Articles, Opinions and Papers

August 2018
A U.S. Coast Guard crew from Key West was working on the 154-foot fast response William Trump cutter, which launched in 2014, when they reported finding the "rustic" vessel with a woman and 20 men. "This is as much a safety issue as it is a law enforcement issue," Capt. Jason Ryan, chief of the Coast Guard 7th District enforcement branch, said in a statement.
June 2018
GEORGETOWN, GUYANA--Frank Alvarez spends his days in this English-speaking nation in South America helping fellow Cubans shop. He uses his Spanish skills at a small store, so steady streams of Cubans can snap up inexpensive T-shirts, shoes and other Asian-made goods they’ll take back to the island.
May 2018
The renewal of U.S. tourist visas issued to Cubans since bilateral relations were established in 2015 has turned into a headache for many relatives in Miami.
March 2018
AURORA, Colo. — A Cuban immigrant’s long quest for freedom appears over.
Tourists are lured to Havana by the ruin porn: the capital’s decaying, pastel colonial architecture, its 1950s-era cars and the fading faces of its founding revolutionaries, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. But when photographer Greg Kahn was on assignment in the city in 2012, he stumbled on a scene that gave him a glimpse of a different Cuba: a plaza full of young Cubans partying as a DJ played contemporary electronic dance music.
Cubans in the United States who return to live on the island may be able to recover some of their rights as Cubans, but they risk losing some of their U.S. benefits
February 2018
It started with strange symptoms reported by U.S. diplomats in Havana. And now the alleged attacks may continue to affect Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits.
January 2018
Cubans suffered near-famine and almost daily power blackouts, and tens of thousands took to the sea aboard homemade boats during the economic crisis in the 1990s known as the “Special Period.”
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban actress Aniet Hernandez lost all hope that she and her two children would ever join her husband in Miami when the Trump administration slashed staffing at the U.S. embassy in Havana in September and stopped almost all visa processing.
December 2017
Some arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border only a few hours after the sudden change in immigration policy on Jan. 12. Others have been in the United States since much earlier. The majority face possible deportation.
WASHINGTON--The United States has deported twice as many Cubans in 2017 than in 2016, but that still represents less than 10 percent of all the Cubans who entered the United States after Cuban nationals lost their special immigration status.
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba told senior U.S. officials during talks on migration in Havana on Monday that the U.S. decision to suspend visa processing at its embassy on the island was “seriously hampering” family relations and other people exchanges.
October 2017
New travel regulations that Cuba announced over the weekend appear designed to make sure a steady flow of Cuban-American visitors continues.
Cuba's foreign minister on Saturday announced changes to the island's immigration policies, seeking to strengthen ties with the 800,000 Cubans living outside the country amid strained relations with Washington following accusations that U.S. diplomats suffered mysterious sonic attacks in Havana.
August 2017
Cardenas, Cuba (CNN)Elián González greets me with a smile and firm handshake.
A small sailboat carrying a group of Cuban migrants was intercepted in the ocean Wednesday, about a mile off shore from the Dania Beach pier, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
Elián, a documentary about the painful custody battle over whether a Cuban boy should be returned to his father on the island after his mother drowned at sea or remain with his Miami relatives, makes its TV debut on CNN Thursday.
A small sailboat carrying a group of Cuban migrants was intercepted in the ocean Wednesday, about a mile off shore from the Dania Beach pier, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
Seventeen refugees who were found clinging to a lighthouse off the Florida Keys after fleeing Cuba in a self-made raft, and then were sent to Guantánamo Bay for a year, have been resettled in Brisbane.
PINAR DEL RIO, Cuba — Calle Marti is a modest half-mile boulevard split by a simple winding flagstone path that's bracketed by green grass, pine trees and curving blue cement benches.
Havana, Cuba (CNN) When little Elian Gonzalez returned to Cuba in 2000 following a poisonous custody battle and a federal raid on his Miami relatives' home, it was to resume a life far from the glare of the media spotlight. At least that's what Cuban officials and his father said at the time.
July 2017
They are teachers, engineers or farmers, all seeking freedom in the United States. But after an unexpected policy change and an end to special treatment that allowed the majority of Cuban migrants to remain legally in the country, more than 1,300 are now being held at detention centers across the country waiting for their fate to be decided by immigration judges.
For decades, George Borjas, 66, has toiled in what was generally the quiet field of immigration labor econonics. His wonkish work was filled with dense mathematics that made him a leader in his field and led to a professorship at Harvard, while being completely unknown to the general public.
Ana and Víctor arrived worn out and weary on an early morning bus and made their way straight for the bridge across the Rio Grande into Texas. The Cuban couple headed toward the US immigration offices, where they planned to apply for political asylum.
Panama's deputy minister of public security on Friday made a final offer to Cuban migrants staying at a temporary shelter in that nation: $1,650, a plane ticket to Havana and a multiple-entry visa that would give them legal entry to visit the Central American nation.
Carlos Tabares, known as the Derek Jeter of Cuban baseball, is hanging it up this year at 42 after 20 years competing in Serie Nacional, the interprovince league that represents the best of baseball in a proud but grimly challenged country that still reveres the game.
June 2017
PANAMA CITY, PANAMA--The radio music broadcasts are amplified by the dozens of speakers positioned in businesses and homes. Salsa, reggaeton and merengue echoes through the narrow streets and mid-20th Century buildings.
PEARSALL, Texas — Rafael Herrera trekked across five countries in Central and South America, dodged unscrupulous border guards and smugglers and spent thousands of dollars to flee communist oppression in his native Cuba and start a new life in the USA.
PANAMA CITY, PANAMA--The Panamanian government has a proposal for a group of Cubans stranded in that country: return voluntarily to the island, become self-employed entreprenuers known as cuentapropistas and, in exchange, obtain multiple entry visas and even start-up capital — still to be determined — for investment purposes.
May 2017
For decades, dramatic images of Cubans trying to reach the United States on decrepit boats made of all kinds of materials shocked many within the South Florida community. On the island, families waited desperately for news on whether loved ones had made it to shore.
April 2017
Mexico will allow U.S.-bound Cuban migrants who got stranded in the border city of Nuevo Laredo following the end of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy to apply for political asylum and legalize their status in the nation, the mayor of that city said earlier this week.
March 2017
LA HABANA /MIAMI--Cuba es el país en el que más negativas recibieron quienes aspiraban a viajar a EE UU en los últimos dos años. En medio de una abrupta caída en otorgamiento de visas bajo la administración de Barack Obama, el Departamento de Estado rechazó el 76% de las solicitudes de viajes hechos por ciudadanos cubanos en el año fiscal 2015, según cifras divulgadas por la prensa estadounidense.
The prosecution’s smuggling case against sports agent Bart Hernandez and baseball trainer Julio Estrada was like an overblown movie trailer foreshadowing dark and dramatic subterfuge in a plot to bring Cuban ballplayers off the island and onto Major League Baseball rosters, defense lawyers argued as the trial closed Tuesday.
An elderly Cuban couple is expected to remain in detention while a judge who presided over their asylum hearing Friday makes a final determination on their fate.
Hundreds of U.S. forces are rehearsing a migrant crisis this week at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a massive multimillion dollar drill that envisions the United States capturing huge numbers of people in the Caribbean bound for the United States — and how the military, State Department and Homeland Security would collaborate on handling it.
February 2017
A group of exile organizations and volunteers are trying to help hundreds of Cubans who are stranded in Mexico following the end of the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy on Jan. 12.
When Adrian Lezcano Rodriguez, a physical therapist from Cuba, was chosen to serve on a "mission" in the small town of Maroa in the Amazon rainforest of Venezuela, he knew he would defect. He would make his way to the U.S. embassy in Colombia, and apply for the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program (CMPP), which up until January 12, allowed certain Cuban medical personnel to apply for U.S. visas.
Havana (AFP) - More than 680 Cubans have been deported back to Cuba since the United States ended its decades-old policy giving them preferred immigrant status in January, state media reported Saturday.
For some of the U.S.-bound Cuban migrants who are now at the Siglo XXI detention center in the far southwest Mexican city of Tapachula — and their relatives in the United States — a journey once filled with hope is now overflowing with anguish.
HAVANA – While President Donald Trump's Cuba policy remains in flux, Cubans on the island have mixed feelings about whether the "wet foot/dry foot" policy that governed U.S./Cuba relations since 1995 should be reinstated.
Cuba’s healthcare system is a source of pride for its communist government. The country has well-trained, capable doctors, the sector has become an important export earner and gives Cuba valuable soft power – yet the real picture is less rosy. A lot of health infrastructure is deteriorating and there is a de facto two-tier system that favors those with money.
Two dozen Cuban health professionals who deserted from medical missions abroad arrived in Miami Monday afternoon on a flight from Colombia.
NUEVO LAREDO, Mexico – Scores of Cubans meet every day at the Gateway to the Americas International Bridge in Nuevo Laredo on the U.S. border after an odyssey through 10 countries, never knowing if they would achieve their dream of entering the United States, but with the conviction that returning to the island is "not an option."
January 2017
Amid court orders and airport demonstrations against a presidential order banning entry into the United States of citizens of seven Muslim nations, another aspect of President Donald Trump’s immigration order has been overshadowed: It suspends the U.S. Refugee Admissions program for all nations for 120 days.
BOGOTA, COLOMBIA--Since 2003, Cuba has been sending battalions of doctors to Venezuela in exchange for cash and crude.
When Washington put an end to a preferential immigration policy for Cuban migrants nearly two weeks ago, the official reasoning behind the move was to stem the flow of an increasing exodus and prompt democratic changes on the island.
Stranded on islands, jungles and border cities, thousands of Cubans are having trouble getting over the unexpected Obama administration decision that is blocking their access to the American dream — for which many sold their meager belongings in Cuba.
Hundreds of Cuban medical professionals waiting in third countries for permission to emigrate to the United States got a reprieve Thursday with a new announcement by the Obama administration: paperwork submitted prior to the official end of the Cuban Medical Professional Parole program will be processed. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) updated aspects of the new immigration policy toward Cuba and now says it will process pending applications to the parole program known by the acronym CMPP — provided paperwork was submitted before 5 p.m. Jan. 12, the official end to the program.
The sudden decision to cancel the Cuban Medical Professional Parole program (CMPP) and eliminate the “wet foot, dry foot” policy has left thousands of Cubans in transit or with pending applications in a limbo.
MIAMI — They were some of the most feared people in South Florida, men who became cinematic fodder and, long before Donald J. Trump uttered the term “bad hombres,” ones who really did give some immigrants a bad name.
For all the bluster Miami’s Cuban-American Republicans in Congress delivered after President Barack Obama’s stunning decision Thursday to dispose of a decades-old U.S. policy favoring Cuban immigrants, the likelihood of President-elect Donald Trump reversing the decision seems almost nonexistent.
The Obama administration is rescinding a 20-year-old policy, known as "wet foot, dry foot," that gave special immigration privileges to Cubans who reach the United States, the White House announced on Thursday.
The Coast Guard found 29 migrants at sea this week and repatriated them to Cuba.
The Coast Guard found 29 migrants at sea this week and repatriated them to Cuba.
December 2016
The trickle of Cuban baseball players filtering into the majors has grown into a torrent, with their numbers increasing to an all-time high of 30 last season.
November 2016

Shore Up Security at Sea

November 1, 2016

The United States has long waited for – and sometimes actively aspired to – regime change in Cuba. For nearly 60 years, the United States has opposed the Castro regime's misrule at home and support of communist insurgents and dictatorships abroad. Cuba's alliances with the now-defunct U.S.S.R., and more recently with Venezuela, added to the United States' distaste for the regime.
October 2016
You might assume that with the thawing of relations between Cuba and the U.S., Cubans would see positive change at home, and less reason to attempt the perilous water crossing to Florida. You'd assume wrong.

The Long Way to America

October 13, 2016

The shortest route from Cuba to the U.S. is 90 miles. But that’s across the Florida Straits, and Liset Barrios gets nervous on a boat. So on May 13, she boards Copa Airlines Flight 295, setting off the long way around—the really long way. The journey covered 8,000 miles, took 51 days and, along the way, illuminated an obscure byway in this historic wave of human migration. The U.N. says some 244 million people live outside their home countries, most as legal guest workers in nearby nations. About 21 million are refugees fleeing war or persecution. Several million more—no one knows the precise number—make their way underground, “irregular migrants” trying to stay out of sight en route from a poor place with scant opportunities to a richer one, with more.
September 2016
TURBO, COLOMBIA--Part of Evelio Cortez’s job is to lay broken dreams to rest.
August 2016
Nine Latin American governments this week called on the United States to end its preferential immigration policy for Cubans, calling it “discriminatory” and a boon to human smuggling networks in the region.
WASHINGTON--The Cuban government has never liked the Cuban Adjustment Act, which allows Cubans who reach the United States to remain, but it’s stepping up its campaign against it as it struggles to hold onto human resources it considers crucial to the island’s economy.
BOGOTA, COLOMBIA--Colombia has deported more than 1,350 undocumented migrants in recent days — many of them Cubans trying to reach the United States — as the Andean nation becomes the latest to crack down on human smuggling.
The number of Cubans who have entered the U.S. has spiked dramatically since President Obama announced a renewal of ties with the island nation in late 2014, a Pew Research Center analysis of government data has found. The U.S. has since opened an embassy in Havana, a move supported by a large majority of Americans, and public support is growing for ending the trade embargo with Cuba.
Havana on Sunday blamed Washington for a surge of Cubans trying to reach the United States by land and sea, accusing the Obama administration of encouraging illegal and unsafe immigration.
July 2016
One year after U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations were reestablished, a growing number of undocumented Cubans are nevertheless arriving in the United States. More than 44,000 came so far this fiscal year, already more than in all of the previous fiscal year.
June 2016
After more than five weeks bobbing offshore in a Coast Guard cutter, 21 Cuban migrants are headed back to Cuban soil.
EL PASO, TEXAS--As the morning light seeps into the chapel of an immigrant shelter here just blocks north of the U.S.-Mexico border, a man sleeps undisturbed on a cot, wrapped in a comforter.
Tania Tamara Rodríguez never thought she would escape from the Cuban medical teams in Venezuela and become a “deserter,” now blocked by her government from returning to her country for eight years.
Annie Rodríguez Alvarez, a physical rehabilitation specialist from Ciego de Ávila, was arrested last week along with her 1 year-old daughter in the Colombian municipality of Turbo, Antioquia, while trying to join hundreds of Cubans en route to the United States who are stranded in a temporary shelter in that small village in the Gulf of Urabá.
ALQUÍZAR, CUBA--Like others who have gone abroad, Yoandy Boza Canal was feeling like a stranger in his hometown: businesses and neighbors had closed or moved, the sun was too hot, his prospects were too dim.
April 2016
Almost a year after the U.S. and Cuba reestablished diplomatic ties, a growing number of lawmakers from both parties are pushing to gut a Cold-War era law that gives Cuban migrants fast-track permanent residency and welfare benefits.
MIAMI (AP) -- Cuban baseball players paid a South Florida-based smuggling ring more than $15 million to leave the communist island in secretive ventures that included phony documents, false identities and surreptitious boat voyages to Mexico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, federal prosecutors say.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- A Walt Disney Co. cruise ship has rescued three fugitives off the coast of Cuba who were wanted in New Orleans.
Cuba is easing a long-standing ban on the Cuban-born returning to the island by sea, clearing the way for Carnival to launch a Miami-to-Havana route that was the subject of a national controversy when the company declined to sell tickets to Cuban-born Americans.
When Ramón Saúl Sánchez arrived at Miami International Airport on a flight from Cuba almost 50 years ago, he was just 12 years old, traveling with his younger brother.
Senator Marco Rubio called on Wednesday for a change in U.S. policy toward Cuban immigrants, seeking to stop providing refugee benefits to those coming from the island strictly for economic reasons.
Today, I got word that a close Cuban friend of mine was denied a visa to travel to the US this summer. A student at the University of Havana, she had received a grant and an invitation to intern at a policy group in Washington, DC. She was interviewed at the US Embassy today. The whole thing lasted less than one minute.
SAN JOSÉ, COSTA RICA- Costa Rica has issued a warning to the new wave of undocumented Cuban migrants hoping to travel by land from Ecuador to Central America and eventually the United States: they will not pass.
With a new U.S.-Cuba relationship opening up the possibility of change, lawyer Laritza Diversent Cambara believes it’s an advantageous time for civil society groups like hers to press for legal recognition and more space.
The seven rafters recently found with gunshot wounds south of Key West might have injured themselves to force the U.S. Coast Guard to bring them ashore, according to a U.S. official familiar with the case.
March 2016
It’s a mystery on the sea. When a U.S. Coast Guard crew encountered a makeshift raft just south of Key West on Saturday, they found 26 Cuban migrants aboard — and seven had been shot.
MIAMI (AP) - As Washington normalizes relations with Havana, nearly 30,000 Cuban nationals convicted of crimes in the U.S. may face deportation.
Havana (AFP) - They have lived through dictatorship, the Cuban Revolution, the Missile Crisis, the Cold War, the near-starvation of the "special period" and rapprochement with the United States.
February 2016
A colonel in Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior led a Havana delegation that met with U.S. officials in Miami this week on ways to battle human trafficking and migration fraud during a session at the office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A group of Cuban migrants arrived to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, on the U.S. border, on Tuesday as part of a January agreement struck between Costa Rica and Mexico.
A colonel in Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior led a Havana delegation that met with U.S. officials in Miami this week on ways to battle human trafficking and migration fraud during a session at the office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
January 2016
Washington (CNN) Sen. Marco Rubio used the Cuban migrant crisis approaching U.S. borders on Thursday to lambast President Barack Obama's policies toward Cuba as laughable.
Cuban migrants desperate to reach U.S. shore are increasingly violent and noncompliant with Coast Guard crews who detain them at sea, authorities said Wednesday, citing reports of attempted poisoning and self-inflicted wounds as rumors swirl that the "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy will soon be abandoned.
The Miami-Dade County school district faces a possible influx of students coming from Cuba and wants the federal government to provide additional money to help educate them.
AN JOSE, Costa Rica (Reuters) - A first group of 180 Cubans chosen from thousands stranded in Costa Rica boarded a flight to El Salvador on Tuesday as part of a pilot program agreed by Central America countries last year to allow the migrants to continue toward the United States.
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico on Wednesday said it plans to grant 20-day transit visas to a group of 180 Cubans who were chosen from thousands stranded in Costa Rica to continue on their long journey toward the United States.
SAN JOSE (Reuters) - The first flight for Cuban migrants stranded in Costa Rica will leave on Tuesday, the Central American country's foreign minister said on Wednesday.
December 2015
SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA- Central American nations have reached a deal to let the first of thousands of stranded Cuban migrants continue their journey north toward the United States next month, officials said Monday.
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — Authorities in Costa Rica have begun deportation proceedings for 56 Cuban migrants who entered that Central American nation after it stopped issuing special transit visas for Cubans who are trying to get to the United States.
Several thousand Cubans are stranded at the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, hoping to reach the United States by land. Nicaragua has refused to allow the migrants to pass through its territory. The Pope said many of the Cubans passing through Central America were victims of human trafficking.
Citing flagrant abuse of government funds, a Miami congressman published legislation Tuesday to stop automatically granting Cubans in the U.S. welfare benefits that take most immigrants of other nationalities years to obtain.
The Cuban government says it is reimposing a hated travel permit requirement on many doctors, requiring them to get permission to leave the country in an attempt to counter a brain drain that it publicly blames on the United States.
While thousands of Cubans thwarted in their journeys to the United States remained stuck in Central America, the United States and Cuba met in Washington Monday for regularly scheduled migration talks.
As Europe's winter approaches and many hundreds of thousands of immigrants across the continent face an uncertain future, in Havana rare street protests have been held in recent days over a separate, very different kind of immigrant crisis that's taking place in Latin America.
November 2015
In 1965, one year before signing the Cuban Adjustment Act into law, President Lyndon Johnson said, “I declare this afternoon to the people of Cuba that those who seek refuge here in America will find it. The dedication of America to our traditions as an asylum for the oppressed is going to be upheld.”
When Cuba changed its migration policies three years ago, eliminating the reviled tarjeta blanca or exit visa and allowing its citizens to come and go more freely, the handwriting was on the wall: its new regulations were on a collision course with current U.S. migration policies for Cubans.
PENAS BLANCAS, Costa Rica (AP) — As summer began to bake the central Cuban city of Sancti Spiritus, Elio Alvarez and Lideisy Hernandez sold their tiny apartment and everything in it for $5,000 and joined the largest migration from their homeland in decades.
LA CRUZ, COSTA RICA- The slow-moving river of Cuban migrants heading to the United States had already braved corrupt cops, thieving coyotes, a perilous boat trip and a trek through Central American jungles.
MANAGUA, Nicaragua -- Costa Rican authorities say a Central American regional bloc will take up the issue of some 2,000 Cuban migrants who have been denied entry by Nicaragua, a case that has ramped up diplomatic tensions.
HAVANA- Cuban officials blamed the United States late Tuesday for instigating a surge in the number of Cuban migrants attempting to reach the U.S. through Central America amid ongoing efforts to normalize relations between the former Cold War foes.
The Obama administration has repeatedly said that the Cuban Adjustment Act — CAA — is not up for negotiation with the Cuban government, much to the chagrin of their counterparts in Havana.
Prompted by soaring immigration from Cuba and abuses of laws intended to help the neediest exiles, Cuban-American legislators are planning revisions to plug the holes. These changes are necessary and deserve support across the political spectrum.
On the 14th of September last year, nine Cuban men pushed their scrap-metal raft into the Florida Straits, started up its tractor-trailer engine and disappeared north into the night.
They line up on the edge of the water, their silhouettes barely visible in the wee hours before the sun rises. Groups of 10 to 12 climb aboard rafts mounted with plywood and pay less than $2 to be ferried to the other side. Within the span of 20 minutes, at least 60 have crossed aboard six rafts.
October 2015
In 1980, Juan Cordero slipped into his 9-year-old daughter’s room to kiss her goodbye as he left for America. She pretended to sleep. She and her mother had been the ones to urge him to go. They would be reunited soon, she said. She didn’t want to make it any harder for him so she breathed even asleep breaths and kept her eyes closed. She never saw him again.
September 2015
Miami (AFP) - The number of people trying to defect to the United States by sea from Cuba continues to rise, the US Coast Guard said Wednesday, despite a detente between the long-time rivals.
June 2015
The building where I live is like a diminutive Cuba, where the larger country appears represented with its vicissitudes and hopes. Fourteen stories that at times offer a biopsy of reality or a representative fragment of life outside. For years, the emigration of young people has marked the life of this ugly concrete block, constructed 30 years ago by some optimistic microbrigadistas* in order to put a roof over their children's heads.
February 2015
Although a homemade raft overloaded with desperate people is the most enduring image of the decades-long migration to the U.S. from Cuba, that is not the way most Cubans without visas now arrive.
January 2015
Havana acknowledged Wednesday that only Congress could change U.S. immigration laws for Cubans, but contended that there could be leeway in how the laws are implemented. Cuban officials have long said they have serious concerns about the Cuban Adjustment Act and the U.S. wet foot/dry foot policy, and they repeated those concerns at U.S.-Cuba immigration talks in Havana.
The most unusual of votes about U.S.-Cuba policy took place Wednesday -- not in Washington or Havana, but in Miami. After a wrought discussion, the Miami-Dade County Commission unanimously agreed to ask Congress to revise the Cuban Adjustment Act, a 1966 federal law that allows Cubans, unlike any other foreigners, to apply for U.S. residency one year and one day after arriving.
The U.S. diplomatic opening with Cuba has spurred a seemingly unintended consequence: A flood of Cubans taking to makeshift rafts to get to the United States illegally due to concerns that a quick path to legal residency may end.
November 2014
Secretary of State John Kerry and the American ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, have praised the work of Cuban doctors dispatched to treat Ebola patients in West Africa. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently sent an official to a regional meeting the Cuban government convened in Havana to coordinate efforts to fight the disease. In Africa, Cuban doctors are working in American-built facilities. The epidemic has had the unexpected effect of injecting common sense into an unnecessarily poisonous relationship.
October 2014
Only someone with a heart of stone would be unmoved by the images we’ve seen this week of young Cuban men clinging to pieces of debris in the high seas off South Florida.
HAVANA (AP) – The number of Cubans heading to the United States has soared since the island lifted travel restrictions last year, and instead of making the risky journey by raft across the Florida Straits, most are now passing through Mexico or flying straight to the U.S.
MIAMI — In an unexpected echo of the refugee crisis from two decades ago, a rising tide of Cubans in rickety, cobbled-together boats is fleeing the island and showing up in the waters off Florida. Leonardo Heredia, a 24-year-old Cuban baker, for example, tried and failed to reach the shores of Florida eight times.
U. S. Coast Guard authorities have identified the bodies of four men found floating in the Atlantic Ocean east of Hollywood Beach six weeks ago as Cuban migrants.
July 2014
HAVANA -- U.S. and Cuban officials discussed efforts to combat illegal migration, human smuggling and migratory document fraud in Washington on Wednesday, a rare moment of dialogue between countries that cut ties more than five decades ago.
June 2014
When you arrive at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, you're greeted with a barrage of billboards with the popular Cuban government slogan promoting tourism: "Cuba, where the past and the present converge."
January 2014
Elias and Danessa emigrated from Cuba more than a decade ago. Now they are back, sniffing out prospects for starting up businesses -- a novelty made possible by a reform introduced a year ago.
Cuba used the latest round of migration talks with the United States to again urge Washington to end the "wet foot, dry foot" policy that allows Cuban migrants who reach U.S. soil to remain in the country, the Havana government said Thursday.
November 2013

