President Jimmy Carter was in office from April to September of 1980, when 125,000 Cubans arrived on American shores in Florida. These Cubans left their homeland at the behest of their leader, Fidel Castro. Angered by the frustration some Cubans expressed with his communist government, Castro informed people they could leave for the United States.
The precipitating event occurred on April 1, 1980, when a group of Cubans drove a speeding bus into the Peruvian Embassy in Havana. Upon hearing that the passengers had received political asylum, 10,800 more Cubans descended upon the embassy. Castro then declared that beginning on April 20, the Mariel Harbor would be open for Cubans who wanted to join their families in America.
Effect on Carter
Though many of the Mariel immigrants were relatives of Cuban-Americans, Castro attempted to besmirch the boat lift by including criminals in its numbers. This fact created a media problem for Carter. American authorities eventually detained 2,800 of the Cubans with prior criminal records in federal prisons, some for decades.
- Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive/Getty Images