, to “provisionally arrest” Gen. Batista as a common criminal and said it would “present within the two months following the arrest of Batista the formal request for extradition.”

As for persons who found diplomatic asylum in Havana, the provisional government's policy toward them has passed through several phases. During the first weeks it was in power, the new government guaranteed safe conduct out of Cuba to two score or so of the refugees. Later it announced that safe conduct for refugees still in the embassies would be withheld pending a case-by-case study to ascertain whether the persons involved were liable to prosecution as common criminals and hence not entitled to political asylum. This action disturbed the representatives in Cuba of other Latin American countries, who feared the change of procedure indicated that the new government was not prepared to live up to its obligations under inter-American agreements on asylum.

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