Defectors Land on Their Feet

November 5, 2013

PHOENIX — Cuba takes special measures to hold on to one of its most precious cultural resources: ballet dancers. To discourage defections, authorities sometimes keep talented performers from touring or warn younger artists that finding a ballet job will be tough in an unappreciative capitalist world.
October 2013
The easing by the Cuban government of restrictions on traveling abroad has led to a rise in the number of Cubans who try to enter the United States through the Mexican border, the Miami Herald reports.
Cubans are taking advantage of the loosening of travel restrictions this year to go abroad in record numbers, the government said Monday, with the tally of travelers rising by 35 percent since a new law took effect in January.
MIAMI - More than 60 Cubans are back in their island homeland after being repatriated by the U.S. Coast Guard. The Coast Guard returned the 63 migrants to Bahia de Cabanas, Cuba, last week.
MIAMI – Some 46,662 Cubans left the island legally and permanently last year, the largest migration in a single year since 1994, according to figures from Cuba's National Statistics Office. Since 2002, the number leaving has hovered around 30,000 annually, making the last 10 years the largest exodus since the start of the revolution.
September 2013
MIAMI - The Coast Guard has repatriated 46 Cuban migrants picked up in the waters off the Florida Keys. The migrants were returned to Bahia de Cabanas, Cuba, on Friday. Coast Guard officials say the migrants were found in three separate interdictions.
MIAMI - The Coast Guard says it has returned 50 Cuban migrants to their Caribbean homeland. According to Coast Guard, the migrants were returned to Bahia de Cabanas, Cuba, on Monday.
August 2013
When immigration authorities broke up a clever scheme last year that allowed scores of foreigners from Latin America to easily claim legal U.S. residence and obtain a “green card,” the feds immediately focused attention on one key document: the Cuban birth certificate.
HAVANA — The number of Cubans receiving U.S. nonimmigrant visas jumped by 79 percent in the first half of the year, Communist Party newspaper Granma reported Friday.
July 2013
(Reuters) - The number of Cubans leaving their country has increased steadily in recent years, the government reported on Wednesday, reaching levels not seen since 1994 when tens of thousands took to the sea in makeshift rafts and rickety boats.
MIAMI - Coast Guard crews have returned roughly two dozen Cuban migrants to their island homeland. Coast Guard officials say 23 migrants were returned Wednesday to Bahia de Cabanas, Cuba.
Cigars aren't the only thing smuggled out of Cuba these days. Cuban baseball players are also a hot commodity, and sports agents in the U.S. say the process is increasingly dominated by smugglers who track down players willing to defect and find surreptitious ways to deliver them to the United States.
HAVANA - Cuban and U.S. officials will hold the first migration talks between the two nations since 2011 in Washington on Wednesday. Analysts believe both countries have a strong interest in getting them off the ground again.
June 2013
U.S. diplomats in Havana increased the number of visas issued to Cubans by several thousand in recent months, they revealed Friday in response to a Granma newspaper column alleging that U.S. consular officials trade bribes for visas.
More than 50 Cuban boatpeople were reported to have landed in Honduras and the Cayman Islands earlier this week in another possible sign that increasing number of Cubans are leaving the island.
Miami – They practice in the back of a dance studio next to a Wendy's restaurant in a strip mall. Six ballet dancers leap across the floor, hidden from view from the mothers watching their daughters in pink leotards in a front room.
May 2013
Boats assembled from roofing tin, scrap lumber and foam plastic form a ramshackle fleet moored off Islamorada's Whale Harbor.
The profile of Cuban immigrants of the 1960s and '70s, educated and exiled to the United States for political reasons, has given way in later decades to that of poor foreigners with needs like those of immigrants from other countries, who basically want to make money to help the family they left back home.
MIAMI -- U.S. Coast Guard officials say they have returned nearly two dozen Cuban migrants to their homeland. The Coast Guard says 23 people were repatriated to Bahia de Cabanas, Cuba, on Wednesday.
April 2013
Three months after Cuba eased its restrictions on travel abroad, a growing number of Cubans are applying for and obtaining U.S. tourist visas or arriving without visas at the border with Mexico, U.S. government officials say.
March 2013
Sixteen illegal Cuban migrants have slipped out of the Turks and Caicos Islands as mysteriously as they arrived, and at least a dozen have been delivered to Miami by what authorities suspect is a people-smuggling ring.
January 2013
HAVANA - Jose Contreras has received a rousing welcome in his return to Cuba 10 years after defecting. The major league pitcher is the first athlete to take advantage of a new migratory law that makes it easier for defectors who have long been considered traitors to visit their homeland.
December 2012
(CNN) -- Twenty-six migrants were caught in the Florida Straits and repatriated to Cuba in recent days by the U.S. Coast Guard, as part of continued U.S. efforts to thwart potentially perilous attempts to enter the country by sea.
November 2012
HAVANA (AP) - Sydney Gregory has never met her father, an Olympic silver medalist in fencing who defected from the Cuban team at a tournament in Lisbon in 2002 when she was 15 days old.
A makeshift boat with 25 Cubans aboard was spotted near Grand Cayman Island and was allowed to continue on its way to Honduras because it was in good sailing condition, Cayman Islands officials announced Wednesday.
The number of Cuban migrants to arrive in the U.S. or attempt to leave the island for the just-ended fiscal year was 13,000, the largest since 2008.
October 2012
Washington, DC- The Cuba Study Group regards the migration policy reforms announced today, which remove major impediments for Cubans seeking to travel abroad, as a positive step that partially devolves an important freedom to the Cuban people. Such changes could help reduce the isolation of the Cuban people and increase contacts between the United States and Cuban civil society.
GENEVA - FIFA President Sepp Blatter says he will talk to Cuban officials about the defection of three national team players before a World Cup qualifier in Canada last week.
(CNN) - Two people drowned and at least 11 went missing, when a raft bearing 23 refugees from Cuba sank off the coast of Isla de Mujeres, near Cancun, Mexico Friday, according to immigration authorities.
September 2012
Hoping to avoid the anti-Castro maelstrom in Miami - and spies for the regime - some important expats are choosing to live in Tampa.
August 2012
When a couple of Cuban baseball players abandoned a juvenile team in Edmonton, Alberta, in 2008, a furious Fidel Castro called Ron Hayter from Havana to let him know how upset he was.

(Reuters) - Eighteen Cuban migrants landed on a Florida beach on Wednesday after traveling from Cuba in a wooden boat powered by an engine, authorities said.
METETI, Panama - Led by smugglers armed with knives and machetes, Mayra Reyes and 14 other Cubans sloshed through swamps and rivers and suffered hordes of mosquitoes as they struggled across the notorious Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia, the only north-south stretch of the
July 2012
Cubans need permission to leave their island. And if they stay away too long, they can't come back.
June 2012
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Five Cuban players who recently arrived for an international basketball tournament in Puerto Rico are missing, the president of the Puerto Rican Basketball Federation said Tuesday.
The number of Cubans picked up at sea or who reached the United States has already exceeded the total for 2011.
Twenty-two people were returned to Cuba after an apparent failed attempt to reach U.S. soil.
May 2012
The Cuba Study Group issued the following statement today in reaction to efforts in Congress to criminalize family travel to Cuba and to deny Cuban immigrants their rights under the Cuban Adjustment Act:
Thank you Chairman Gallegly, Ranking Member Lofgren and honorable members of the Committee for this opportunity to present a point of view that often goes unrepresented in this body, despite the fact that it reflects the opinions of the overwhelming majority of the Cuban-American community. I believe it is important to provide this perspective on a bill that amounts to little more than yet another travel ban to Cuba and which does so by targeting a long-standing benefit afforded to our community, which has helped it assimilate and contribute to the United States for decades.
26 Cuban migrants reach land in Keys

26 Cuban migrants reach land in Keys

Authorities took the refugees into custody, but under the wet foot-dry foot policy they will be allowed to remain in the United States.
In this Monday, July 12, 2010, People line up to check with migration officials before departing at the Jose Marti International airport in Havana, Cuba, next to a screen showing Cuba's leader Fidel Castro during an interview with "Cubavision.
HAVANA (AP) - After controlling its citizens comings and goings for five decades, Cuba appears on the verge of a momentous decision to end many travel restrictions, with one senior official saying a "radical and profound" change is weeks away.
April 2012
jtamayo@elnuevoherald.com

A boat carrying 28 Cuban would-be refugees docked in the Caribbean island of Cayman Brac after it developed problems with its rudder and ran low on fuel, officials in the British-run territory announced Thursday.
December 2011
HAVANA - President Raul Castro on Friday put on ice highly-anticipated plans to ease travel restrictions on Cubans, telling lawmakers the nation would not be pressured into moving too fast and citing continued aggression from the United States as the reason for his cautious approach.
MIAMI (AP) — Deborah Labrada was giddy as she stood in line at Miami-Dade International Airport, waiting to fly to the town of Guantanamo, Cuba. It is the place she visits roughly once a year to see her grandfather, aunts and uncles and cousins. She still considers it a second home, even though she has lived nearly all her 17 years in South Florida.
Cuba's authorities have relaxed an internal migration ban that prohibited Cubans from outside Havana from going to live in the capital.

From now on, the immediate relatives of the city's residents will not have to ask for permission to come in.
November 2011
HAVANA — Cuba on Tuesday relaxed a rule that limits islanders’ internal movement, reducing bureaucratic hurdles associated with migration to Havana for people with immediate family members there.
October 2011
MIAMI — Reversing a three-year trend downward, the number of undocumented Cubans intercepted at sea or who reached U.S. shores in the past 12 months soared by more than 100 percent — sparking questions about the reasons behind the new trend.
Reversing a three-year trend downward, the number of undocumented Cubans intercepted at sea or who reached U.S. shores in the past 12 months soared by more than 100 percent — sparking questions about the reasons behind the new trend.
September 2011
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Commercial flights from Tampa to Cuba are back for the first time since 1962, when relations between the two countries broke off during the Cold War.
August 2011
In 2009, in an interview with a TV station in Naples, Florida, Mario Diaz-Balart compared Cuban Americans traveling to see their relatives in Cuba with unscrupulous businessmen in deals with the Nazis. Mr. Diaz-Balart's unfortunate historical analogy began a constant three-year barrage against the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act by Cuban American legislators who claim it is misused by a significant segment of the Cuban American Community, the same constituents they are supposed to represent.
U.S. Rep. David Rivera said Tuesday he wants to sanction Cuban Americans who return to the island less than five years after they left, alleging that they are abusing a loophole in the Cuban Adjustment Act and helping the country’s communist system.
Cuban ruler Raúl Castro said he is working to relax Cuba's migration policies, almost certainly referring to Cubans abroad who want to travel back to the island but perhaps also — and much more significantly — to Cubans on the island who want to travel abroad.
July 2011
Tampa International Airport said Wednesday that the Cuban government had approved its plans to begin offering charters to the island. Weekly service is expected to begin in September.
MIAMI -- South Florida U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart is hoping to revive strict Bush-era limits on family travel to Cuba, and he may succeed.
TAMPA -- Armando Ramirez has made a successful career for the last 25 years selling charter flights from Miami to Cuba.
KEY WEST, Fla. — Any day now, Diana Nyad will set out to do something no athlete has ever done: swim all day and all night, then all day and all night, then all day again.
We lived in a dark time in 1992 and this daughter of a train engineer with no train had decided to drop out of high school. I got up early and told my mother. Hands on my head, screaming through the house, the dog barking in shock. "I'm not going any more Mom, I'm not going," I concluded categorically and went back to bed. My only shoes, inherited from a friend when they already had huge holes in the soles, had fallen apart. I had learned to walk with them touching the floor in a way so that the rips didn't show, but I could do little to hide them when we had Military Training class. There I had to lie face down, crawling along the terrain, imagining that I was under enemy fire. Then the shells were falling all around me, not those of imperialism but rather of jokes, the cruel chants of those who had better shoes.
When Noel West landed a job as a stock clerk at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in 1955, he felt like a king on the streets of the military facility.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), tapped by President Obama to head the Democratic National Committee, is a hard-liner on Cuba, which means the chairwoman of the organization intent on reelecting the president disagrees with Obama on a foreign policy issue that is electorally sensitive in a swing state.
What is it about secret lists of names that immediately instill uneasiness?

That’s the feeling I get when I think of the U.S. government’s undisclosed list of almost 1,000 Cubans eligible for immediate deportation to Cuba — and with our secretive approach in general to the deportation of criminal immigrants.
June 2011
One day in March 2010 Abraham Gonzalez, a Cuban who arrived in the United States in 1981, went to see an immigration officer about getting a work permit.

Instead of getting the document, Gonzalez was detained, faced deportation proceedings and, within months, was sent back to Cuba.
The U.S. House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee passed a bill on Thursday carrying an amendment to annul President Barack Obama’s measures that ease travel and money transfers to Cuba.
The signal came at halftime.

The Cuban soccer player gestured to his uncle in the stands during last week's Gold Cup match in Charlotte.

"Today's the day," the signal told his Uncle Julio.
January 2011
WASHINGTON -- Senior U.S. and Cuban officials will meet next week in a new round of immigration talks, the State Department said Thursday, even as the Obama administration continues to press for the release a detained American aid contractor.
October 2010

Exodus of Cubans slowing

October 6, 2010

In a reverse of a years-long trend, the number of Cubans interdicted by the Coast Guard or arriving from Mexico is down -- way down. Figures compiled by El Nuevo Herald from the Homeland Security agencies that track Cuban migrants show that fewer than 7,000 undocumented Cubans were interdicted or arrived at the border during the 12-month period that ended Sept. 30 -- a huge drop from the peak of almost 20,000 in 2007.
September 2010
(CNN) -- Mexican authorities have rescued six undocumented Cuban migrants who had been held for ransom for a month in Cancun, a vacation hotspot on the nation's Yucatan Peninsula, the state-run Notimex news agency reported Wednesday. The abductors, who were not apprehended in Tuesday night's rescue, were seeking between $8,000 and $10,000 from relatives in Florida for each of the five men and one woman they had been holding in a series of safe houses, Notimex said. The Cubans said they arrived in Cancun on a raft and were picked up from the streets of Cancun by men in a pickup truck, the news service said. The Yucatan Peninsula, particularly the municipalities of Cancun, Isla Mujeres and Cozumel, is a major landing point for smugglers who bring Cubans into Mexico and take them to the U.S. border. "It's a major receiving dock for things coming from the Caribbean," said Samuel Logan, founding director of Southern Pulse, an online information network focused on Latin America. "It's a pretty important reception point." Human smugglers charge up to $10,000 per person to transport them by boat from Cuba, usually from the westernmost province of Pinar del Rios, and then overland in Mexico to the U.S. border. The area has become more popular with human smugglers in the past decade because the 135-mile-wide Yucatan Channel is not heavily patrolled by the U.S. Coast Guard as other parts of the Caribbean Sea. Most U.S. interdiction efforts occur in the Straits of Florida between Cuba and Florida. Cuban smugglers have been working with drug-trafficking organizations in the Yucatan area, particularly the Beltran-Leyva and Zetas cartels, authorities say. Lately, officials say, the Cuban smugglers have been branching out into trafficking cocaine from Colombia. The Noticaribe online publication reported in November that a group of Cuban migrants had reported being tortured in Cancun by abductors who demanded $10,000 from family in Miami, Florida. Of the 34 killings in the Cancun area in 2007, Noticaribe said, many of them were Cubans involved in human trafficking. Tuesday's rescue of the six Cubans came one week after Mexican authorities discovered the bodies of 72 migrants from Central and South America on a ranch in Tamaulipas state. Officials are investigating whether the Zetas cartel killed the migrants and for what reason. It's possible the migrants refused to work for the cartel or were unable to obtain ransom money. "Sometimes the Mexican organized crime group says, 'The hell with it. We're not going to deal with these people,' and they kill them all," Logan said. Elements from the Mexican navy, army and state and local police made Tuesday's rescue of the six Cubans after authorities received a telephone tip. The hostages said they were guarded at their last house by three abductors, two Mexicans and a Cuban. The Cubans ranged in age from 22 to 46 years old, Notimex said, and were identified as Lazaro Hernandez Albeja, Eusebio Galaz Sabrino, Dandy Acosta, Edel Eime Gama, Daniel Cardo Rodriguez and Suramy Acosta Camber. In Mexico, human smuggling is a $15 billion- to $20 billion-a-year endeavor, second only to drug trafficking, Logan said. That money, which used to go mostly to smugglers, now also flows into the hands of drug cartel members. The drug-trafficking organizations charge the smugglers a price per person for the right to cross over their territory, a practice called "derecho de piso," or right of passage. Or they often abduct the migrants and hold them for ransom. The Center for Strategic and International Studies, a bipartisan, nonprofit policy institute based in Washington, noted in an August report that human smuggling and other illegal activities are playing an increasingly important role as narcotraffickers diversify their activities. "The drug cartels have not confined themselves to selling narcotics," the report said. "They engage in kidnapping for ransom, extortion, human smuggling and other crimes to augment their incomes." Some cartels have come to rely more in recent years on human smuggling. "For the Zetas, it's been one of their main revenue streams for years," Logan said about the vicious cartel, which operates mostly in northeastern Mexico.
August 2010
MIAMI -- The U.S. Coast Guard has returned to Cuba 25 migrants found floating off Florida shores. The migrants were interdicted at sea in three separate incidents last week. The Coast Guard says two migrants were spotted Friday floating on a plastic foam raft about 8 miles east of Islamorada. A Coast Guard plane spotted 19 Cuban migrants about 30 miles north of Mariel, Cuba, on Wednesday and directed a cutter to them. Also on Wednesday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection plane spotted four migrants aboard a raft about 17 miles east of Sands Cut. All the migrants received food, water, shelter and medical care aboard Coast Guard vessels.
Policymakers in Washington continue to express concern about a possible mass-migration out of Cuba. They fear the implications of this possibility: deployment of U.S. naval forces; mobilization of Cuban Americans; and a possible confrontation with Cuba. With the United States occupied by other priorities -- Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, North Korea -- the last thing American policymakers want is a crisis over Cuba. There are reasons for concern. A floundering economy; alienated youth; little hope for the future; an increasingly repressive political system. These, together with the attraction of the United States, with its large Cuban-American community, families and friends, make a repeat of the 1980 Mariel scenario a possibility. Yet it is not a probability. Raúl Castro's regime fears the destabilizing consequences of such an event at this difficult time. The perception of weakness projected by the Carter administration during Mariel is not comparable to the Obama administration now and its willingness to use force in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Also Raúl Castro is no Fidel; he lacks the risk-taking characteristics of his older brother. To organize a sea flotilla like Mariel requires for the United States to tolerate Cuban-American vessels to leave American territory and pick up friends and relatives in Cuba. There are not enough boats in the island to mount a massive migration. It's not likely that Homeland Security would look the other way as hundreds of boats from Miami leave for the island and thousands of undocumented Cubans arrive on U.S. shores. Closing South Florida ports, confiscating Cuban-American vessels and detaining Cuban Americans in the business of ``importing'' refugees are some of the measures available to deal with a new Mariel. Other factors gravitate against a massive exodus. Economic conditions in the United States, and particularly in Miami, although quantitatively better than in Cuba, may make an exodus less palatable. The anti-immigration feeling in America also has removed the ``welcome mat'' for immigrants. A possibility still exits for a massive march of Cubans toward the Guantánamo Naval Base in eastern Cuba. Whether Raúl Castro would be willing to allow for this type of crisis is difficult to predict. This would certainly be seen as major provocation and a violation of U.S. security. U.S. policy makers' perception and fear of a migration crisis serves well those who advocate appeasing the Castro brothers and provide their lingering regime with economic aid and concessions to continue to oppress the Cuban people. Yet 30 years after Mariel, a new massive exodus is not likely. Jaime Suchlicki is director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami.
August 9th, 2010 - MIAMI -- The U.S. Coast Guard has sent 28 Cuban migrants back to the island.

