Favorite

1980 - Crisis at Ft. Chaffee 

Overcrowding and frustration lead to riots by Cuban detainees, and a national spotlight on Arkansas.

The biggest Arkansas story of 1980 - not counting the defeat of up-and-coming Bill Clinton at the hands of Frank White that fall - was undoubtedly the riot of Cuban detainees at Fort Chaffee. Refugees of Castro's infamous Muriel Boatlift, over 19,000 Cubans were detained at Fort Chaffee that spring, making the camp the 11th largest city in the state (Fort Chaffee's history had often seen it used to hold detainees and prisoners, from German POWs during WWII to refugees from the fall of Saigon). Brought to the fort in early May, the Cubans had been promised a quick processing by immigration and medical authorities and then resettlement with their families, many of whom had been separated during the exodus from Cuba. Plagued by bureaucratic setbacks and rumors that Chaffee was full of Cuban criminals released from prison by Fidel Castro, however, camp life ground on for a month, with few Cubans released. Then, on Sunday, June 1, the frustrated detainees rioted, clashing with State Police and National Guard troops, destroying 4 barracks, and turning the eyes of the world on Arkansas for the first time since 1957. Sixty-two refugees were injured - some by gunfire - and 46 others were arrested. As Arkansas Times reporter Bob Plunkett wrote then: "Before El Domingo (Spanish for 'Sunday'), the term used by the refugees to refer to the June 1 riot, Fort Chaffee's only containment barrier was a limp cotton rope draped over a line of sawhorses place around the Cuban housing area." After the riots, Gov.Bill Clinton and President Jimmy Carter ensured that the lightly fortified camp was turned into a prison, encircled with miles of concertina wire and 2,000 heavily-armed federal troops. It wasn't enough to keep White from triumphing with twin issues of "Cubans and car tags," the latter a hated fee increase. Clinton apologized in 1982, beat White in a re-match and says the first loss was instructive in political victories later.
Favorite

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Arkansas Times Staff

Readers also liked…

Most Shared

  • Labor department director inappropriately expensed out-of-state trips, audit finds

    Jones was "Minority Outreach Coordinator" for Hutchinson's 2014 gubernatorial campaign. The governor first named him as policy director before placing him over the labor department instead in Jan. 2015, soon after taking office.
  • World leaders set to meet in Little Rock on resource access and sustainable development

    Little Rock will next week host a series of meetings on the use of technology to tackle global problems led by Club de Madrid — a coalition of more than 100 former democratic former presidents and prime ministers from around the world — and the P80 Group, a coalition of large public pension and sovereign wealth funds founded by Prince Charles to combat climate change.
  • Rapert compares Bill Clinton to Orval Faubus

    Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway)  was on "Capitol View" on KARK, Channel 4, this morning, and among other things that will likely inspire you to yell at your computer screen, he said he expects someone in the legislature to file a bill to do ... something about changing the name of the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport.

Latest in Cover Stories

  • Vive la resistance!

    House Minority Leader Michael John Gray wants to chair the Democratic Party of Arkansas. His plan to lead the party back to relevance: Start listening to Arkansas again.
    • Dec 1, 2016
  • A new day for child welfare?

    After strategizing for months, DHS officials have a plan to address Arkansas's foster care crisis.
    • Nov 24, 2016
  • Jeff Nichols, 'Loving' and the space in between

    The Little Rock native turns to an unheralded chapter of the civil rights era with his new film.
    • Nov 17, 2016
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

View Trumpeter Swans in Heber Springs

View Trumpeter Swans in Heber Springs

Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans

Event Calendar

« »

December

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Most Recent Comments

 

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation