Operations Safe Haven and Safe Passage

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Operations Safe Haven and Safe Passage (Sept. 8 1994-March 15, 1995) were operations by the United States Joint Task Force designed to relieve the overcrowded migrant camps at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Safe Haven established four camps on Empire Range, Panama to provide a safe haven for up to ten thousand Cuban migrants. Safe Passage then returned the migrants to Guantanamo after the crowded conditions could be alleviated. These migrants had attempted to enter the United States illegally by crossing the Florida Straits in the summer of 1994. The operation was conducted under the command of General Barry McCaffrey and the direction of Clinton administration. [1]

Operation Safe Haven began in September 1994, when the first Cubans arrived in Panama from Guantanamo. Camps were established in Panama as a result of an agreement between the US and Panamanian governments that permitted the Cubans to remain in Panama for six months. Cuban migrants continued to arrive until the camps reached their peak occupancy of 8,600. Of these 8,600, approximately 1,280 Cubans entered the United States in mid-October 1994 as a result of a program of parole entry by the US Department of Justice. 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 December 7–8, 1994, which were quickly controlled by US military members. During the riots, more than 200 US military personnel and 30 Cubans were injured and two Cuban migrants drowned in the Panama Canal while attempting to flee from the camps. There was also considerable property damage, including the destruction of various military vehicles, computers, and telephones. After the riots took place a fifth camp was established to house the leaders of the riots and any individual who seemed a threat. Camp five housed both men and women. It also contained a high security jail system that placed individuals into individual cells. 5th Bn 87th Infantry Fort Davis Panama, was the primary US Army unit conducting security operations and bore the brunt of the riots. Camp five was manned by Air Force Security Police from the 17th SPS Goodfellow A.F.B. San Angelo, Texas. Other personnel there was the 2nd Rangers and Army Military Police.

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. Between February 1, 1995, and February 20, 1995, 7,300 Cubans were transported from Panama to Guantanamo Naval Base. 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.[2]


US military members who directly participated in Operation Safe Haven were awarded the following:

  • Humanitarian Service Medal (26 Aug 94 - 3 Mar 95)
  • Joint Meritorious Unit Award (26 Aug 94 - 1 Mar 95)

See also[edit]