Coast Guard officials intercepted two rustic boats this week that were headed for Florida. Seven migrants were found Tuesday on a boat near Elboy Cay, Bahamas. Another 23 were found about 11 miles south of Boca Chica.
July 2010
July 20th, 2010 - U.S. immigration officials have decided to send a Cuban found adrift on a Styrofoam boat to the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo for possible resettlement in a third country, the U.S. Coast Guard confirmed Monday. Barry Bena, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman in Miami, said the decision was made by immigration officers after they interviewed the migrant aboard the Coast Guard cutter that took him aboard after he was rescued from his seven-foot boat July 13 in the Florida Straits, about 50 miles south of Marathon. Under the U.S. wet-foot/dry-foot policy, most Cuban migrants intercepted at sea are returned home while those who reach U.S. shores are allowed to stay. But some Cubans stopped at sea are sent to Guantánamo for third-country resettlement if they convince immigration officials that they might face persecution if repatriated. The decision to transfer the Styrofoam boat migrant to Guantánamo caps a saga that drew widespread attention. According to U.S. officials, the migrant undertook the risky journey after departing from the Havana area on June 20. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection surveillance aircraft spotted the ``severely dehydrated'' migrant about 6:30 a.m. July 13, and directed a Coast Guard vessel to the scene to rescue him. On Monday, the Coast Guard provided no details about the identity of the migrant, the boat or how he survived at sea for three weeks. The news that the migrant was to be sent to Guantánamo was initially contained in a Coast Guard press release issued late Friday titled ``Coast Guard interdicts 57 Cuban migrants, repatriates 52.'' The repatriated Cubans were taken to Bahía de Cabañas, Cuba, on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, the Coast Guard release said. It also said that among the interdictions was a makeshift vessel with 15 Cuban migrants -- 12 men and three women -- found July 10 about 35 miles south of Key West. Another interdiction July 10 involved a go-fast vessel almost 12 miles east of Fort Lauderdale with 27 Cuban migrants and two suspected migrant-smugglers. The migrants were transferred to the Coast Guard Cutter Drummond while the go-fast vessel and the suspected smugglers were brought ashore in Fort Lauderdale and turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection officials. A third interdiction July 10 involved seven Cubans in another makeshift vessel about 35 miles south of Key West. The next day, July 11, another makeshift vessel was spotted about 40 miles south of Key West and seven male Cuban migrants were picked up. Then on July 13, the Coast Guard Cutter Valiant picked up the Styrofoam boat migrant.

Cuban rafter from Styrofoam boat awaits decision on where he'll go

July 15, 2010

Alfonso Chardy, Miami Herald

A Cuban migrant who ostensibly floated in the Florida Straits for more than 20 days aboard a seven-foot makeshift Styrofoam boat remained aboard a U.S. Coast Guard cutter Wednesday as U.S. officials weighed whether to return him to Cuba or bring him ashore for hospital care. Marilyn Fajardo, a Coast Guard spokeswoman in Miami, said her agency could not provide details about the case until a decision is made. But she noted that, in general, migrants rescued at sea are given medical attention, food, water and clothing after arriving on a cutter. The case has drawn widespread attention because of the circumstances surrounding the voyage from Cuba and how the migrant managed to survive -- perhaps without enough food or water -- for more than three weeks. Yanik Fenton and Alex Crúz, respectively spokesmen for U.S. Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, both Miami Republicans, said their offices constantly get calls from family members awaiting arrivals from Cuba, but that in this case no one has called. While the elaborate shape of the boat, perhaps carefully sculpted from a large chunk of Styrofoam, also drew attention, it is not the first time a Cuban rafter has used the material to sail to South Florida. In May 1991, for example, a lone Cuban migrant aboard a four-foot Styrofoam raft was rescued by Queen Elizabeth II's royal yacht Britannia off Sombrero Key. The migrant in that case had been at sea for three days with no food, only water. The queen was not aboard the yacht. Juan A. Muñoz Torres, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, provided a few more details on this week's Styrofoam boat migrant indicating that despite having been exposed to the elements, he did not appear to be in critical condition. ``Apparently, he did not require hospitalization,'' Muñoz said Wednesday by telephone from his office in Washington. ``He was dehydrated, but he was provided with an IV by personnel on the cutter.'' Customs and Border Protection, meanwhile, released new photographs showing the migrant lying on his back inside the boat wearing a red or orange shirt, dark pants and holding up a white object on his left hand. If the migrant does not need emergency hospital care, it is possible he will be sent back to Cuba -- unless he shows he could be persecuted there, in which case he might be taken to Guantánamo for possible third-country resettlement. In general, under the United States' wet-foot/dry-foot policy, Cuban migrants intercepted at sea are sent back to the island unless they require emergency hospital care or potentially qualify for resettlement in a third country. The case of the Styrofoam boat unfolded when a Customs and Border Protection surveillance aircraft patrolling the Florida Straits spotted the makeshift boat 51 miles south of Marathon. On closer inspection, the plane crew discovered a man aboard. A CBP statement said the migrant ``apparently had floated in the Caribbean Sea for 25 days.'' Muñoz said Wednesday that that information came from the migrant, but that he also stated he had left from the Havana area on June 20. That means he spent less than 25 days at sea, since the plane spotted him at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Cuban migrant found floating on Styrofoam boat

July 14, 2010

Alfonso Chardy, Miami Herald

The vessel wasn't in the same class as the 1951 Chevy truck outfitted as a boat that made worldwide headlines in 2003, but the tiny Styrofoam boat had the same purpose: to carry a migrant from Cuba to the United States. A U.S. surveillance aircraft patrolling the Florida Straits spotted the makeshift, seven-foot vessel 51 miles south of Marathon and, on closer inspection, discovered a man aboard who turned out to be a severely dehydrated Cuban migrant adrift for 25 days, federal authorities said Tuesday night. A statement from Customs and Border Protection did not say when the Styrofoam boat was found, and officials could not be reached Tuesday to confirm the date. However, Customs officials said the man told them he had left Cuba on June 20, which indicates he was discovered over the weekend. Cuban migrants intercepted at sea are generally repatriated, and those who reach U.S. shores are generally allowed to stay. Of those picked up at sea, if doctors determine they need emergency hospital attention, they are brought ashore.
June 2010
WASHINGTON — US and Cuban officials held their latest round of talks here Friday on migration issues after nearly half a century without diplomatic ties between the long-time foes, the State Department said. The meeting, which focused on implementation of the US-Cuba Migration Accords, was the third since President Barack Obama's administration decided to resume talks on the issue last year. The US team, led by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Craig Kelly, "reaffirmed the US commitment to promote safe, legal and orderly migration," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said. The meeting tackled efforts aimed at "ensuring the US interests section in Havana is able to monitor the welfare of repatriated migrants and gaining Cuban government acceptance for the repatriation of Cuban nationals who are subject to removal from the United States on criminal grounds," he added. The Obama administration last year resumed talks on migration with Cuba that had been conducted every two years until his predecessor George W. Bush suspended them in 2003. During the latest round of meetings, the Obama administration raised the case of Alan Gross, a US citizen held in Cuba since December 2009, and "called for his immediate release," Crowley said. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said US officials would tell their Cuban counterparts that Cuba's detention of Gross was "harming" ties between the two countries. US officials say that Gross worked for a non-government organization contracted by the State Department to supply computer and communications equipment to opposition groups on the island. Cuba suspects Gross is a spy. The United States and Cuba have not had formal diplomatic ties since 1961, though Washington is represented by a US interest section in Havana.

Dozens of Cuban migrants picked off as possible spies

June 14, 2010

Juan Tamayo, Miami Herald

As the flood of Mariel refugees hit Florida, a group of FBI, CIA and police officials, aided by Cuban exiles, scrambled to spot the spies, high-level defectors, criminals and the insane. Officials involved in the little-known effort admit the screening process was very often chaotic -- too many people arriving too quickly. ``It was like running a Burger King,'' said retired FBI agent George Kiszynski, who took part in the screenings. Yet, during the boatlift 30 years ago and in the months that followed, the screeners and officials back at their headquarters developed a string of valuable intelligence leads. Between 20 and 30 Mariel refugees were identified as suspected spies, said a former top U.S. counter-intelligence official who handled part of the issue. He declined to give further details, and requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the issue. Others who participated in the screening reported spotting two former Cuban army officers who claimed to have handled chemical weapons in Cuba, and one of Fidel Castro's translators. And a retired U.S. army officer said interviews of arrivals who had served in the Cuban armed forces allowed the Pentagon to put together the first list of the island's military units and their locations. POSSIBLE MOLES Ironically, a half-dozen Cubans who volunteered to the FBI that they had been allowed to leave Mariel only if they promised to work for Havana intelligence once in Florida came under suspicion as possibly attempting to infiltrate the bureau, according to officials. Not all those picked off by the screeners were VIPs. One Angolan who had been jailed in Havana was caught trying to pass as a Cuban, said Sergio Piñon, a retired Florida Department of Law Enforcement officer. Although the four former screeners interviewed by El Nuevo Herald could not provide an overall description of the process, they recalled their work at two critical points -- Key West and the reception center on the Miami-Dade Youth Fair grounds. At the Youth Fair site, arrivals first went to a line of tables staffed by about 20 FBI and CIA agents as well as state, county and municipal police, said Piñon, while exile volunteers scanned the crowds for VIPs. Criminals and the mentally ill could be spotted by their short hair, tattoos and demeanor, he recalled. But the initial effort to spot other arrivals of interest amounted to simple bluffs. ``We had a stack of fake folders and we'd look at them like we knew everything about the person we were interviewing,'' Piñon said. ``Since in Cuba the government knew everything, they really believed that we also knew everything.'' Single men, and anyone who acknowledged having worked for Cuba's political police, the State Security, came under special scrutiny. The files on any suspects were sent to the FBI's counter-intelligence unit in Miami, he added. In Key West, no FBI or other agents were permanently assigned to the screening and most of the work was done by exile volunteers, said Arturo Cobo, a Bay of Pigs veteran who organized the volunteers. ``Our first duty was to give the arrivals food and water. The intelligence side took second place because we knew that when they went to other places there would be more in-depth screenings,'' said retired Army Col. Juan Armando Montes, who was based in Key West at the time. MILITARY QUESTIONS Mariel arrivals, however, filled out questionnaires that asked in which Cuban armed forces unit they had served and where they had performed their mandatory military service. U.S. military intelligence later put together the first relatively extensive list of those units, Montes said. Cobo recalled that he helped spot a former Cuban army lieutenant, Armando Romero Rivas, who acknowledged he had served in a battalion that handled Soviet-made chemical weapons warehoused in Cuba. Another Key West arrival, Walfrido Ulises Rosel, told a similar story at about the same time. Montes said he interviewed Romero Rivas for three hours and believed he was truthful. He passed the Cuban to the FBI and never heard whether other debriefings determined if Romero was lying or telling the truth. CASTRO TRANSLATOR Montes recalled that another Key West arrival, Alarcón Román, acknowledged that he had been a translator for Fidel Castro during several trips to the Soviet Union. Román spoke five Slavic languages and was handed over to the FBI or CIA, Montes recalled. The boatlift also led to the discovery of at least one Cuban agent already in Florida -- a Key West businessman. Cobo said a Keys resident who sailed to Cuba to pick up refugees reported on his return that he had spotted the businessman at the port of Mariel, packing a pistol and riding in a military truck. For the next two years, Cobo added, he kept an eye on the businessman. By 1982, he had enough information to confront the man, who confessed that he and Cuban intelligence agents were involved in drug-running, and agreed to cooperate with the FBI, Cobo added. Piñon confirmed the businessman was a Cuban agent and had worked with the FBI. The businessman also identified a Cuban spy working in maintenance at the Boca Chica Naval Air station near Key West but the man realized the FBI was on his tail and disappeared, Cobo said. There was no independent confirmation for that part of the tale. NO ARRESTS There's no record that any of the suspected Cuban spies spotted as a result of the boatlift were prosecuted. At the time, the FBI preferred to monitor rather than arrest low-ranking Cuban agents, knowing they would only have to spend time spotting their replacements. Former FBI agent Kiszynski argued that in any case he believed that inserting spies into the Mariel exodus was ``not a key a issue for Fidel Castro.'' At one point in 1978, Castro boasted to a visitor that he had 300 agents in South Florida alone. ``He has placed spies throughout South Florida and the U.S. since he started'' ruling Cuba in 1959, Kiszynski added. ``He didn't need a Mariel boatlift.'' .
May 2010

Cuban migrants stopped at sea, returned to island

May 11, 2010

Diana Moskovitz, Miami Herald

More than two dozen Cuban migrants were repatriated to Cuba on Sunday, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. The migrants were intercepted in three separate incidents last week, the Coast Guard said. Most were repatriated to Cuba, while others were taken to Guantánamo. On May 2, the cutter Key Biscayne crew spotted five male Cubans aboard a vessel about five miles south of Key West, the Coast Guard said. On Tuesday, an Air Station Miami HU-25 Falcon jet crew spotted a 27-foot pleasure craft being towed with 26 Cubans and three suspected smugglers aboard, the Coast Guard said. The three suspected smugglers were transferred to Customs and Border Protection. On Wednesday, a person spotted five male Cubans aboard a craft about 15 miles south of Key West and contacted the Coast Guard. The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Key Biscayne responded, the Coast Guard said.
February 2010
On Friday, February 19, 2010 the United States and Cuba met in Havana to discuss implementation of the U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords. This was the second such meeting since the decision to renew the Talks in 2009. In the course of the meeting, the U.S. team, led by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Craig Kelly, reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to promote safe, orderly, and legal migration. The U.S. delegation separately raised the case of the U.S. citizen detained in Cuba on December 4 and called for his immediate release. Engaging in these talks underscores our interest in pursuing constructive discussions with the government of Cuba to advance U.S. interests on issues of mutual concern. The U.S. delegation highlighted areas of successful cooperation in migration, while also identifying issues that have been obstacles to the full implementation of the Accords. The agenda for the talks reflected longstanding U.S. priorities on Cuba migration issues, including: ensuring that the U.S. Interests Section in Havana is able to operate fully and effectively; ensuring that the U.S. Interests Section in Havana is able to monitor the welfare of repatriated migrants; and gaining Cuban government acceptance for the repatriation of all Cuban nationals who are excludable on criminal grounds. The United States views these talks as an avenue to achieve practical, positive results that contribute to the full implementation of the Accords and to the safety of citizens of both countries. # # # .
HAVANA — The last time U.S. diplomats traveled to Havana, they held secret talks with their Cuban counterparts that were hailed as the most significant in decades. Almost nothing has gone right for U.S.-Cuba relations in the five long months since. When State Department officials sit down with Cuban leaders for immigration talks Friday, the encounter will take place under a cloud of mutual mistrust and dashed hopes. Last year's hopes that the election of President Barack Obama could mean quicker progress toward ending a half-century of U.S-Cuban enmity now seem a pipe dream. "Expectations on both sides were perhaps too high, and as a result I think there is a lot of disappointment," said Robert Pastor, a longtime foreign policy adviser on hemispheric affairs and professor at American University. The delegation will be led by Craig Kelly, deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs and the most senior U.S. official to travel to Cuba in years. One of Kelly's subordinates, Bisa Williams, came in September for separate talks aimed at re-establishing direct mail service. A State Department spokesman told The Associated Press that Kelly could venture beyond the meeting's focus and into stickier subjects. "Other matters of mutual concern may arise in our meetings," Charles Luoma-Overstreet said. That surely includes the fate of Alan P. Gross, a U.S. contractor arrested in Cuba on Dec. 4. Gross — who Cuba contends is a spy — has been held without charge for allegedly supplying communication equipment to religious groups. "This is a matter we have raised on multiple occasions with the Cuban government and that we will continue to raise with them," said Luoma-Overstreet. "We believe he should be released and permitted to return to his family." Pastor said the timing of the arrest has been particularly chilling for relations. "In the eyes of some in the United States, the question is, 'Why did the Cubans arrest him now?'" he said. "The Cubans apparently knew of his work and the program for many years, so the fact they arrested him at this moment has led some in the government to ask what message they are trying to send." Things seemed far more positive last September, when Williams stayed on in Cuba after the mail talks for unannounced meetings with senior officials and toured a government agricultural facility. A Cuban official told AP at the time that she also attended a rock concert that drew hundreds of thousands to the iconic Revolution Plaza, beneath a giant likeness of revolutionary hero Ernesto "Che" Guevara. The visit raised hopes of a new beginning for relations under Obama, who has said he wanted to extend a hand of friendship — but it has been all downhill since then. In November, the State Department expressed concern after reputed Cuban security officials briefly detained a well-known blogger, Yoani Sanchez. Obama later personally responded to a series of questions that Sanchez posted on her Web site, raising her profile and angering Cuban officials. Havana held military exercises soon after that a senior army official said were designed to counter a possible U.S. attack. More recently, Cuban leaders have been highly critical of Obama's performance at climate talks in Copenhagen, suspicious of U.S. policy in Latin America, and downright apoplectic about Cuba's inclusion on a list of alleged state sponsors of terrorism. In December, Fidel Castro wrote in an essay that Obama's "friendly smile and African-American face" are masking Washington's sinister designs on Latin America. Cuba's foreign minister called the U.S. president an "imperial and arrogant" liar. Castro even criticized U.S. relief efforts in quake-devastated Haiti, accusing Washington of sending troops to "occupy Haitian territory." The immigration talks resumed last July after a six-year hiatus. Held twice annually, their aim is to monitor adherence to a 16-year-old agreement under which the United States issues 20,000 emigration visas to Cubans per year. The accord seeks to avoid a repeat of the rafters crisis of 1994, when Cuba briefly opened its borders and tens of thousands tried to make it to American soil in nearly anything that would float. Wayne Smith, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, said the Obama White House has fallen into the same pattern as past administrations, failing to take bold steps to improve relations. And Havana hasn't made it any easier. "What can you really expect from these talks?" he said. "It is good they are being held, and maybe some constructive steps will come of it. But it is relatively limited." .
WASHINGTON — The United States and Cuba were Wednesday holding fresh talks on migration issues, with President Barack Obama's administration sending its highest-ranking envoy yet to the communist-ruled island. Craig Kelly, the principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, traveled to Havana to lead the US side in the talks, the State Department said. "The discussions will focus on how best to promote safe, legal and orderly migration between Cuba and the United States," it said in a statement. The Obama administration last year resumed talks on migration with Cuba which had been conducted every two years until they were suspended in 2003 by former president George W. Bush. Kelly marks the senior-most official to head to Cuba for the talks, although envoys of his rank regularly went to Havana for the dialogue before the suspension. Another senior US official, Bisa Williams, visited Havana in September last year to discuss another prospect for improving relations -- resuming direct mail between the neighboring countries which has been suspended since 1963. Obama took office last year with a mission of reaching out to adversaries including Cuba. The United States broke off relations with the communist island in 1961. The Obama administration has lifted travel and money transfer restrictions on Cuban-Americans with relatives in Cuba, but it has urged Havana to free political prisoners and improve political freedoms. Cuba's government has a longstanding interest in migration dialogue with the United States as the Caribbean nation is embarrassed by persistent illegal US-bound emigration of its nationals across the shark-infested Florida Straits.
January 2010

Date set for Cuba-US immigration talks in Havana

January 29, 2010

Will Weissert- AP, Miami Herald

HAVANA -- Cuba wants to negotiate an agreement with the U.S. to slow the trafficking of its citizens fleeing the island and hopes to tackle the issue during immigration talks rescheduled for February, the foreign minister said Thursday. Bruno Rodriguez said negotiators will meet Feb. 19 in Havana and Cuba wants Washington's help in combating people smuggling, often carried out by gangs with souped-up speed boats that ferry Cubans out of the country. While some head for Florida, most arrive on the Caribbean coast of Mexico or Central America and make their way north to the U.S., where they usually are allowed to stay. "Part of the Cuban agenda presented to the government of the United States is a proposal for a new immigration agreement and solidifying cooperation in the fight against people trafficking," Rodriguez said. Under U.S. law, Cubans captured at sea are usually deported while those who reach American soil can apply for residency - making Mexico an attractive route. Cuba has long denounced Washington's so-called "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy as encouraging illegal immigration. Rodriguez said the United States has yet to respond to Cuba's proposals, however, and a spokeswoman at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana - which Washington maintains instead of an embassy since the two countries do not have diplomatic relations - said Thursday that Washington has not yet finalized an exact date for the talks. Biannual discussions between the U.S. and Cuba were limited to immigration from 1994 until they were canceled under President George W. Bush in 2003. They began anew in New York in July, and both sides called that session positive. But a second round of discussions planned for December were pushed back. Looming over the encounter is the arrest of a U.S. government contractor who was detained in Cuba in December for allegedly distributing prohibited satellite communications equipment. Cuba accuses him of being a spy. U.S. officials deny that, saying he was not working with groups opposed to the communist government but with a religious and cultural organization. Rodriguez said that under American law, the detainee "would at least be considered an agent of a foreign power." "Evidently the government of the United States will not quit endorsing the destruction of the Cuban revolution, the political structure of the government of our country," he said. "In any part of the world that would be a serious crime." Still, Rodriguez said Cuba has coordinated with the U.S. on transporting aid to Haiti, with 60 U.S. flights using airspace in eastern Cuba to reach the quake-devastated country since Havana temporarily opened it to American planes. "There have been some exchanges between the Foreign Relations Ministry of Cuba and the State Department on an eventual cooperation in Haiti," he said.

Almost 300,000 Cubans abroad visited island in '09

January 28, 2010

Andrea Rodriguez, Miami Herald

HAVANA -- Nearly 300,000 Cubans living abroad visited their homeland last year, the island's foreign minister said Wednesday, but he insisted a loosening of travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans coming to the island was "insufficient." It was unclear if the 2009 figure was a record since the government rarely releases complete figures on the number of Cubans living overseas and the frequency of their visits. But Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said about 296,000 Cubans living abroad came back last year compared to just 37,000 in 1994. He did not say how many came from the United States, but the overwhelming majority of islanders overseas live in the U.S., mostly in southern Florida and New Jersey. There are other sizable Cuban communities in Spain, Mexico and Argentina. In April, President Barack Obama lifted restrictions on Cubans living in the United States who want to travel or send money to the island. The move erased limits imposed by the administration of former President George W. Bush, but has been dismissed by Cuban officials as inadequate. Rodriguez said Washington has sought to turn Cubans who choose to leave the island into "refugees who have fled in search of liberty." Cuba's government offers no statistics on how many of its citizens have left the island since Fidel Castro toppled dictator Fulgencio Batista on New Year's Day 1959, though experts put the number at as many as 1.5 million - more than 13 percent of today's entire Cuban population of about 11.2 million. Under a 1994 agreement with the Cuban government designed to stop mass illegal immigration, the United States offers 20,000 visas to Cuban immigrants per year. Tens of thousands more flee the island secretly each year, and nearly all who reach U.S. soil are allowed to stay. But even moving away from Cuba legally is not easy. Cubans wanting to emigrate must obtain official permission from the communist government to leave, a special passport and, often, a string of additional visas - as well as having to meet the requirements for the destination country. Once outside, immigrants face strict Cuban government rules on how long they have to wait before they can visit the island anew, and how long they can stay. The foreign minister's comments kicked off a three-day immigration forum featuring 450 Cubans who live overseas, including 200 from the United States. Those invited were considered supportive of the single-party communist system. "This is a positive event," said Delia Zurdo, a Miami resident. "I've lived there for 42 years, but I miss my country and I want to help defend it, and defend it until I die." .
The U.S. Coast Guard has returned a group of Cuban migrants who were stopped eight miles away from the shores of Miami. Fifteen migrants and two smugglers were aboard the Abbey Road. The migrants were sent back last week to Bahia de Cabañas in Cuba, the Coast Guard said. The accused smugglers face federal prosecution. More than two dozen migrants were sent to Bahia de Cabañas on Dec. 22 after the Coast Guard stopped a stolen 35-foot boat about 40 miles southwest of Cuba. One of the two suspected smugglers in that case was arrested on federal charges.
December 2009
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Long-planned talks on Cuban migration to the United States have been delayed by two months until February, a State Department official said on Thursday, offering no explanation for the postponement. The talks, which are supposed to take place twice a year, had been scheduled for December as a follow-up to the Obama administration's first round of migration discussions with Havana in July. The July meeting was the first since 2003 and the State Department had portrayed the renewal of the dialogue as a signal of its desire to work constructively with the communist-run island, which lies just 90 miles off the coast of Florida. The State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.S.-Cuba migration talks scheduled for December had been delayed until February. The official had no immediate explanation for the postponement. The talks, which were suspended by the Bush administration in 2004, cover mid-1990s migration accords that aimed to prevent an exodus of Cuban refugees to the United States such as the 1980 Mariel boatlift and another wave of boatpeople in 1994. The agreement established the repatriation by U.S. authorities of Cuban migrants intercepted at sea, while Havana also pledged to clamp down on illegal migration. The United States has been pushing for access to a deep water Cuban port so it can return migrants safely, as set out in the accords, and to ensure U.S. diplomats can track the welfare of those sent back. Cuba objects to U.S. immigration policy that gives preferential treatment to Cubans who make it to U.S. shores. Cuba said the so-called "wet foot, dry foot" policy encourages illegal departure and human smuggling from the country. Obama has expressed an interest in improving ties with Cuba. He eased travel restrictions to the island in April and said last month the United States had no intention of invading. But Cuba carried out its biggest military maneuvers in five years on November 26 and state-run media quoted military leaders as saying there was a real possibility of military aggression against the island.

That other Cuban community

December 3, 2009

Marifeli Perez-Stable, Miami Herald

Along the Jersey side on the Hudson River, New York City stands vibrant if now forever scarred. Between 1892 and 1954, 12 million immigrants entered the United States through Ellis Island, where a must-see museum renders tribute to their hopes and the country that blessed them. Union City welcomed immigrants well before Ellis Island and continues to do so today. In the 18th century, Dutch and English merchants first settled the area. Later, German immigrants crossed the river from Manhattan. Irish, Polish, Armenians, Syrians, eastern European Jews and Italians followed. Union City is positioned at the heart of American history in ways Miami is not. Incorporated in 1896, Miami still has the feel of a city in the making. A well-known funeral home proudly flags its founding in 1858 without saying -- no need, really -- that it first opened its doors in Havana. History is just settling down in Miami. Union City is a grande dame. In the late 1940s, Cubans began arriving there from New York City. Born in NYC of Cuban parents (a carpenter and a seamstress), Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., grew up in Union City. Others, like Manuel and Lyda Rodríguez, migrated from Cuba in the early 1950s and became pillars of the greater Union City community. Decades-long history In The Cubans of Union City: Immigrants and Exiles in a New Jersey Community, Yolanda Prieto draws a moving, decades-long history of Union City from a Cuban perspective. Prieto herself is part of the story: She arrived there in March 1968 with her parents and her sister Zoila. Porfirio Prieto, a railroad worker in Camagüey, became a presser in a New Jersey factory; Juana, a seamstress, worked in the garment industry. Prieto has observant, empathetic eyes that shine throughout the book. A plurality of Union City Cubans came from small towns or cities, especially from Villa Clara province in central Cuba. A little over a third had graduated high school, a much lower figure than the U.S. or Cuban exile average at the time. Like the author and Menendez, many children of Union City Cubans -- whether pre-1959 immigrants or post-1959 exiles -- became the first in their families to earn a college degree. There's no gainsaying the generosity of the U.S. government toward us in the 1960s and 1970s. The Cuban Refugee Program offered broad support, whether to relocate from Miami (more than half settled in Union City), facilitate educational loans or offer help while looking for a job. There's also no denying that Washington benefitted us for imperatives having to do with undermining or reversing the revolution. Entrepreneurial class Like their Miami compatriots, many Cubans in Union City proved themselves as entrepreneurs. On and around Bergenline Avenue, the city's main thoroughfare, Cuban restaurants, bodegas, stores of all kinds opened for business in locales where Italian or Yiddish was once spoken. Like Porfirio and Juana, others found employment in area industries. Cuban women soon registered the highest rates of labor-force participation among women in the United States. Civic associations, often based on hometowns or municipalities in Cuba, flourished. So did political organizations, whether nationally based such as the Cuban American National Foundation, Cuban Nationalist Movement and Alpha 66 or New Jersey-bred societies such as youth-group Abdala and the terrorist Omega 7. Life at St. Augustine, a Catholic parish long-served by an Irish-American priest, reflected the changes in Union City's human landscape, first drawing parishioners from the older immigrant communities, then several waves of Cubans and now an ongoing influx of Colombians, Central Americans and Dominicans. Welcoming differences In 2000, a Cuban woman said: ``I'm convinced that, as we welcome difference among us, we are fulfilling our mission as a people of God.' In 1998, Pope John Paul II's visit to Cuba inspired many Cuban Catholics in Union City to open their arms to the Cuban Catholic Church. As in Miami, close ties between New Jersey and Cuban parishes are now commonplace. Religion and reconciliation go hand in hand, as Prieto fittingly emphasizes. The Cubans of Union City is partly based on interviews conducted over 25 years with 209 Cubans who speak throughout. Above all Yolanda Prieto has written a humane book on what she calls ``Cuba's northernmost province.' Marifeli Pérez-Stable is a professor at Florida International University and Senior Non-Resident Fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington.
November 2009
WASHINGTON — The United States and Cuba will hold a second round of talks on migration issues in Havana at a yet undetermined date, a State Department spokesman said Monday. "We are currently exploring dates that would work for both delegations to discuss the migration accords in Havana," said Charles Luoma-Overstreet. "This would be the second high-level meeting on migration issues during the Obama administration," he added, referring to President Barack Obama's stated intention of improving relations with Cuba's communist regime. An administration official, who asked to remain anonymous, said the second round of talks would take place next month. The first round of migration talks held in July in New York City broke a six-year freeze in the negotiations, with both sides promising to strive toward a safe and orderly migration process between them. Since taking office in January, Obama has taken small steps such as relaxing rules on visits and money transfers to the island. But so far, the US administration has not taken major strides in its approach to the Americas' last remaining communist regime and has vowed to keep its 47-year economic embargo of the island in place until Cuba shows some democratic improvements. Besides migration issues, the two countries in September launched talks in Havana to restart the bilateral mail service which was cut off in 1963. Luoma-Overstreet said some technical matters were awaiting resolution before a second round of mail service talks could be held.
October 2009

Coast Guard stops boat with 4 Cuban migrants

October 15, 2009

AP, Miami Herald

MIAMI -- Authorities say four Cuban migrants have been sent back to Cuba after a Coast Guard crew stopped their boat 70 miles south of Key West. The Coast Guard said Wednesday that the migrants were traveling on a 19-foot go-fast boat with a suspected smuggler before being stopped. The passengers were taken to Bahia de Cabanas, Cuba. The suspected smuggler was being held by customs agents in Key West. The boat they were in had taken on water and later sank. Experts have said that the number of Cubans attempting to cross the Florida Straits has fallen by more than half. Under U.S. law known as the "Wet-foot, Dry-foot" policy, Cubans stopped at sea are usually sent back home, but Cubans who reach U.S. soil are generally allowed to stay.
September 2009

Cubans tell of capture and torture on journey

September 23, 2009

Gerardo Reyes, Miami Herald

MEXICO CITY -- Yurizán González thought his ordeal was over after his kidnappers made a cut on his ear in a room of an old abandoned house in Cancún, the resort southeast of Mexico where he was held captive. But the torture session continued, he said, when the captors removed the cloth plug they had placed in his mouth to mute his screaming and replaced it with a gun muzzle. ``Right there I thought they were going to kill me,' González said in an interview with El Nuevo Herald at Las Agujas Immigration Station south of this city. González, 31, is one of several undocumented Cubans who, during the first two weeks of September, were tortured, beaten and threatened by a band of human smugglers. Some of his captors were Cubans from Miami and others were Mexican, according to the victims' descriptions given to El Nuevo Herald and Mexican officials. The Cubans said their captors were outraged because they had refused to pay for the smuggling trip as they promised upon arrival in Mexico. They were ushered out of Cuba on a fast boat that took them to Mexican beaches, then beaten and tortured to send a frightening message to their relatives in the United States and Europe. Some were subjected to electric shocks, two of them said. González said that when his face was bloody and he had the gun in his mouth, one of the captors took a picture of him with his cellphone and told him the photo would be sent to his relatives in Oregon. González's relatives in Portland did not get the photo, but they received a call in which they heard his screaming in the background, said González's cousin, Yunia Curbelo. ``I overheard the beating, and he was screaming. They called many times, at every hour, threatening that they were going to send him to me in pieces, but we didn't have that money,' Curbelo said. Minutes after Curbelo heard González screaming, her boyfriend, Carlos Téllez Nápoles, received a call on his cellphone. ``They told me the money was not necessary anymore,' Téllez said. ``That they had already killed him.' The next day, Sept. 12, the kidnappers denied killing him and demanded a ransom of $5,000. The men demanded that the deposits for the ransom be made through a bank account in Miami, Téllez said. In a visitors area at the immigration station, González showed an El Nuevo Herald reporter the stitches on his left earlobe and still-fresh bruises from the beating with flat machetes on his back, his legs and his left shoulder. According to González, the kidnappers also cut the ears of other three Cubans, this time with a knife. Another two were given electrical shocks with a lamp cable. ``They peeled the ends of the cable and applied it to their tongues or to body parts, leaving them dizzy and almost unconscious,' he said. According to testimony by relatives and victims, the people involved in watching, torturing and calling to demand ransom money, live or have lived in Miami. Ditsán Farradaz Ulloa, arrested in Mexico and charged with kidnapping, appears in Florida's public records with addresses in Kissimmee and Miami. Several messages at a telephone registered under the Kissimmee address were not returned. Farradaz was in charge of the custody of the Cubans at the house in Cancún, but did not take an active part in the torturing, the victims said. The people in charge of torturing were two Mexicans and three Cubans who showed up at the house every afternoon beginning Sept. 9, apparently drunk or drugged, the victims said. Then they started calling the relatives to collect the $10,000 fee for getting the captives out of Cuba. When they learned the relatives couldn't pay, they began beating the captives with flat machetes and sticks, according to accounts. ``I had never heard of any situation this serious and savagely violent against undocumented Cubans,' said Cuban attorney Eduardo Matías López, director of the Cuban-American Civic Association. Threatened that they would be sent to another house where the Mexican torturers would cut off their fingers with cigar clips and rape them, the Cubans wrote S.O.S. messages that they threw to the streets and yards neighboring the house in Cancún. They were rescued by the Mexican military two weeks after they arrived from Cuba.
August 2009
MIAMI — The number of Cubans attempting to cross the Florida Straits has fallen by more than half, putting 2009 on track to be perhaps the lowest for migration from the communist island in almost a decade. Experts say it's hard to pinpoint what has caused such a drastic drop but attribute it to combination of factors, with the U.S. economic downturn topping the list. They also point to stepped up U.S. law enforcement against smugglers, eased U.S. restrictions on Cuban-Americans who want to travel to the island and send money to family there and a clampdown by the Cuban government. "To be honest, there's really no way of telling. This isn't a science," said Andy Gomez, a senior fellow at the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies. The Miami area's unemployment rate may be one of the main reasons for the drop — at 11.6 percent, it's nearly double from a year ago, making it harder for Cuban-Americans to pay smugglers to help their families leave the island. "Most of the people who left were leaving through smuggling operations, and that has stopped because the money here has dried up. The economic crisis has affected that," Gomez said. At the same time, he said, on the island "there's a wait and see attitude" as to how Cuban President Raul Castro is going to handle the country's economic crisis. From Oct. 1 through July 31, the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted an average of 72 Cubans a month, compared to 183 a month in the previous fiscal year. The last time the numbers were that low was in 2002, the year after the Sept. 11 attacks. The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol said there was also a huge drop since last year in the number of Cubans who reached the U.S. by sea, falling from nearly 4,000 annually to about 1,000. And the number entering through Mexico has plunged, falling to about 5,000 between October and July, compared to almost 9,000 during the same period a year earlier, Border Patrol said. Under U.S. law known as the "Wet-foot, Dry-foot" policy, Cubans stopped at sea are usually sent back home, but Cubans who reach U.S. soil are generally allowed to stay. That makes them likely to contact the U.S. government upon their arrival, unlike other illegal immigrants who hide from law enforcement. But there is no consensus on what is causing the drop. Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Matt Moorlag cited the economy: there are fewer jobs for would-be migrants and their Miami relatives. And smugglers often charge up to $10,000 per person. "If (the relatives) can't afford to pay the smugglers, there's going to be fewer smuggling events," he said. Moorlag and Victor Colon, a Border Patrol assistant chief patrol agent, said authorities are also getting more aggressive about stopping smugglers. Colon said boaters with suspicious vessels are more likely to be questioned before they leave the Florida coast. And if they are caught smuggling, they are more likely to be prosecuted. Federal smuggling prosecutions in Miami increased from 35 in 2006 to 125 in 2008 and the government has sought harsher penalties for those convicted. Jose Ponce, 39, who came to Miami from Havana 15 years ago by boat, says he's sensed a change in how smuggling is perceived in Florida. "Now, if they get you, it's like 'human trafficking,' and if someone dies....it's a very big thing. Before, they didn't do anything. It was just seen as something normal, a Cuban trying to help a Cuban" said Ponce, a boat welder. Ponce also said two of his friends were caught by the Cubans when they went back to the island last year to bring their families to the U.S. They are now serving sentences of 25 years in Cuban prisons, he said. Under changes made last spring by President Barack Obama, it has also become easier for Cubans in the U.S. to visit and send money to their family back on the island, perhaps lessening their desperation to leave. The years with the highest number of migrants in the last decade coincide with the Bush administration's restrictions on family travel and remittances to the island. Leydi Tasse, who came from Cuba legally last year and now works at a Tampa travel agency specializing in trips there, believes fewer Cubans are attempting to cross illegally because it has become easier for their U.S. relatives to petition for them. "I think they're looking for more secure options," she said. UM's Gomez believes some of the decrease can be attributed to what's happening on the other side of the straits. Raul Castro is clamping down on would-be migrants, he said, concerned that any sign of social unrest would signal he has lost the control long held by his older brother, former President Fidel Castro. "The last thing Raul needs is another 'Maleconazo,'" Gomez said, referring to the brief 1994 uprising at downtown Havana's Malecon, or breakwater. Thousands took to the streets following a confrontation between authorities and a group trying to flee the island by boat. Ted Henken, an assistant professor of Hispanic Studies at Baruch College in New York, who has studied Cuban migration, had a different take. "If you're ambitious, young, hard working, you want to live in a capitalist country," he said. But the economic downturn may have left some would-be migrants hesitant about life in the U.S. "If there's a crisis, it's better to live in a socialist country because you have protection. That might be part of the mathematics people are doing," he added. Associated Press Writer Christine Armario contributed to this report from Tampa.
July 2009

Engaging With Cuba

July 23, 2009

Voice of America, Editorial

The Following is An Editorial Reflecting the Views of the US Government: American and Cuban diplomats took the first small steps toward improving relations between our two countries with talks in New York this week on migration issues. The discussions revived a regular dialogue between Washington and Havana on migration issues for the first time in 6 years, and followed a pledge by President Barack Obama to reach out to all of America's neighbors in the Western Hemisphere. The delegations met to discuss implementation of the 1994 and 1995 U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords, agreements that affirm the commitment of both countries to ensure safe, legal and orderly migration from Cuba to the United States. No deals were struck, but the U.S. highlighted areas where our two nations are cooperating on migration issues, and identified concerns it had for moving forward. The U.S. wants its Interests Section office in Havana to be able to carry out its full range of diplomatic and consular functions. It is seeking access to a deep-water seaport for the safe repatriation of migrants, and the ability to check on the welfare of returned migrants once they are back in Cuba. Cuban delegates listed their own concerns, and invited the U.S. delegation to come to Havana in December to continue the discussions. The migration talks come 3 months after President Obama lifted restrictions on family travel and remittances for those with relatives on the island. The U.S. also joined with other members of the Organization of American States to establish a path for Cuba to resume participation in the OAS, if Cuba initiates the process of dialogue and if, as a result of that dialogue, the OAS decides that Cuba’s participation will meet the purposes and principles of the OAS, including democracy and respect for human rights. To be sure, Washington and Havana have a long way to go if fully normalized relations are to be achieved. Human rights concerns cloud any discussion of Cuban affairs and the Cuban government continues to suppress its political opponents and stifle a free press. Nevertheless, engaging in migration talks underscores the U.S. interest in pursuing constructive discussions with Havana to advance U.S. interests on issues of mutual concern.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. and Cuban officials on Tuesday held their first talks since 2003 on Cuban migration to the United States, a step the U.S. State Department said showed its desire to work constructively with the Communist island. Both sides raised long-standing disagreements in the talks held in New York, but said they had laid the groundwork for future discussions. "Engaging in these talks underscores our interest in pursuing constructive discussions with the government of Cuba to advance U.S. interests on issues of mutual concern," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said in a statement. Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodriguez, who headed the Cuban delegation, described the meeting as "a fruitful working session that validates the usefulness of the mechanism of these talks." "Progress was made in the identification of areas in which both countries should work and cooperate to guarantee the implementation of these accords," he said in a statement. Last held in 2003 and suspended by Washington in 2004, the talks cover mid-1990s migration accords that aimed to prevent an exodus of Cuban refugees to the United States such as the 1980 Mariel boatlift and another wave of boat people in 1994. The agreement established the repatriation by U.S. authorities of Cuban migrants intercepted at sea, while Havana also pledged to clamp down on illegal migration. The United States on Tuesday reiterated its desire to get access to a deepwater Cuban port to return migrants safely, as set out in the accords, and to ensure that U.S. diplomats can track the welfare of those sent back, the department said. Washington also expressed its desire that Cuba accept repatriation of Cuban migrants who committed crimes in the United and are therefore ineligible to become citizens. Cuba said it repeated its long-held objection to U.S. immigration policy that gives preferential treatment to Cubans who make it to U.S. shores. The so-called "wet foot, dry foot" policy "encourages illegal departures and human smuggling" out of the island, a Cuban statement said. Cuba said it offered a new immigration agreement for consideration, but gave no details. The talks appeared to be a further token of U.S. President Barack Obama's desire to reach out to Cuba as he has to other nations such as Iran and Syria with which the United States has long had strained relations. "The United States views these talks as a venue to achieve practical, positive results that contribute to the full implementation of the accords and to the safety of our citizens," the State Department spokesman said. The U.S. statement did not say whether the talks had achieved any agreements. Cuba said it had proposed that the next round of talks, which are supposed to happen twice a year, be held in Havana in December. (Reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington and Jeff Franks in Havana; Editing by Anthony Boadle) .
June 2009

14 Cuban migrants are sent back to Cuba

June 15, 2009

Mike Clary, Miami Herald

Fourteen Cuban migrants, including nine who were apprehended at sea after the U.S. Coast Guard fired at a suspected smuggler's boat, were returned to Bahia de Cabañas, Cuba, on Sunday. The suspected smuggler, taken into custody Thursday about 70 miles south of the Dry Tortugas, was being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Key West. The eight passengers on his vessel, along with six others picked up Tuesday about 47 miles southeast of Key West, were taken back to Cuba aboard the cutter Cormorant, Coast Guard officials said. In the Thursday incident, Coast Guard officials said the suspected smuggler and his passengers were picked up only after the vessel was intercepted by a patrol boat from Key West and ``the crew used warning shots and disabling fire to bring the vessel to a halt.' 'The Coast Guard continues to aggressively enforce U.S. policy with regard to illegal migration,' Lt. Eric Pare, a Seventh Coast Guard District command duty officer, said in a statement. ``Attempting to smuggle undocumented migrants by sea is not only illegal but also dangerous.' Under the so-called 'wet-foot, dry-foot' immigration policy, Cubans picked up at sea are sent back to the island. Cubans who set foot on land anywhere in the United States are generally allowed to remain. Once aboard Coast Guard cutters, migrants are provided with food, water, shelter and medical attention.
HAVANA -- Seven Cubans who set out for the United States in a rickety plastic foam boat wound up instead in front of the U.S. mission to Cuba on Thursday. The would-be migrants drew gawkers -- as well as the attention of Cuba's coast guard -- because their journey ended along the rocks lining Havana's heavily traveled Malecón seafront boulevard near the U.S. Interests Section. Coast guard craft surrounded the disabled little boat around midday, so the seven men jumped in the water and clambered out over the rocks, to be picked up by police. 'Our tiller broke and we had to turn back,' Margoi Diaz, 33, told The Associated Press as he sat in a military vehicle on the Malecón. Plastic foam boats sold in Havana are used primarily for fishing in Havana Bay. They are usually shunned by people trying to reach the United States because they are fragile and cannot safely hold more than two or three people. A police officer at the scene said the men were being taken home, not to jail, because they had not committed any crime. Cuba has agreed with the United States that most would-be migrants stopped at sea by either nation will be returned to Cuba, which promised not to prosecute them. The seaborne attempt itself was not unusual, even if the landing point was. The Interests Section says that 13,800 Cubans tried to reach the United States illegally in 2007 both by sea and by land on the U.S. border with Mexico.
May 2009

Son of Cuban 'comandante' pleads to leave island

May 28, 2009

Wilfredo Cancio Isla, Miami Herald

Lawyer Juan Almeida García, son of revolutionary comandante Juan Almeida Bosque, was detained and complained of degrading treatment by government agents after attempting to leave Cuba illegally, El Nuevo Herald has learned. 'I had no recourse but an illegal departure. You can put me in prison, slip another hood on me or make me disappear in the secret houses, but all I'm asking is to be able to visit a doctor and be near my family,' Almeida García, whose wife is in Miami, wrote to the authorities in Villa Marista, headquarters of State Security in Havana. That plea is one of nine letters sent by Almeida García between June 2006 and May 14 of this year detailing his persistent efforts to obtain authorization to travel legally abroad. The documents were sent early this month to friends in Spain and made available to El Nuevo Herald. Efforts made by El Nuevo Herald to reach Almeida García by phone were unsuccessful. The requests for permission to leave the country temporarily are based on the fact that Almeida García, 44, suffers from a degenerative rheumatoid disease for which he has been treated in Brussels, Belgium, since the early 1990s. He has not been able to leave the island since 2003.

Human 'mules' haul coveted goods from US to Cuba

May 21, 2009

Will Weissert- AP, Miami Herald

HAVANA -- The human mule is in her 70s, gaunt and hunched over with short, white hair and the deeply wrinkled face of a chain-smoker. She lives in Miami with her daughter but wanted to see her son and grandson in Cuba. After nearly three years of saving, she still didn't have the $500 she needed for a plane ticket. So she knew exactly which Little Havana travel agency to visit - and agreed to haul clothes, canned meat and evaporated milk to strangers in Cuba for a free seat on a charter flight. "My daughter and I both work, but we only have just enough to live," the woman said between drags on a cigarette in her son's central Havana living room. "I did it this time, and I don't want to do it again." Now that President Barack Obama has allowed Americans with relatives in Cuba to make unlimited visits, such underground courier services are expanding. The so-called "mulas" have always helped the U.S. exile community support their families by delivering hard-to-get goodies in a country plagued by shortages of everything from toilet paper to potatoes. But now they are starting to ship heavier and more-obscure items, such as auto-parts and walkers, and advertise that they can deliver documents or family photos faster than any mail service to a country where the Internet is severely restricted. The couriers carry everything from new underwear to Grand Theft Auto and other popular video games. They also bring drugs such as Prilosec, Advil and even anti-bacterial cream, as Cuba's much-touted medical system suffers supply shortages as well. While such services are common between the U.S. and foreign countries, particularly in Latin America, the woman requested her name not be published for fear it could jeopardize future trips to Cuba. It's not illegal for families to carry goods to Cuba from the U.S., but making a business of it violates both the U.S. embargo against Cuba and Cuban laws limiting private enterprise. Under former President George W. Bush, who restricted family travel to once every three years, the couriers masked their trips through Cancun, Mexico, or the Cayman Islands. They once carried about half of up to $1.4 billion that Cuban-Americans send relatives in Cuba each year, said Manuel Orozco of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue. But Obama lifted restrictions on money transfers, as well, another reason couriers now carry more durable goods - or charge lower fees than competitors to transport dollars. Since 2007, meanwhile, Cuban customs agents have drastically relaxed limits, allowing travelers to bring such items as DVD players, car stereos, brake pads and even Play Stations. "The mulas are going to react quickly. They are quick learners," said Mario Gonzalez Corzo, professor of economics at Lehman College in the Bronx. Gonzalez Corzo has relied on the same courier for a decade to carry pens, paper, rubbing alcohol, shaving cream and other toiletries to his father's house in the central Cuban city of Santa Clara. But now the courier has mounted a more aggressive campaign. "It's almost like he's telemarketing," Gonzalez Corzo said. "He called me two times to just let me know, 'Hey, Mother's Day is coming up, and I am able to bring anything you need,'" Many Americans think an iron curtain exists between their country and the communist-run island, which sits just 90 miles from Florida and has had no diplomatic ties with the U.S. since 1961. But for Cuban-Americans, four daily charter flights take off regularly from Miami and land just 40 minutes later in Havana. About 200 U.S. tour operators have Treasury Department permission to provide travel to Cuba. A biweekly flight offers service to Cuba from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. It's a mutually beneficial relationship for the couriers and the courier agencies. While Cuban-Americans can now travel freely to see relatives, many don't have the money and welcome a free flight. The courier agencies, in turn, need Cuban-Americans - among the few in the U.S. allowed to fly on charters to Cuba. Rob Hodel's Tico Travel is a Ft. Lauderdale, Fl.-based agency with a Treasury Department license for Cuba tours. He said U.S. authorities know from passenger manifests who the couriers are, but the practice is so common it's hard to stop. Asked about couriers using his company, Hodel said, "I don't ask questions I don't want to know the answer to." They are men and women, young and old. Some run their own courier services and others are recruited, such as the woman interviewed by The Associated Press. She went to a Miami travel agent whom she wouldn't name. They packed children's underwear, men's slacks, T-shirts, dresses and food for her to carry as luggage on her free flight, plus a list of addresses for delivery in Cuba. The agency charges senders up to $18 per pound. The woman brought no luggage of her own so she wouldn't be charged for the extra weight. After she passed through customs at the Havana airport, a man took her bags and delivery list and disappeared. While most goods are destined for specific families, they often have to retrieve them at homes across the island that serve as secret warehouses, where unclaimed goods are sold on the black market. Some offer door-to-door delivery service. No one from the Cuban government would comment on the couriers. But police stage periodic raids on the underground warehouses, and busts are reported in state newspapers so others will get the message. Havana resident Mayelin Delgado said Miami relatives frequently use couriers to send her clothing. "Only one time I had something go missing," said the 44-year-old office worker. "They told me they were going to send four pairs of shorts for my son, and I only got two. I called my family, and they went to the agency to complain." Soon, another two pairs were delivered to her door.

8 months later, 4 bodies identified as Cubans

May 7, 2009

AP, Miami Herald

KEY LARGO, Fla. -- Eight months later, the four bodies found floating in the Florida Keys have been identified as Cuban rafters. The Monroe County Sheriff's Office said Wednesday it used DNA, a tattoo, an uncle's identification and the process of elimination. Authorities say they also received help from an independent journalist in Cuba and the Cuban Democracy Movement in Miami. The bodies were identified as Jorge Gonzalez, Osmani Segura, Rolando Alberna, and Ivan Pelaez. Their decomposed bodies chewed by sharks were found after last summer's Tropical Storm Fay swept through the area. Family members said the men were from a group who fled Cuba on a homemade raft to avoid being jailed for their human rights activism. The raft and the others on board were never found.
April 2009

U.S. Offers Refuge to Cubans, Even if They're Not From Cuba

April 7, 2009

Hoel Millman, The Wall Street Journal

The world-wide economic crunch has slammed shut ports of entry for immigrants almost everywhere, and in some places even produced offers of all-expense-paid trips home, courtesy of the migrants' host countries. Thanks to a recent twist on a relic of the Cold War, however, there is a welcome mat out for an expanding number of U.S.-bound migrants -- so long as they can establish that they are citizens of Cuba, even if they have never set foot on the island. It happened thousands of times during the fiscal year that ended in September, according to figures recently released by the Department of Homeland Security. The DHS, which oversees U.S. immigration matters, recorded nearly 41,000 residence permits issued to foreigners asking to stay under the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, the law that gives haven to any Cuban fleeing the Castro regime who makes it to U.S. soil and stays at least a year. Of those applicants receiving green cards, more than 3,400 were born in a country other than Cuba. That is up from 2,725 applicants with similar status the previous fiscal year. Among the new green-card holders are hundreds of Cuban families from Venezuela, and smaller numbers from Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Argentina. Nine Cubans were admitted from the Ukraine, according to DHS figures. Maria Teresa Guma, a 60-year-old Venezuelan who has been living in Florida since 2005, got her green card this past winter -- after persuading a U.S. immigration court in Miami she is also a Cuban citizen, by virtue of her parents' births in Havana more than 80 years ago. Ms. Guma's daughter-in-law in Puerto Rico got her green card last month, using a similar argument. It is a quirk in U.S. immigration law that requires some finagling to access. Essentially, it permits dual-nationals to apply to stay in the U.S. as Cuban citizens after entering the U.S. as citizens of another country. The vast majority of Cuban Adjustment applicants leave Cuba, either with visas allowing them to immigrate directly to the U.S., or as refugees who ride rafts to the Florida coast or escape via Central America and Mexico. But a growing number are nationals of third countries who acquire Cuban citizenship papers from Cuban consulates, then enter the U.S. as tourists from their birth countries. Getting a tourist visa to the U.S. as a Cuban citizen is much more difficult, but once the dual nationals arrive, they reveal their Cuban citizenship and petition to stay as refugees. Avelino Gonzalez's immigration-law practice in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood handles about a hundred Cuban Adjustment cases each year. Many weeks, he will work cases of foreigners who entered the U.S. as Venezuelans, but now seek permanent residency as Cubans. Lately, he has been handling clients who arrived from across Latin America. "I've got cases pending now from Cubans born in Costa Rica, Honduras, the Dominican Republic and Colombia, too," says Mr. Gonzalez, 43, who is himself a refugee from Cuba, and a former professor at the University of Havana's School of Law. Another Miami immigration attorney, Sandra I. Murado, said the law doesn't require a Cuban seeking permanent residency be persecuted in his or her homeland, or even that they reside there. All that is required is that an applicant be recognized as Cuban by U.S. authorities. And since 2007, the children of Cuban exiles haven't had to make a trip to Havana for the evidence needed to back up their claim. The recent appearance of third-country Cubans on U.S. immigration-court dockets stems from an interpretation of the 1966 law that emerged from a case argued two years ago, an appeal known as "Matter of Vazquez." That case established precedent in dealing with Cuban nationals under the Cuban Adjustment Act, ruling that Cubans applying for residency in the U.S. are no longer required to prove their bona fides exclusively from documents issued to them in Cuba, such as passports or birth certificates. U.S. immigration officials agreed to also accept birth documents issued by Cuban consulates abroad. Venezuela, where more than 50,000 Cuban exiles settled in the 1960s, witnessed a surge of second-generation Cubans visiting Cuba's two consulates in the country, seeking overseas birth certificates. Cuban officials charge about $200 to process each request, which involves bureaucrats in Havana tracking down the birth records of the applicant's mother or father, and certifying that the offspring also have a right to Cuban citizenship. The entire process can take a year or more. It is worth the time and expense, says Miguel de la Vega, a former marketing executive in Venezuela for the U.S. agribusiness titan Cargill Inc., whose father fled Cuba in 1959, the year Fidel Castro's revolutionaries came to power. He entered the U.S. as a Venezuelan on a tourist visa, but applied to stay as a Cuban. Mr. de la Vega counts at least a half-dozen of his own kinfolk as newly arrived in Florida this way, with two going through the process now in Venezuela. None has ever experienced life under Castro. "We're grateful to a country that gives us this opportunity," he says. Mr. de la Vega says he left Venezuela for much the same reason his father fled Cuba: dissatisfaction with government policies that wrecked the local economy. Now that he has permanent U.S. residency, he is free to travel anywhere in Latin America on business. Last week, he was back in Venezuela. Write to Joel Millman at joel.millman@wsj.com .
January 2009

Hialeah man accused of migrant smuggling

January 28, 2009

Alfonso Chardy, El Nuevo Herald

Federal immigration officials on Tuesday charged a Cuban resident of Hialeah with human smuggling after he told investigators he brought by boat to Boynton Beach from the Bahamas eight undocumented migrants in exchange for $3,000. Jovel Domínguez Hernández, 27, made his first appearence before U.S. Magistrate Judge James M. Hopkins in West Palm Beach federal court Tuesday morning, only hours after he was arrested on the beach Monday night along with seven migrants from Haiti and one from Sierra Leone. Domínguez is scheduled to return to court Monday for a detention hearing, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Stephanie Slater, a spokeswoman for the Boynton Beach Police Department, said authorities had 'unconfirmed information' that Monday's boat was 'possibly coming' from Freeport. An affidavit filed in court by ICE senior special agent Jay Ingersoll confirmed that the boat that landed in Boynton Beach on Monday night had sailed from the Bahamas, but identified the port as Nassau, where it had been impounded last month. Information in the affidavit suggested that the boat belonged to a suspected South Florida ring of migrant smugglers, and that Domínguez was known to federal investigators. Ingersoll said in the affidavit that in December authorities stopped Domínguez in Key West and issued him a written warning related to human smuggling. Slater said the undocumented migrants in Boynton Beach, who were not identified, were turned over to the Border Patrol and the Cuban captain to federal investigators. Ingersoll's affidavit said that after Domínguez was placed under arrest, he told investigators that he was offered $2,000 to retrieve the impounded vessel at Nassau. Once he retrieved the boat, Domínguez was quoted as telling investigators, he was approached by a man who offered him an additional $3,000 to smuggle three people to Boynton Beach. The group grew to eight people.
December 2008

Mexico sends Cubans home under new accord

December 5, 2008

Julie Watson, Miami Herald

MEXICO CITY -- Mexico sent home the first group of illegal Cuban migrants under a new accord aimed at cutting off an increasingly violent human-trafficking route to the United States, the government said Thursday. The 41 migrants left the resort city of Cancun aboard a Mexican navy ship taking them back to Cuba, a statement from the navy and the Interior Department said. Before Mexico signed the agreement with Cuba in October, authorities rarely sent migrants back to the communist island. Until now, Cubans were detained briefly in Mexico, then given 10- to 30-day exit orders. That allowed them to continue on to Texas, where all that is required of Cuban migrants are identity documents and medical and background checks before they are welcomed to America. As it became harder to dodge U.S. Coast Guard vessels and reach Florida by sea to qualify for U.S. residency, Cuban migrants in recent years have increasingly chosen Mexico - often heading to the coast near Cancun - as their route to the United States. But Mexico has become frustrated with the migrations as violent traffickers increasingly got involved in moving them across the country. Several Cuban-Americans believed to be involved in smuggling have been killed in recent years in or around Cancun, about 120 miles (195 kilometers) southwest of Cuba. In June, gunmen snatched 33 Cubans off a government bus headed to an immigration station in southern Mexico, possibly to extort money from them or their smugglers. Many of those migrants later turned up in the U.S. Mexico now provides armed police escorts for all detained Cuban migrants. Immigration authorities can still grant asylum on a case-by-case basis to migrants under the accord, which has no guarantee that those returned to Cuba will not face reprisals. Both countries can reserve the right to deny entry to anyone it sees as a security risk. The agreement, signed by Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque and Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa, also criticized the U.S. "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy, which generally allows Cubans who touch U.S. soil to stay, while turning back most caught at sea. The Department of Homeland Security said 11,126 Cuban migrants used the Mexico route last year, compared to just 1,055 who showed up in the Miami area. Perez Roque said the agreement would lead to the majority of Cubans being repatriated. Approximately 2,000 Cubans are currently being held in Mexican immigration detention centers. ----- Associated Press writer Jorge Dominguez in Cancun, Mexico, contributed to this report..
October 2008

Cuban soccer defector: Freedom worth the risk

October 14, 2008

Michelle Kaufman, Miami Herald

Reinier Alcantara knew, even before he boarded the flight from Cuba to Washington, D.C., last week, that he wouldn't be using his return ticket. He hatched the plan to defect months ago and worked extra hard to make the roster for last Saturday's World Cup qualifier against the United States because he figured that would be his chance to escape a life that was getting increasingly more frustrating and depressing. The only question was when he would make the break. Team security was tight, following the defections of seven members of the Cuban Under-23 soccer team in Tampa in March. The phone lines in the players' rooms at the Doubletree Hotel were disconnected, their passports and visas were collected by a team official upon arrival in the nation's capital, and coaches watched their every move. But then the moment arrived. It was Thursday, early evening, and the team had just returned from practice. They were milling around the lobby, waiting for dinner, and the coaches walked into the gift shop. Alcantara got up from a sofa, walked down a hallway, found a service door, checked over his shoulder, stepped outside and sprinted toward freedom. RUN TO FREEDOM He ran, and ran, and ran. Six to eight blocks. At full speed, looking over his shoulder the whole way, worried that someone would snag him and deliver him back to the Cuban delegation. Finally, when he realized nobody was chasing him, Alcantara stopped at a corner, caught his breath, and flagged down a taxi. He speaks very little English, but he used what he knew when he got into the taxi cab. 'Drive me far,' he told the driver, motioning with his hand. ``Go far, far, far.' They drove for nearly half an hour and Alcantara, a 26-year-old forward, got off at a McDonald's. He asked the cabbie if he could borrow his cellphone to make a call. He called a friend in New Jersey, told him where he was, and the friend drove down to meet him. On Friday morning, Alcantara met up with another friend, who took him shopping for food, clothing and toiletries, and drove home with him to Atlanta, where he will officially seek asylum and begin his new life. On Saturday night, he watched on television as Cuba lost 6-1 to the U.S. He felt bad for his teammates, but said he had no regrets. 'I love my team, but this is my life, and my future, and I had to do this,' he said. Alcantara had no idea that as he was getting over the most challenging day of his life, his teammate, Pedro Faife, was bolting from the team hotel back in D.C. with relatives, who drove him to their home in Orlando. The two hadn't spoken as of Monday morning, but Alcantara planned to get in touch later in the day. 'I feel so happy to finally be here, free to pursue my dreams,' Alcantara said by cellphone Monday morning, on his way to Miami for a series of interviews with Spanish-language media. ``I've been dreaming of this for a long, long time, and I just had to wait for the right opportunity. It was a very scary decision, and I was nervous that first night, but thanks to the support of friends, and so many great people in this country, I am feeling much calmer.' TEARFUL MOMENT Alcantara comes from Pinar del Rio, and said his neighborhood was devastated by the recent hurricanes, making an already difficult life unbearable. He said his home suffered roof damage and other houses nearby were in ruins. The government made promises to help, but there didn't seem to be any help in sight. When he entered a grocery store Friday, his eyes welled with tears. 'It's beautiful to see the amount and quality of food here, the choices, the possibilities,' he said. ``Meanwhile, people are hungry in Cuba, scraping to get by, obsessing about where they'll find dinner. I have to be careful with all this great food. If I keep eating, I won't be able to run anymore and I'll get out of shape.' Alcantara stressed that he will always love Cuba, and has only warm feelings toward his teammates and coaches. But he felt 'trapped' on the island, and had traveled enough through soccer to realize what life was like in other places. He was in East Rutherford, N.J., and Houston in 2007 for the Gold Cup, and the thought of defecting crossed his mind then, but he said family situations back home prevented him from doing so. This time, nothing was holding him back. He is not married and has no children. His parents had no idea he planned to stay, and as of Monday he hadn't spoken to them yet. They don't have a telephone, so they're hard to reach, but also, Alcantara said he wanted to wait a few days to let the news sink in because he knows how hard it will hit them. 'I'm sure my parents are devastated with my decision, but in time, they'll realize this was the best thing,' he said. ``There is no future for me in Cuba, no hope. You can dream there, but your dreams can't come true. It's a dead end for athletes, and for people of all professions. We hear promises, but they're never fulfilled. Here, you dream and if you work hard enough, and sacrifice, your dreams can be realized.' HIS DREAM Alcantara's goal is to play professional soccer, something he is not allowed to do under the Cuban regime. He knows it won't be easy. He spent the past 48 hours fielding calls from Cuban soccer players who defected over the past few years -- Yaikel Perez, Yenier Bermudez, Yordanny Alvarez, Lester More, and Osvaldo Alonso, who grew up with him, defected last year in Houston during the World Cup, plays for the Charleston Battery and last week was named the United Soccer Leagues' 2008 Rookie of the Year. 'Of course, it's a little lonely to be starting all over so far from the people you love,' he said. 'But it gives me courage and hope to talk to all those other guys, to Yaikel and Lester and Osvaldo, guys who did what I did, who made the same sacrifice. Every one of them told me the same thing. They said, `It won't be easy. There will be pain. But be patient, work very hard, and everything will work out.' I believe them. I feel, for the first time, that my future will be bright.'.
September 2008

U.S. Coast Guard reports illegal Cuban migration down this year

September 29, 2008

Cynthia Santos, Miami Herald

With the fiscal year ending Tuesday, the U.S. Coast Guard reported this weekend that it has apprehended far fewer Cuban migrants at sea than in the previous year. So far, 2,140 Cuban migrants -- 25 percent less than all of the previous fiscal year -- have been caught attempting to illegally enter the United States. In fiscal year 2006, the Coast Guard caught 2,868 migrants. During the two-year period, nearly 100 Cuban migrants died or were reported as missing and presumed dead in attempting to illegally enter the United States. Earlier this week, a Cuban man trying to reach Florida on a speedboat with 32 others died from head injuries he might have suffered when suspected smugglers tried to run from federal authorities in rough seas. The man, whose name has not been released, was declared dead early Wednesday at Opa-locka Airport's Coast Guard station. He was airlifted to the station after cutters stopped the grossly overloaded 25-foot speedboat south of Key Largo late Tuesday. On Saturday, the Coast Guard said they had returned 29 Cuban migrants in four separate incidents during the past week. Two Cuban migrants groups were located separately south of Key West on Monday. The third group was spotted when the Coast Guard received an anonymous call about a raft carrying nine Cuban migrants about nine miles south of Islamorada. The fourth group of five Cubans was spotted in a rustic vessel 15 miles north of Havana. The Cuban migrants were returned to Bahia de Cabañas in northern Cuba on Friday under the U.S. wet-foot, dry-foot policy. Typically, Cuban migrants caught at sea are returned to Cuba, while those who reach land are generally allowed to stay in the United States.
August 2008

Cuban doctors build new lives in Florida

August 18, 2008

Miami Herald- Casey Woods

The students stream into the Miami classroom after a long day at work as spa assistants, cable installers, and home health aides. They whip out their notebooks for a crash refresher course in biochemistry, anatomy and microbiology. Many of them, already sporting graying hair, are long past the years when they expected to be scribbling furiously into a students' notebook. They are Cuban doctors, trying to make their way in a new country. 'I was a professor, teaching medical school in Cuba, so it feels strange to be on the other side of that now,' said Daya, 35, who asked that her full name not be used for fear of reprisals against the family she left behind in Cuba. ``We feel lucky, but it's difficult to have to work so hard just to get back to what you were.' Daya is among the dozens of Cuban medical professionals who have come to Miami after defecting from Cuban medical missions in Venezuela. MANY HURDLES They often work two jobs, trying to find time to study. They struggle through home English courses that prepare them for the English proficiency test that is the first hurdle -- the first of many -- to regaining their vocation as doctors. They alternately marvel and recoil at the American medical system, which is so advanced, yet has millions of uninsured, medically vulnerable poor. 'Being here is like learning to walk again, because there are so many things to get used to,' Daya said. Daya lives in a tiny apartment in Hialeah, working as a medical assistant in the morning and going to classes at night. She spends her few moments of free time talking to the family she left behind, helping young relatives with their homework. The U.S. government helps fund her preparatory courses, but she must pay the $700 cost of each of the four tests she hopes to pass in the next year. Daya's journey to the United States began in an isolated Venezuelan mountain town marked by poverty. The work was a challenge because of the lack of medicines or equipment -- a situation that sometimes made her job ``scary.' FORCED ROLE Other difficulties came with responsibilities she did not expect: her role as 'la voz social' or the 'social voice,' as her superiors called it. The doctors were expected to inculcate Cuban socialist 'values' in the patients they treated. 'No one told us we were going to be forced to play a political role,' she said. Daya never imagined she would come to the United States, until the U.S. government's special visa program for Cuban doctors -- which fast-tracks residency applications for those who defect while working abroad -- opened the door to a new life. One Sunday in 2006, she told her Cuban colleagues she was going to a friend's wedding and slipped away to a friend's house in Caracas. She applied for the visa program in November of that year and bought a plane ticket with money she had saved while in Venezuela. Two months later, she was in Miami, working as a housekeeper while she got on her feet. 'For us, this country represents the freedom to search for a better future,' she said. Others never thought they would choose to abandon their island homeland. In 2005, Miguel Jiménez was preparing his return to Cuba after a two-year assignment to the northeastern Venezuelan province of Anzoátegui. He had accepted the Venezuelan post because of the financial benefit it would bring, upping his $25 monthly salary to $300, but he always planned to return to Cuba because of the two older children he left behind. FEELING BETRAYED Jiménez, 46, had even convinced his new Venezuelan wife -- seven months pregnant with their son -- to go live with him in Cuba. One week before their departure, the Cuban government told him his wife would need to deposit $5,000 in a Cuban bank account before they would allow her to live there. Otherwise, she would have to come for one-month visits on a tourist visa. 'I felt betrayed, because we had done everything right,' said Jiménez, his two-year-old son on his knee in his one-bedroom Miami apartment. His outrage made him 'imprudent.' Jiménez called the head of his medical mission and angrily told him he was leaving. Ten days later, after telling his wife to call the Venezuelan press if he was detained, he went to the Cuban consulate and asked for his passport. The consulate let him go and eventually gave him his documents. Jiménez stayed in Venezuela for two years, working in a private clinic. He considered settling there permanently, but became alarmed by President Hugo Chávez's push toward socialist policies like those in Cuba. 'When he began to socialize medicine, I decided that was enough,' Jiménez said. ``They already took away 40 years of my life with those kinds of things, and I wouldn't let them take more.' He, along with his wife and son, flew to Miami in 2007. He installed TV cable for nine months until he was able to get work in a home health company. ON THE RECORD Jiménez is among the few who willing to speak publicly, using his full name, about his defection. Many doctors fear for their families back in Cuba, especially those who hope to bring children to the United States -- a dream only possible if the Cuban government grants the youngsters the visas they need to leave. Jiménez concedes that his defection may prejudice his family. He has a 21-year-old daughter who is part of a prestigious dance company, and he now thinks it is 'very unlikely' they will let her leave Cuba if it performs abroad. 'But that isn't going to change because I talk,' he said. ``It's already done.' .

14 Cubans arrive on Rickenbacker Causeway

August 12, 2008

Miami Herald

Fourteen Cuban migrants came ashore near the Rickenbacker Causeway late Sunday night, said Lt. Ignatius Carroll, a spokesman for City of Miami Fire Rescue. The call to the fire department came in at 10:16 p.m. Among the migrants was one child. No injuries were reported. The migrants will likely be allowed to stay in the United States under the so-called wet-foot/dry-foot policy. Cuban migrants intercepted at sea are generally returned to Cuba, while those who make it to shore are allowed to stay..
June 2008
It’s become clear that Cubans who live or once lived in the Miami area have set up homes or temporary residence in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula allegedly to assist in the growing and profitable business of migrant smuggling from Cuba to Cancun and then on to the U.S. border. The Associated Press photo shows a group of detained Cuban migrants being escorted by Mexican soldiers in Cancun on June 6. Increasing numbers of Cuban migrants are arriving in Cancun. Then they make their way to the U.S. border where they are allowed to enter the United States under the wet-foot/dry-foot policy. At least four Miami-area Cubans have been linked to Cuban migrant smuggling over the last year either in news articles published in Mexico or in statements by Mexican authorities. The first Miami area Cuban exile publicly linked to the business was Luis Lara who arrived in Hialeah from Cuba almost six years ago and then left for Merida in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula in 2006. Lara’s bullet-riddled body showed up in July 2007 at an isolated spot outside Cancun, where gunmen had kidnapped him along with his wealthy Mexican girlfriend. Her body was discovered a few days later. Mexican authorities said their murders stemmed from a “settlement of accounts’’ among Cuban migrant smuggling gangs operating in Cancun and Merida. The second and third Miami Cuban exiles connected to the business were Nairobi Claro and Noriel Veloz, both with Little Havana addresses. Their names appeared Monday in the Mexico City newspaper La Jornada which quoted sources close to a federal investigation in Mexico as saying that they were in the custody of Mexican authorities as suspects in Cuban migrant smuggling. The newspaper said the sources claimed the men told Mexican investigators that they belonged to the Cuban American National Foundation. But Francisco “Pepe’’ Hernandez, president of the foundation, categorically denied the assertion. On Thursday the foundation formally demanded that La Jornada retract the story and print an apology, signaling possible legal action. (You can read the foundation retraction demand press release and letter to La Jornada here: press release jornada_eng.pdf jornada_letter.pdf ) The name of a fourth Miami area Cuban exile emerged in a story last week about a bizarre development in Yucatan. The Associated Press reported from Cancun that hundreds of police and military personnel had been rushed to an immigration center in southern Mexico after receiving threats that gunmen would try to free a detained Cuban exile being held on migrant smuggling charges. The detained Cuban was identified as Hanoy Cardentey, who has an address in the Hammocks area of Southwest Miami-Dade. But a man who identified himself as Cardentey called The Miami Herald Friday night and said he was not in detention. He said Mexican authorities had confused him with an actual detainee by the name of Ruben Tito. Public records did not show a local address for a Ruben Tito..

Cuba promises change, but its luminaries won't wait

June 24, 2008

Tampa Bay- David Adams

MIAMI — The talent is extraordinary and it keeps coming. Despite promised changes in Cuba after the political retirement of Fidel Castro, a steady stream of young stars continues to abandon the island in search of new lives. Ballet dancers, baseball and soccer players, singers and TV entertainers — the latest array of Cuban emigres indicates that for many, change isn't coming soon enough. "For all the talk of change, there's a great feeling of hopelessness in Cuba," said Yhosvany Carmona, a 29-year-old actor who escaped to Miami this month. "Over the years they always made promises things would get better, and they never did. People are tired of those games." When Fidel Castro temporarily transferred power to his brother, Raul Castro, due to health issues in July 2006, the younger brother quickly opened a debate about economic change that promised to ease the rigid communist system preferred by Fidel Castro. But the lifting of bans on cell phones and the sale of computers and other consumer goods have so far had little impact on most people's daily lives. After almost two years, initial optimism has given way to resignation that Cuba's communist rulers aren't considering broader reforms. That has been matched by a steady rise in Cubans leaving the island illegally. Cuba does not allow its citizens to travel abroad without official exit permits, often forcing would-be emigres to take desperate measures. Some seize the opportunity while performing abroad on officially approved travel visas. Others flee the island by boat with the help of smugglers. A rising reggaeton star, Elvis Manuel, drowned with four others in April after their boat capsized in bad weather, 50 miles from Key West. Their bodies were never found. Chance to dance The flight of high-profile Cuban athletes is hardly new. Baseball players Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez and half-brother Livan Hernandez made successful careers in the major leagues after they left Cuba in the mid 1990s. But the latest list of Cuban stars is as impressive as it is long. In December 2006, three top Cuban boxers left their team during a tournament in Venezuela. In March, seven members of Cuba's under-23 national soccer team slipped out of a Tampa hotel during an Olympic qualifying tournament. In May, Olympic bronze medalist Yurisel Laborde left Cuba's women's national judo team during a competition in Miami. In May, 19-year-old Dayan Viciedo, a top baseball prospect, arrived in the United States after fleeing via Mexico. He was following in the footsteps of second baseman Alexei Ramirez, who left Cuba in September and now plays for the Chicago White Sox. And it's not just athletes. In the past six months, five top Cuban ballet dancers have found their way to Miami. "You reach a moment as a mature dancer when you have to leave if you want to accomplish more on an international level," said Miguel Angel Blanco, 25, one of three principal dancers with the world-famous Cuban National Ballet, who left the island in December. "But they won't let you travel. They think they own you." So many Cuban ballet dancers have arrived lately that they have formed their own company — Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami, which trains at a ballet school in a Pompano Beach strip mall. "It's a question of artistic freedom," said Pedro Pablo Pena, joint artistic director of the company. "These are top dancers who could have careers anywhere in the world, but they weren't being given a chance in Cuba." Dreaming in Miami In December, one of Cuba's top TV celebrities, Carlos Otero, used an authorized trip to Canada to divert to Miami with his family. He was hired to host a variety show on a local Spanish language TV channel, AmericaTeVe, titled Pelli zcame que Estoy Sonando (Pinch Me Because I'm Dreaming). He says he got the idea for the show's name while driving on Interstate 95 when he told his wife to pinch him because he couldn't believe he was in the United States. Otero was one of the best-paid government entertainers in Cuba. He had several opportunities to flee during previous trips abroad, but waited to make his move until December, when Cuban officials allowed him to take his wife and children on the trip to Canada. "Some of these people were very close to the Cuban authorities," said Hugo Cancio, a Cuban music promoter in Miami. "They know the system is going down and they don't want to be identified with it, so they are jumping ship. I don't blame them." Max Lesnik, a Cuban radio commentator in Miami and regular visitor to the island, said Cuba had erred in restricting travel. "Art shouldn't have frontiers," he said. But he questioned whether the current exodus was any different from the past 50 years. "We tend to exaggerate it," he said. Irresistible pull "The U.S. has always been a magnet that attracts all kinds of people," he said, noting that there have been large waves of Cuban migrants dating back to the first war of independence against Spain in 1868. Cuban officials increasingly recognize that change is needed to rescue the country's anemic economy in the face of global price increases for food and energy. One senior official recently warned publicly that the Cuban revolution might self-destruct if economic problems were not resolved. Cuba complains that many of those who leave are lured by promises of riches in the United States. Friends of the drowned reggaeton singer, Manuel, say he had been offered a big recording contract by music producers in Miami. No guarantees The transition to Miami isn't easy, said Issac Delgado, one of Cuba's hottest salsa stars who left the island in November 2006. "Many artists end up stagnating here," he said. "They think they are going to get quick results, but you have to work hard and adapt to this society. It's a very competitive market." Carmona, the actor who fled to Miami, gave up a relatively well-paying job, earning 1,200 pesos a month (about $50), three times the average salary in Cuba, as host of a Sunday midday children's show, Super 12. He managed to get permission to leave the country for a fictitious film project in the Dominican Republic. From there he joined a boatload of Cubans on a smuggling run to Puerto Rico. He doesn't know what to expect in Miami. "I may never get back behind the camera, but at least I'll be free," he said..
May 2008

Cubans caught at sea returned to island

May 12, 2008

Miami Herald

Coast Guard Cutter Key Biscayne repatriated 79 Cuban migrants to Bahia de Cabañas, Cuba on Saturday. The group had been intercepted at sea on separate occasions during the week. The first group, six migrants, were spotted by Customs agents Tuesday aboard an unlit vessel about 80 miles southwest of Key West. Two suspected smugglers were taken into custody. On Wednesday, about 12 miles east of Miami, agents patrolling the area fired at the engines of two vessels when the suspected smugglers refused to stop. Aboard the two boats were 58 migrants. The migrants were transferred to the Coast Guard Cutter Pea Island, and four suspected smugglers were arrested. Later that day, the Cutter Kodiak Island interdicted 18 Cuban migrants from a rustic vessel about 45 miles northwest of Havana..
U.S. authorities detained 10 suspected alien smugglers piloting boats off the South Florida coast in a period of 24 hours, the Coast Guard announced Wednesday. The Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection air and marine crews intercepted the suspected smugglers between Miami and Key West, the Coast Guard said. The smugglers were detected by routine patrols, said a Coast Guard spokeswoman, Petty Officer Jennifer Johnson. Johnson was unable to provide any details, including the number or nationality of passengers or the number of boats involved. The cases are under investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. The arrests come amid a crackdown by federal authorities on migrants smugglers operating between Florida and the Caribbean, especially Cuba. On Tuesday, U.S. prosecutors in Miami announced the indictment in Key West of 23 Florida men in 12 separate cases on charges of attempting to smuggle in more than 200 Cubans.
April 2008

2 Cubans die, 2 missing, 8 rescued off New Orleans

April 28, 2008

Miami Herald- AP

NEW ORLEANS -- (AP) -- A dozen Cubans tried to cross the Gulf of Mexico in a raft but ran into trouble about 300 miles south of New Orleans, authorities said. Two died, two were missing Saturday, and six were hospitalized, including a mother and her 16-year-old daughter, the Coast Guard said. The remaining two were on the Coast Guard cutter that rescued them, Coast Guard Lt. Anastacia Visneski said. She said a Mexican naval vessel and a Coast Guard airplane searched all Friday and Saturday for the missing people. The crew of the 800-foot tanker Eos reported Friday that the raft was in trouble and some people were in the water, Petty Officer Stephen B. Lehmann said. He said six of the rafters were taken to a hospital near New Orleans because they were dehydrated and exhausted. All were in stable condition Saturday, he said. Visneski said she did not know what sort of trouble the raft was in..

Pair detained in human smuggling operation

April 15, 2008

Miami Herald- Jay Weaver and Casey Woods

Two Cuban men suspected of piloting an ill-fated migrant smuggling mission with reggaeton singer Elvis Manuel among the passengers are being held at the Krome detention center in West Miami-Dade County. Manuel has been missing since April 7; his mother, from Cuba, told The Miami Herald he was lost when their boat sank; he is presumed missing at sea. The two unidentified Cuban men are being detained under an administrative smuggling charge, according to Victor Colón, assistant chief of the U.S. Border Patrol in Miami. Under U.S. law, immigration authorities have broad discretion to detain non-U.S. citizens suspected of committing a crime. Confusion mounted Monday around the disappearance of Manuel, as more rumors surfaced regarding the teenager's fate. Manuel, a recent addition to the Cuban reggaeton music scene, had two hits in Cuba last year: La Tuba and La Mulata. His full name is Elvis Manuel Martínez Nodarse. MOTHER'S ACCOUNT In a Sunday interview from Havana, Elvis Manuel's mother, Irioska María Nodarse, gave a chilling account of the sinking of the boat that carried her, her son, and at least 12 others. She said that after Manuel fell into the water, she saw a large shadow that might have either been a wave or a boat, and after that she lost sight of him. Manuel, 18, and four others were not among the 14 picked up by the Coast Guard Wednesday, she said. The U.S. Coast Guard repatriated Nodarse and 11 others who were passengers on the suspected smuggling vessel, a 25-foot, twin-engine catamaran. On Saturday, the agency turned over the two Cuban men suspected of smuggling to U.S. Border Patrol in Marathon. The pair had been paroled into the United States within the past year but are not legal residents, Colón said. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is investigating the suspected smuggling operation, but declined to comment on whether criminal charges would be filed with the U.S. attorney's office. Nodarse told The Herald that the smuggling trip was paid for and organized in Miami in an effort to expand her son's music career. But Elvis Manuel's Florida producers Eric Reyes and Lester Delgado were not involved in the operation, Reyes said. 'The people responsible for this are Fidel Castro, who created such desperation, the smugglers, and those who chose to take this journey, because they are all adults capable of making decisions for themselves,' said Reyes, 32, of Millenium Records Entertainment. ``We never financed any illicit activity.' Reyes said he had not been contacted by authorities in the case. He and Delgado unsuccessfully attempted to hire a private plane or helicopter Monday to continue the search for the missing singer on their own, he said. 'We are the only ones who are trying to help,' he said. While the official search for Manuel has been suspended, the Coast Guard has asked crews on cutters and aircraft patrolling the Florida Straits, the Gulf of Mexico and other waters to be on the lookout for him and any others from the catamaran. NEW ALBUM Reyes and Javier 'Voltaje' Fernández, a Las Vegas-based producer who is also producing Manuel's music, said they were speeding up the production on his new album because of the last week's events. 'People are asking for more of his music, and we will use any profits to help his family,' said Fernández, who said the album will be released within 20 days. The album's title: TheWorry of Many, named after one of Manuel's songs..

Missing reggaeton star's mom details trip

April 14, 2008

Miami Herald- Jennifer Lebovich

A few hours into a trip that promised to bring them to the shores of South Florida, the boat carrying Cuban reggaeton star Elvis Manuel and 18 others started to take on water. They started bailing water furiously, trying to keep the boat afloat under a dark sky. Mother and son were separated as the rain pounded down and the wind roiled the sea. 'My son yelled at me, `Mami!, Mami!,' and I called back, 'Elvis, come to me,' ' said Irioska María Nodarse. She lost sight of him in the choppy water -- he is presumed missing at sea. On Sunday, Nodarse gave The Miami Herald the first detailed account of the ill-fated effort to escape from Cuba so her son could 'realize his dream' of musical stardom. In a telephone interview from Havana, Nodarse said the boat capsized in choppy seas in the Florida Straits, dumping all 19 people into the water. Nodarse, who was rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard along with 13 others, was returned to Cuba on Saturday where she is desperate for news about her son's fate. She holds out hope that he is still alive somewhere, either on a boat or an island. The Coast Guard said Sunday that it has no new information on Elvis Manuel's whereabouts. 'I don't really know what happened, but my heart tells me that my son is alive,' she said, speaking in a calm tone in Spanish. The voyage began on the evening of April 7, a week ago Monday, she said. The group left on a 25-foot boat, organized and paid for in Miami. TURN FOR THE WORST According to Nodarse, the trip proceeded uneventfully at first. Then the engine broke down and the boat began filling with water. Someone lifted what she described as a lid, only causing the water to come in faster. Everyone was bailing out water, including her son. Then the boat overturned, throwing everyone into the cold water. Nodarse said she saw a big shadow, something she thought was either a wave or a boat. That's when she lost sight of her son. The 14 survivors managed to cling to the overturned catamaran. They ate gasoline-soaked crackers and drank from water bottles that had packed while they waited to be rescued. It wasn't until Wednesday morning -- two days later -- that the crew of a passing cargo ship spotted the group about 50 miles south of Key West. Elvis Manuel and four others were still missing. The ship's crew rescued the migrants and summoned the U.S. Coast Guard, whose helicopters then searched the waters. It's unclear how quickly the survivors told authorities that Elvis Manuel and four others were missing. The Coast Guard says they gave officials conflicting stories. Nodarse admits the group lied to the Coast Guard, saying two boats were initially involved. On Sunday, she said they withheld information from the officials on the Coast Guard cutter because of pressure from the two suspected smugglers on the boat. She said the pair wanted to create the impression that they had rescued the group. As a result, she added, they told officials their original boat had capsized, and that they had been rescued by another boat -- the vessel they were found clinging to. 'It was a lie due to pressure from the pilots,' she said. Coast Guard officials on Sunday expressed regret that the migrants misled searchers because they lost valuable time. 'If there was an opportunity to say 19 people were on the vessel, they should do it when we are talking to them,' said Chief Petty Officer Dana Warr, a Coast Guard spokesman. Nodarse, 43, said her son is 18. Friends in Miami had said that Elvis Manuel is 19. His full name is Elvis Manuel Martínez Nodarse, but he is known as Elvis Manuel. His mother said the voyage was a smuggling operation, designed to bring her son to the United States to expand his music career. Elvis Manuel is a recent addition to the Cuban reggaeton scene. He had two hits in Cuba last year, La Tuba and La Mulata. CHASING A DREAM 'We were leaving Cuba not because we have any political problems with the government,' she said. ``We were leaving Cuba because he wanted to realize his dream.' She claimed to have a lot of information about who helped arrange the trip but she wouldn't discuss the details until she knows what happened to her son. 'It was a trip organized and paid for in Miami,' she said. While Nodarse and 11 survivors were repatriated on Saturday, the two crew members who are the suspected smugglers were turned over to Border Patrol officials, the Coast Guard said. Nodarse said that Elvis Manuel's fellow musicians Carlos Rojas Hernández, who goes by 'DJ Carlitos,' and Alejandro 'DJ Jerry' Rodríguez Lopez, also were returned to Cuba. Although the search for Elvis Manuel has been suspended, the Coast Guard has asked crews on cutters and aircraft that patrol the Florida Straits, the Gulf of Mexico and other waters to be on the lookout for him and any others. 'There's the possibility they're alive,' Warr said. ``We don't know where they are or where they could possibly drift to. It's unfortunate they've taken their lives into their own hands.'.
March 2008

U.S. policy will permit 46 Cuban migrants to stay

March 30, 2008

Miami Herald- Jose Pagliery

Nearly 50 undocumented Cuban migrants who landed ashore at Hollywood shortly after midnight Saturday will be allowed to stay in the United States under the existing 'wet-foot, dry-foot' policy, authorities said. Smugglers had brought the 46 migrants from Sagua la Grande, Cuba, near the island's northern coast, according to U.S. Border Patrol Agent Lazaro Guzman. Once a small fishing town, Sagua la Grande has become a popular jump-off point for Cubans wanting to leave the country. Along the way, this latest group of migrants stopped in the Bahamas for a couple of days, where they refueled and remained until the weather calmed down, Guzman said. Their arrival so far north along the Atlantic Coast surprised Border Patrol agents. 'They've never really landed that far north,' Guzman said, noting that smugglers adjust their routes regularly to avoid capture by law enforcement. All of the migrants were taken into custody and will be released to the Miami-Dade Health Clinic after being processed and interviewed at the agency's Pembroke Pines station. The migrants will be allowed to stay in the United States under the U.S.-Cuba migration policy known as wet-foot, dry-foot. The policy permits Cuban migrants who make it to U.S. soil to remain here, while those intercepted at sea are usually repatriated..

More Cubans being caught at sea

March 24, 2008

Miami Herald- Jennifer Lebovich

The U.S. Coast Guard repatriated 78 Cuban migrants Friday, after they were stopped in several small groups over a seven-day stretch, officials said Sunday. They said the 78 sent back were among 82 people stopped. One of those was turned over to U.S. Customs and Border Protection as a suspected smuggler -- and three others were taken to the U.S. Naval Base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Those taken to Guantánamo are generally considered political dissidents who would face persecution in Cuba if returned. The number of Cubans leaving the island and being interdicted has been steadily rising since Fidel Castro took ill in July 2006. He resigned as president and his younger brother Raúl assumed the duty as head of the ruling Council of State last month. 628 THIS YEAR So far this year, the Coast Guard has interdicted 628 Cuban migrants. That number includes the 78 repatriated Friday to Bahia de Cabañas. Last year, the U.S. Coast Guard stopped 3,197 Cuban migrants in the Florida Straits, the largest number of Cuban migrants stopped in a single year since the 1994 exodus brought more than 37,000 Cubans to South Florida. 'People are always trying to illegally come to the United States and needlessly place themselves in harm's way,' U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Nick Ameen said. ``It's the Coast Guard's duty to try and save these people from certain dangers out at sea.' The latest Cuban migrants were encountered in several different incidents in the Florida Straits, off the Bahamas and the Florida Keys between March 11 and March 17, officials said. Most of those stopped during these incidents traveled on homemade boats or rafts. But one group tried the journey aboard a go-fast boat, perhaps an indication that it was a smuggling operation. NUMBERS ARE TELLING Between Oct. 1 and March 20, there have been 133 episodes involving go-fast vessels and 38 incidents involving homemade boats, the Coast Guard said in a statement. 'These numbers tell us that Cubans are continuing to endanger themselves and others in attempts to illegally enter the United States,' said Lt. Cmdr. Chris O'Neil, a Coast Guard spokesman, in the statement. Under the U.S. wet foot/dry foot policy, undocumented Cuban migrants who reach U.S. shores are generally allowed to stay, but those caught at sea are usually returned to the island. Miami Herald staff writer Alfonso Chardy contributed to this report..
En horas de la mañana de hoy, 15 cubanos, entre ellos varios niños pequeños, tocaron tierra en Dinner Key, según informó el teniente Elkin Sierra, portavoz del Departamento de Bomberos y Rescates de Miami. Aparte de estar un poco deshidratados, todos parecen estar bien de salud. 'Estamos muy felices de haber llegado a Estados Unidos', dijo Osmati Biloto, uno de los que llegaron en la embarcación desde Cuba. "Estamos muy cansados. Fue un viaje largo, pero valió la pena'. Las autoridades locales, entre ellas una embarcación de la policía de Miami-Dade fueron alertadas de la llegada del grupo de balseros a Coconut Grove a alrededor de las 4:30 a.m., dijo el portavoz. La Patrulla Fronteriza llegó poco antes del amanecer para después para trasladar a las 15 personas a un centro de procesamiento. Según la llamada política de "pies secos/pies mojados”, a los cubanos que tocan territorio norteamericano, por lo general se les permite quedarse en el país,mientras que los que son interceptados en el mar, casi siempre son repatriados a la isla..

A thirst for dreams and the outside world

March 17, 2008

Miami Herald- Editorial Opinion

OUR OPINION: LACK OF CHANGE IN CUBA FUELS TALENT EXODUS Who says people in Cuba can't vote? Cubans are voting with their feet. Soccer players, ballet dancers, boxers and entertainers -- not to mention Cubans in all kinds of boats -- are arriving in South Florida on any given day. This isn't just a brain drain. It is an exodus of Cuban talent on a scale second only to the one in the 1960s, when the island lost most of its technocrats and business people. Losing its young people Likewise today, Cuba is losing many of its young, ambitious and most resourceful people. In 2006, when Fidel Castro handed over provisional power to brother Raúl, many Cubans harbored hope for better living conditions, if not political freedoms. Twenty months later, the overwhelming sense is that no change is in the cards. That was confirmed last month when Raúl Castro was officially named president and placed other hard-line seniors in the highest spheres of power. The majority of Cubans, youths in particular, just want to flee the island. They are tired of deprivation. They have no voice. They don't want to be jailed for opposing the government. As one recent arrival said, ``Everybody wants something to burst, but nobody wants to burst it.' The disaffection is reflected in population and migration figures. The number of people in Cuba dropped in 2007 for the second consecutive year, a phenomenon not seen there since the 19th century. Part of the reason is the island's birthrate, the lowest it has been in a century. This is indicative of a lack of faith in the future. Another big factor is the exodus. More than 70,000 Cubans have arrived in the United States in the last two years alone. At that annual pace, more Cubans are arriving here compared to the 1960s or 1970s, according to figures from the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies. Talented Cubans have all the more reason to find better opportunities elsewhere. Isaac Delgado, a popular salsa singer who defected in 2006, expressed the sentiment well. 'In Cuba, professional artists always hit the ceiling,' he said. ``They don't let you fly. You don't have the opportunity, like you do in every country of the world, to try to reach your maximum potential, to attain your dream.' Official authorization Cuba appears poised to allow residents to legally buy computers and other electronics -- something people in free countries take for granted. Yet Internet access without government authorization remains illegal. Such a policy increases the thirst to connect with the outside world. The more the government controls, the more Cubans will aspire to break those limits. If Cubans can't find a way to improve life in Cuba, they will continue to seek a way elsewhere..

With Cuba slow to change, defections rise

March 14, 2008

Miami Herald- Tere Figueras Negrete, Alfonso Chardy and Jordan Levin

Ballet dancers. Boxers. This week, soccer players. A flurry of young athletes and artists from Cuba has sought asylum in the United States since an ailing Fidel Castro ceded power 20 months ago -- slipping away from minders, leaving behind families and striking out for new lives across the Florida Straits. While high-profile defectors from Cuba have systematically wound up in the United States in the five decades since Castro's rise to power, the most recent wave arrives against the backdrop of his departure from the political stage. The timing of the defections, say both Cuba watchers and some of the defectors themselves, underscores dissatisfaction with both the political and economic situation on the island and a belief that change under Castro's successor, brother Raúl Castro, may come more slowly than many had hoped. 'The timing of the defections is significant,' said Andy Gomez, senior fellow at the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies. ``It shows that there is a frustration among Cubans, especially young Cubans, who see this change as simply a continuity of a different regime.' Seven Cuban soccer players defected in Tampa this week -- all members of the under-23 national team -- slipping away from the team's hotel. Five players managed to sneak away Tuesday on the heels of a surprising 1-1 tie with the United States in an Olympic qualifying match. Two more bolted on Wednesday and said they planned to join their teammates and fellow defectors in Lake Worth -- eventually, they hope, signing on with a professional soccer league, either in the United States or elsewhere. The notable defections also mirror a larger trend: Overall migration from Cuba has been on the rise since Castro initially turned over power to his younger brother in July 2006. Last year, 3,197 Cuban migrants were intercepted at sea -- the highest number in a single year since the 1994 rafter crisis, when 37,191 Cubans were interdicted. Experts say Raúl Castro's ascent to power has sparked widespread expectations for change -- and that impatience for reform may be among the reasons behind the recent defections. DISILLUSIONMENT That frustration can span both philosophical and practical concerns, said Issac Delgado, a celebrated Cuban salsa singer who defected in November 2006. He cited a sense of disillusionment among artists, but also an inability to travel freely outside the island to perform and a lack of access to the Internet -- a necessary creative outlet in an increasingly digital marketplace -- as especially galling. 'More and more people in Cuba are realizing that their work gives them possibilities, but in Cuba, professional artists always hit a ceiling,' Delgado said from his Key Biscayne apartment. ``They don't let you fly. You don't have the possibility, like you do in every country in the world, to try and reach your maximum potential, to attain your dream.' In addition to Delgado, other notable artists and athletes have orchestrated defections since the change in power. Star Cuban boxers Yan Barthelemy, Yuriorkis Gamboa and Odlanier Solis defected while their team visited Venezuela in December 2006. Baseball player Alexei Ramirez defected in September 2007 and signed with the Chicago White Sox. In December alone, defectors included three top dancers from the Cuban National Ballet, four members of the Cuban National Circus, six members of the musical group Los Tres de La Habana and seven young members of the Spanish Ballet of Cuba -- who defected during an arts festival in Mexico, with several winding up in Miami. That same month brought the defection of famed TV personality Carlos Otero, who quickly found work in Miami hosting a comedy and musical show on AméricaTeVe Channel 41 titled Pellízcame que Estoy Soñando. Translation: ``Pinch Me Because I'm Dreaming.' 'In Cuba, people in the arts, medicine, the professions, sports are tired of waiting for change that never comes,' said Otero, who defected while in Canada. He came up with the show's name while driving on Interstate 95 after arriving, when he asked his wife to pinch him because he felt he was in a dream now living in the United States. 'There is widespread expectation for change,' Otero added. ``But people see that Cuba is suspended in time since Fidel fell ill.' High-profile defections from Cuba are, of course, nothing new. Baseball players like Orlando 'El Duque' Hernandez, musicians such as singer Albita Rodríguez and dancers, among them ballerinas Lorena Feijoo and Joan Boada, have left Cuba over the years seeking freedom and lucrative careers. Possibly adding to the current sense of discontent is Raúl Castro's decision to encourage public debate and discussion of frustrations with the Cuban revolution, said Brian Latell, a former CIA analyst on Cuba and Latin America. 'Societal stresses have been rising, maybe even dangerously, over the last year or so,' said Latell, who is now a senior research associate at UM's Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies. ``Raúl has also been simultaneously raising expectations for change by opening up the debate, but has not been able to deliver any significant improvements in the standard of living.' EXIT PERMITS Max Lesnik, a controversial Miami radio commentator who regularly visits Cuba, echoed that sentiment. Among new measures young Cubans have been widely expecting is the elimination of exit permits that the government requires Cubans to have to leave the country legally even if they have secured visas from a foreign country, he said. 'The delay in introducing that measure could be one of the reasons for impatience among talented young people to stay in other countries,' Lesnik said. He plans to travel to Havana to cover a meeting called by the Cuban Foreign Ministry for Cubans living abroad. Both Lesnik and Francisco Aruca -- another controversial Cuban-American radio commentator who frequently travels to the island -- said elimination of the exit permit could be one of the measures announced at the three-day émigré meeting, which starts Wednesday. But not all defectors see their recent arrivals as heralding a larger trend. Taras Domitro, one of the three leading dancers who defected from the Cuban National Ballet in December, said dancers have been leaving Cuba for as long as he can remember. 'A lot of dancers have left, on all levels,' Domitro said from his mother's home in Pompano Beach, where he's living as he waits for his work permit so he can start a job with the San Francisco Ballet. ``It's been happening all my life.' But while contemplating a defection may be commonplace, discussing it remains strictly taboo, he said. 'We never talked about it in the company,' he said. ``Those are things you can't say. To talk about abandoning the country -- that's not OK.' Miami Herald staff writer Michelle Kaufman contributed to this report.

Boat crash dumps 18 Cuban migrants into yard

March 13, 2008

Miami Herald- Tim Chapman, Erika Beras and Oscar Corral

Israel Berens was working at his home office in his Bay Harbor Islands home Wednesday when he heard his dog, Gabby, running back and forth along the glass back doors, barking and staring outside. With his house on a canal, Berens sees the occasional boat cruise by. But when he peeked outside, he saw a bit of Miami Vice-style mayhem, with police chasing Cuban migrants around his neighbor's lawn. Authorities took 18 Cuban migrants into custody after rounding them up in the tony backyard of Berens' neighbor. Five of them were taken to the emergency room of Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach after suffering injuries. They also arrested four suspected of smuggling nearby. Berens, who is of Cuban descent, gave police water to take to the migrants, who were sprawled out on the grass and terrace in handcuffs. 'This is the most exciting thing we've seen in 28 years that I've lived here,' Berens said. One of the Cuban women who arrived on the boat identified herself as Eralia Perez Avila, and said they had spent seven days at sea. 'We got here wet and touched land,' she said, slapping the sidewalk she was sitting on. ``We came from Matanzas. A boat picked us up.' Authorities gave the following account of what happened: North Miami Police marine patrol officer Guido Andollo was on a routine patrol when he spotted two boats Wednesday morning. He stopped one of them with four people in it for a routine check, and called Indian Creek marine patrol to stop the second boat. When Indian Creek police approached the second boat, it took off, said North Miami police spokesman Lt. Neal Cuevas. The police boat chased it into a canal, where it crashed into a dock behind the mansion on the corner of 96th Street and East Broadview Drive. Indian Creek police officer Michael DelPozo, who chased the migrants, said the smuggling boat tried to ram him ``three or four times.' 'We were side by side, like in a movie,' DelPozo said. ``He tried to push me over to the other side, but there were other boats by the docks. He ran down a canal, but he didn't know it had no end.' ``When he realized it was going to a dead end, I initiated to stop with my boat. He smashed into the dock, into the seawall, and all eighteen people landed in the water . I had never seen that many people go into the water.' DelPozo said the scene was dramatic. ``They were scrambling over each other to get to the wall and they just wanted to know if they had made it, if they had landed, because of the whole wet-foot/dry-foot thing.' According to U.S.-Cuba migration policy, Cuban migrants who make it to U.S. soil are generally allowed to stay. But if Cubans are intercepted before they make it to land, they are usually repatriated. One woman who lives in the apartment building across the canal, who asked that her name not be used, said one large Cuban man was standing on the seawall pulling other migrants onto land. Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Lazaro Guzman said the five injured migrants suffered cuts and broken arms when the boat crashed into the dock. The rest were taken to Border Patrol in Pembroke Pines for processing. Among the personal items left on the smugglers' boat: skirts, shoes, religious artifacts, crosses, statuettes. 'It's a big puzzle we are trying to put together,' said Guzman, who added that the migrants' families paid $10,000 each for them to be transported. ``This is an organized smuggling venture from Cuba to the United States.' Miami Herald Staff Writers Allison Hollenbeck and Carli Teproff contributed to this report.

Five Cuban soccer players defect in Florida

March 13, 2008

Miami Herald- Michelle Kaufman

They made their plans to defect back in Cuba, before their under-23 national soccer team left the island for Tampa to begin play in a qualifying tournament for the 2008 Olympics. Wednesday, hours after battling the U.S. team to a surprising 1-1 tie, five Cuban players were in Lake Worth, trying to figure out how to begin life as new immigrants. Not even their families knew that team captain Yenier Bermudez, goalkeeper Jose Manuel Miranda, defender Erlys Garcia Baro, midfielder Yordany Alvarez and defender Loanni Prieto planned to defect. But after Tuesday night's game, they bolted from a Tampa hotel, slipped into the waiting car of a mutual friend and headed east. They bought a cellphone, contacted a lawyer, and celebrated their newfound freedom with a nice Cuban meal. 'We're fine, calm, feeling hopeful about our new lives,' Bermudez told The Miami Herald by phone Wednesday night. ``Of course, we're nervous because we're young, have no family here, and we don't yet know the way of life here, but we hope the Cuban and American communities will help us get started.' All five players had participated in Tuesday's game, knowing the adventure that was to come hours later. The team bus got back to the Doubletree Airport Hotel at around 10:45 p.m., and by 11, the five players had left behind life as they knew it. They plan to seek political asylum in the coming days, and then begin their quest for jobs in professional soccer -- either with a Major League Soccer or United Soccer League team. Luiz Muzzi, general manager of Miami FC, a USL team, was contacted by a friend of the players and said he will host a tryout for them next week. 'I watched their game against the U.S. on TV, and I thought the Cuban team played very well,' Muzzi said. ``We were kind of scouting that game because anytime a Cuban team comes to the United States, there's a chance someone might defect.' The decision to leave Cuba and loved ones behind was a tortuous one, but Bermudez said he and his teammates felt they would never realize their dreams if they didn't take this chance. 'Of course, my heart will be in Cuba with my family, but I want to have the freedom to better my life, to play professional soccer, to be the best I can be, and for that we had to make this sacrifice,' he said. ``The key now is to get the legal paperwork out of the way as quickly as possible so we can get on with our plans.' Meanwhile, the Cuban team is left with only 13 players for Thursday's game against Honduras, and one player, Roberto Linares, is ineligible to play because he got a red card in the game against the United States. The Cuban delegation was meeting Wednesday night with officials of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football to decide whether Cuba would remain in the tournament with a limited roster, or be forced to withdraw. 'Cuba has plans to keep playing in this tournament, and we don't want to forfeit our next two matches,' coach Raul Gonzalez said. The top two teams in the eight-team tournament earn berths to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. This was not the first time Cuban soccer players defected in recent years. Rey Angel Martinez and Alberto Delgado defected during the 2002 Gold Cup in Los Angeles. Maykel Galindo bolted from the team's Seattle hotel during the 2005 Gold Cup, and last year, Lester More and Osvaldo Alonso defected during the Gold Cup in Houston. Bermudez called More and Alonso on Wednesday to seek advice. 'They told us they're happy for us, and that we have to be patient, but little by little, everything will work out,' Bermudez said. ``Even though we are a little nervous, we know there is a very large community of Cubans here in South Florida, and that makes us feel more at home. ``We hope to make them proud.'.

Sent back to Cuba

March 12, 2008

Miami Herald- Editorial Opinion

OUR OPINION: FAMILY INTERCEPTED AT SEA DESERVES CHANCE FOR U.S. VISA Even among many heartrending stories of Cubans fleeing the island, the case of Silvia Yanelis Véliz Querol is noteworthy. She and her husband, both deaf mute, were jailed in Cuba after U.S. Coast Guard cutters repatriated them and their two children last month. Now U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, is asking that the U.S. Interests Section in Havana investigate the case and interview Ms. Véliz Querol for a U.S. visa. These steps are well merited. U.S.-Cuba migration accords stipulate that repatriated Cubans are not to suffer reprisals for attempting to leave the island illegally. The U.S. government also said it would monitor repatriations to Cuba. In this case, however, it appears that Ms. Véliz Querol has been subjected to government harassment, if not persecution, for quite some time. For instance, Ms. Véliz Querol reportedly has a 12-year-old son with a mental disability who was institutionalized against her wishes since he was a baby. Intercepted at sea, Ms. Véliz Querol and her family were kept on a Coast Guard ship for 12 days. During that time, she was interviewed several times by U.S. immigration authorities. Such interviews can be traumatic, particularly for people who have had run-ins with officials in Cuba and are now at sea surrounded by men in uniforms. Translations also can be difficult, and this case involved adults who use sign language. Still, the decision was made to send the family back. According to Rep. Diaz-Balart, Ms. Véliz Querol and her husband were jailed soon after being returned to Cuba. They had been searching for new living quarters after discovering that their home in Havana had been confiscated by the government. Whether or not she qualifies for asylum or a humanitarian U.S. visa, Ms. Véliz Querol deserves a fair immigration interview at the U.S. Interests Section..
February 2008

Llegan cartas del Programa de Reunificación

February 1, 2008

El Nuevo Herald- Helena Poleo

Las notificaciones para las familias que pueden beneficiarse con el nuevo programa de Reunificación de Familias Cubanas, han comenzado a llegar en los últimos días, dos meses después de que el gobierno estadounidense anunciara el programa creado para agilizar la llegada de inmigrantes legales de Cuba. Los posibles participantes en el nuevo programa de parole del Servicio de Inmigración y Ciudadanía (USCIS), incluyen de 9,000 a 13,000 hermanos e hijos adultos de cubanos nacionalizados estadounidenses, así como a cónyuges e hijos de residentes permanentes, quienes normalmente tienen que esperar años para recibir la visa norteamericana. Para acogerse al programa, la persona en EEUU ya debe tener aprobada una petición de visa para su familiar. Cuando el USCIS anunció el programa el 21 de noviembre pasado, dijo que los residentes y ciudadanos a cuyos parientes ayuda el parole, debían esperar una notificación de la agencia. Rubén Quesada, de 53 años, recibió la notificación de que su hija, Yaimé, y los hijos de ésta podrían llenar los requisitos para participar en el programa. Quesada, quien llegó hace siete años de La Habana, es residente permanente y pidió a su hija y a sus dos nietos en el 2002. La petición fue aprobada en agosto del 2006. Pero en ese momento su abogado le dijo que tenía que esperar al menos cuatro años para que le concedieran la visa a su hija, ahora de 30 años. 'Fue como un balde de agua, porque uno cree que todo está listo y luego ves que todavía hay que esperar años', comentó Quesada. ``Ahora tenemos esperanza, y eso alivia un poco el dolor'. Quesada recibió la semana pasada las instrucciones del USCIS para pedir el parole, y ya comenzó el proceso de reunir los documentos para traer a sus familiares. Se espera que el programa corrija un déficit en las 20,000 visas anuales que Washington debe otorgar, según sus acuerdos migratorios con La Habana, una situación que para algunos es uno de los factores en el reciente aumento de cubanos que intentan llegar a EEUU cruzando el Estrecho de la Florida o el Canal de Yucatán. En lugar de visas, los cubanos recibirán inmediatamente documentos de entrada por parole que les permitirán llegar por avión a cualquier aeropuerto estadounidense que reciba vuelos de Cuba, siempre que el régimen de la isla haya expedido el permiso de salida. Los documentos de entrada servirán de autorización temporal para viajar, y una vez en EEUU esos papeles se reemplazarán con la tarjeta de residente, que recibirán por correo automáticamente. 'El propósito del programa es facilitar la reunión familiar por vías seguras, legales y ordenadas, y disuadir la inmigración por mar ilegal y peligrosa', indicó el USCIS. Las visas normalmente se expiden con rapidez a familiares inmediatos como esposos(as), hijos menores y padres de ciudadanos estadounidenses, por lo que esas personas están excluidas del nuevo programa. El abogado de inmigración en Miami, Jorge Rivera, señaló que se sorprendió por lo pronto que comenzaron a llegar las notificaciones. 'Para los familiares que han estado esperando años, ésta es la mejor noticia que pueden haber recibido', aseveró Rivera, quien agregó que ya varios clientes han recibido las instrucciones del USCIS para solicitar acogerse al programa..
December 2007

5 Cuban migrants arrive in Hollywood

December 20, 2007

Miami Herald- Walter Michot

ive men from Cuba arrived in South Florida Thursday morning on a small skiff and were being detained by Hollywood police until the Border Patrol could arrive. The five showed up about 7 a.m. and were huddled an hour later behind Driftwood on the Ocean, a two-story apartment hotel at 2101 Surf Rd. in Hollywood. They told a bystander they were from a coastal community in Cuba. All were dressed casually. Under the wet foot/dry foot policy, Cuban migrants who make it to the United States are generally allowed to stay, while those interdicted at sea are generally sent back..

Interdiction of Cubans at 13-year high

December 10, 2007

Miami Herald

The year 2007 will go down in the history of South Florida as the year with the greatest number of Cuban migrant interdictions since the 1994 rafter crisis. As of last week, at least 3,084 Cuban migrants had been stopped at sea -- the largest number of interceptions in one year since 37,191 were interdicted 13 years ago. The figure was posted on the U.S. Coast Guard website, which is regularly updated. The number of Cubans leaving the island has been rising since an ailing Fidel Castro ceded power to his brother Raúl in July 2006..
November 2007

37 Cuban migrants repatriated

November 27, 2007

Miami Herald

The Coast Guard repatriated 37 Cubans to Bahia de Cubanas, Cuba, on Monday. The migrants were interdicted trying to reach U.S. land in two separate groups that included two suspected smugglers who were detained on Nov. 19. A fishing vessel crew picked up two migrants floating on inner tubes seven miles south of Loggerhead Key. They told the fishermen they had left Cuba with nine men and four women. The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Pea Island located the other 13 migrants nine miles south of Loggerhead Key. Later that day, the Coast Guard interdicted a go-fast vessel carrying 22 migrants and two suspected smugglers about 24 miles south of Dry Tortugas. The suspected smugglers are in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection..

Cubans stopped at sea nearing record

November 24, 2007

Miami Herald- Alfonso Chardy

The Cuban migrant flow is approaching a milestone. The number of interdictions in the Florida Straits may soon match or exceed those in 2005, when the U.S. Coast Guard made the greatest number of interceptions since the rafter crisis 13 years ago. As of Wednesday, the number of Cuban migrants stopped by the Coast Guard was 2,938, just 14 shy of the 2005 mark. While no mass exodus is afoot, the increased number of interdictions is part of a gradually increasing number of Cubans leaving the island and heading for the United States -- by boat, plane, car and on foot through the U.S.-Mexican border. At least 3,437 more Cubans left the Communist island and reached the United States between October 2006 and September 2007 than during the previous 12-month period, leading some Cuban affairs analysts to wonder whether a migration crisis is coming. On Wednesday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced a new parole program for Cubans awaiting immigrant visas on the island partly to deter the growing marine migrant flow. Cubans who have been waiting for approved visas but have not received them will be eligible for the new parole documents, which are expected to be issued quickly. Experts at the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies recently compiled a report that showed in the last two fiscal years, more Cubans arrived than during the entire Cuban rafter crisis that brought 37,191 Cuban migrants, and in the last seven years more Cubans have arrived than during the rafter and 1980 Mariel exoduses combined. `MASS MIGRATION' 'The arrival of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Cubans over a short period of time is a scenario that any U.S. administration would like to avoid at all costs,' the report said. ``Yet, quietly but increasingly evident, a new mass migration out of Castro's Cuba may be in progress.' Other Cuba observers, however, aren't convinced. 'I can't find something statistically significant in that 1,000 or 2,000 or 5,000 more Cubans are interdicted or arrive,' said Phil Peters, vice president of the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va., who specializes in Cuban affairs and supports lifting the Bush administration's travel restrictions to Cuba. ``It's no secret many people want to leave Cuba, but it doesn't mean that a migration crisis is imminent. You cannot infer mood from combining figures from different categories of immigrants . What is going on is accepted as normal, all around.' Some recently arrived migrants say they left because uncertainty increased after an ailing Fidel Castro last year ceded power to his brother Raúl. 'People want change, that there be a democracy but nothing seems to change,' said William Mujica, 33. Mujica, who arrived via the Mexican border, was picking up a work permit at the Archdiocese of Miami's Catholic Charities Legal Services office downtown. Randolph McGrorty, the agency's executive director, said half the Cubans his office helps have arrived by way of Mexico. 'Migrants crossing the border has been a trend for the last four or five years,' he said. ``It has stayed pretty steady.' Mujica, who came across the border more than five months ago, left Cuba by raft and landed on the Yucatán Peninsula. Customs and Border Protection figures show that the majority of Cuban migrants now cross from Mexico. According to the UM study, between October 2005 and September 2007, almost 77,000 Cubans reached U.S. soil -- more than twice the number during the 1994 rafter exodus. The UM report notes that in the last seven years more Cubans have arrived than during the combined 1980 Mariel boatlift and 1994 rafter exodus: 191,000 since 2000 versus 162,191. However, totals in the UM report also include Cubans who have arrived legally under a 1995 migration accord with Cuba. The totals also factor in those who annually receive green cards under the Cuban Adjustment Act. These include Cubans who have arrived legally with visas from Cuba or illegally, by sea, air or land through third countries like Mexico or Canada. Under the Cuba-U.S. migration accord, the United States is supposed to issue at least 20,000 immigrant visas annually in Havana. But that number periodically falls short, leading to recriminations between Havana and Washington. The two governments have recently traded accusations on which side is to blame for this year's visa deficit. On Wednesday, when U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced the new parole program, officials said that as of mid-November, at least 13,000 Cubans who had petitions approved were still awaiting visas. `DISILLUSIONMENT' Jaime Suchlicki, director of the UM institute that assembled the recent migration report, said the increase in arrivals reflects growing 'disillusionment' with the Cuban regime. 'There is a belief that Cuba will not change rapidly and that Cuba's economy will not improve very rapidly,' Suchlicki said. 'One recently arrived refugee told us, `We spent 47 years trying to build socialism, so we don't want to build anything new again. We want to go to a society where everything is already built.' ' Most Cuban border-crossers reach Mexico after arriving by boat at Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. Increased traffic across the Yucatán Channel appears to be the result of stepped-up enforcement by the U.S. Coast Guard in the Florida Straits. U.S. officials blame much of the Cuban migrant traffic in South Florida on smugglers. Under the U.S. wet foot/dry foot policy, those who reach U.S. shores are generally allowed to stay, but those caught at sea are usually returned to the island. Those who arrive at land border crossings are generally allowed into the country. Cuba has urged Mexico to stem the migrant flow reaching Cancún and Isla Mujeres. Manuel Aguilera de la Páz, the Cuban ambassador to Mexico, told reporters in Mexico City recently that the increase in migrants requires a new immigration accord between Mexico and Cuba.

Cubans may get U.S. visas faster

November 22, 2007

Miami Herald- Helena Poleo and Alfonso Chardy

In a significant shift in Cuba migration policy, the U.S. government announced Wednesday it was creating a new program that would reduce the long delays many Cubans experience in securing visas to enter the United States. Under the new Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, Cubans granted permission to travel here by U.S. authorities will no longer have to wait in Cuba to receive permanent residency. They will now be given a travel document that would 'parole' them into the United States, so they can wait here for their green card to be delivered to them. Even with the new program, however, there is no guarantee that Cubans with approved parole will enter the country any faster. That's because they still must get an exit permit from the Cuban government. It's unclear whether or not Havana will even recognize the new U.S. program. Cuban Interests Section officials in Washington did not return a call asking for comment. Officials with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said they hope the new program will discourage Cubans from attempting to illegally enter the United States by hiring smugglers or transporting themselves across the seas. Those likely to benefit from the new parole program include siblings and adult children of Cuban exiles who are U.S. citizens or spouses, and minor children of Cuban green card holders. Visas are normally available quickly for immediate relatives such as spouses, minor children and parents of U.S. citizens. These people are specifically excluded from the new program. The program represents the first major change in U.S. migration policy toward Cuba since August 2006, when Homeland Security unveiled a program intended partly to encourage Cuban doctors serving in third countries to defect to the United States. The program does not affect the 20,000 U.S. visas made available annually to Cubans on the island. The change does come at a time when U.S. consular officials have failed to issue the full allotment earmarked for Cubans on the island. Late Wednesday, a U.S. official said that by mid-November the number of Cubans with approved petitions who have not received immigrant visas stood at about 13,000. U.S. officials have blamed the Cuban government, saying it has blocked necessary materials and personnel from entering the island to process the applications. Cuban officials have rejected U.S. accusations, saying the Bush administration has deliberately violated migration accords between the two countries dating back to 1994 and 1995. Under the accords, the United States agreed to issue 20,000 visas a year and Cuba agreed to curb unrestricted departures of undocumented Cuban migrants. The accords helped end the 1994 rafter exodus, which brought 37,191 Cuban migrants to the United States. The agency said it plans to notify the U.S.-based relatives who filed the petitions that their relative in Cuba is eligible for a parole document and how to request it. If parole is granted, the agency said, it will issue travel documents in Cuba to the prospective immigrant. Coral Gables immigration attorney Eduardo Soto said the new policy could affect thousands of Cuban families, including some of his clients. Among them: a Cuban couple from Kendall who have spent the last four years trying to get their three children -- all adults -- into the United States. Two, however, remain in Cuba. 'I got goose bumps when I heard the news, and my wife started crying,' said Arnaldo Almaguel. ``We are very anxious to see our children, and they are crazy about coming here.' .

Man drowns as Cuban migrants come ashore

November 16, 2007

Miami Herald- Erika Beras

Two boatloads of Cuban migrants came ashore early Tuesday morning in Palm Beach. One of the boats sank before reaching land. The migrants on that boat swam to shore, but one of them, an unidentified 39-year-old man, drowned. Palm Beach police got a call at 2:57 a.m. from a resident in the North End neighborhood near Mockingbird Lane and Sandpiper Street about a group of distressed migrants who had knocked on their door. Coast Guard and police helicopters surveyed the area overheard for several hours, looking for other migrants. Altogether, 35 migrants were turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said a spokesperson for the Palm Beach Police Department. The drowned man's body was taken to the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner's Office..
October 2007

Cuban migrants rescued off Tavernier Key

October 29, 2007

Miami Herald- Andrea Torres

As winds gusted on Tavernier Key early Saturday, Joe Zumpano and an associate chatted on the porch of the Coral Gables attorney's vacation home. Then the two men heard faint cries for help coming from the sea. They soon found themselves helping rescue about 22 Cuban migrants stranded during a storm on an islet off Key Largo. The men rushed to a sportfishing boat. It was after midnight. Zumpano, who's also a master captain U.S. merchant marine, scanned the waters between mainland and Tavernier Key. They found the migrants by following the glimpse of a dim light on an islet, but shallow water prevented them from getting too close. Zumpano shouted: 'Who are you?' The huddled crowd replied in Spanish: 'Somos Cubanos' (``We are Cubans'). A CHILLING EXPERIENCE 'Their desperation brought chills down my spine,' said Zumpano. Some migrants were suffering from dehydration. Zumpano circled the islet for more than an hour waiting for the Coast Guard. He felt helpless, but gave them all one bit of good news: He told them he was a witness to their landing on U.S. soil. 'There was a roaring cheer and I started to cry,' said Zumpano. Under the wet-foot/dry-foot policy, Cuban migrants who land on U.S. soil are typically allowed to remain in the United States. Those apprehended at sea are repatriated to Cuba. Coast Guard Petty Officer Barry Bena said they transported the migrants to the mainland and turned them over to Border Patrol. 'These people to me represent the kind of human suffering I have been very affected by,' said Zumpano, whose mother is a Cuban immigrant who left her homeland in 1960 after Fidel Castro's officers arrested her father, a government treasurer. COMING FULL CIRCLE Decades later in 2006, Zumpano represented a woman claiming damages against Fidel Castro's government for her father's execution. The woman collected a $23.79 million ruling in frozen Cuban assets. Zumpano took no credit for being a hero. He says the migrants played the heroic role. 'Anyone who risks their lives to reach freedom is a hero,' he said.
September 2007

18 Cuban migrants arrive at gas station

September 28, 2007

Miami Herald

Eighteen Cuban migrants -- three of them children -- were picked up in the Florida Keys by a trucker and dropped off overnight at a gas station in South Miami-Dade. The aptly named drop-off point: Freedom Oil Station, Southwest 222nd Street and South Dixie Highway. All were seen by Miami-Dade Fire Rescue workers and seemed to be doing well. They munched on McDonald's food as they waited for the Border Patrol to take them away for processing. The children dozed. The migrants said they had departed Cuba from the port of Mariel. Under the U.S. government's wet foot/dry foot policy, Cuban migrants who make it to U.S. shores are generally allowed to remain in the United States..

Cruise stops Cuban migrants despite pleas

September 26, 2007

Miami Herald- Andrea Torres

The scene played out as it has so many times before: Cubans on a flimsy inflatable raft begged Carnival Cruise Line officials not to interrupt their journey to 'freedom' while passengers tossed them water bottles and shot video. Adlin Sukhwani, of Kendall, was on the last leg of a seven-day cruise, about 45 miles from Key West, when she spotted the small raft on Saturday and her husband started videotaping the 10 men -- an effort to get their faces splashed in the news media and help their families identify them. Dozens of tourists leaned on the verandas aboard Carnival's Valor to spot the men traveling on what appeared to be an inflatable raft of blue rubber, ropes and wood, she said. 'Americans, Cubans, Colombians, we were all trying to help them, and throw them bottles of water,' Sukhwani said. When one of the tourists asked what they needed, the men responded: ``Please tell them to keep on going. Don't stop!' Under the U.S. wet foot/dry foot policy, Cubans intercepted at sea are generally sent back to the communist island, while those who make it to American soil are usually allowed to stay. 'It was a very emotional moment for all of us,' said Sukhwani, of Cuban and Indian descent. ``We felt powerless.' Following U.S. Coast Guard procedure, the cruise ship intercepted the raft about 45 miles off Key West, said a Carnival spokesman. Before the cruise ship crew took the men aboard, 'one of the Cuban men said with despair he had risked his life and this was his fifth time being returned,' Sukhwani said. The men said they were from El Cotorro, a town on the outskirts of Havana. Sukhwani's husband, Dhiraj Sukhwani, filmed the moments before the crew took the men aboard, hoping close-ups of the men's faces will help family in South Florida identify the men, who appeared to be in their 20s and 30s. Carnival later turned the men over to the U.S. Coast Guard. The tourists arrived in Miami on Sunday. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are questioning the men and processing their return to Cuba, a Coast Guard spokesman said..

6 Cuban migrants land on Key Biscayne

September 14, 2007

Miami Herald

Six Cuban migrants made it to shore at the Rickenbacker Causeway in Key Biscayne just after 5 a.m. Thursday. The migrants, who appeared to be in good health, said they were smuggled into the United States from Pinar del Rio, Cuba. They told police their journey lasted three days and that they ran out of food after the first day. There was also inclement weather during the trip. Miami fire-rescue provided water and blankets. Miami police officers began to process the migrants. While the migrants awaited for Border Patrol officers, a radio station broadcast their arrival. A Cuban-American man was driving to work and heard the dispatch. He stopped at the causeway and gave the migrants the lunch he had packed in a cooler -- yogurt, cereal, fruit, tuna, crackers, lemonade. Under the 'wet foot/dry foot' policy, Cuban migrants who reach U.S. soil are permitted to stay in the United States. The Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 enables them to apply for a green card once they pass the 12-month mark in the country. Miami Herald correspondent Raul Torres contributed to this report.
August 2007

Killings spotlight Cuban migration via Mexico

August 27, 2007

Miami Herald- Alfonso Chardy

CANCUN, Mexico -- Luis Lara arrived in Hialeah from Cuba five years ago and led a largely quiet life -- until he left last year for the city of Mérida on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. Lara's bullet-riddled body turned up four weeks ago in an isolated spot more than 15 miles from Cancún, the beach resort where gunmen had earlier kidnapped him and his wealthy Mexican girlfriend. Her body was discovered four days later, along with those of two Mexican men. The four murders, believed linked to smuggling rings responsible for bringing growing numbers of Cubans to the Yucatán Peninsula, have shaken Cancún, an international beach resort normally associated with sand, sun and fun. They have also cast a spotlight on the growing number of undocumented Cuban migrants detected by U.S. authorities. If current trends continue, the number of illegal departures from Cuba will have grown about 14 percent since about the time ailing Fidel Castro handed over power to his brother Raúl. Members of the U.S. intelligence community say the increase is causing them concern about a potential mass exodus, but add that it's too early to speculate on what is behind the increase. The four abductions and homicides have not altered the happy rhythms of beach partying along Cancún's glitzy hotel strip. Mexican officials insist they were isolated cases that do not compromise the security of foreign tourists. 'Tourists are safe,' said María Antonieta Salmerón, spokeswoman for the state prosecutor's office in Cancún. ``These episodes are likely the result of a settlement of accounts among criminal gang elements.' But longtime Cuban residents say they are now fearful -- and don't want to talk to journalists -- because of the rising stakes on the Cuban-smuggling route that ends in the Yucatán Peninsula. The route -- which sidesteps U.S. Coast Guard patrols along the Florida Straits -- starts in parts of western Cuba like the province of Pinar del Río and the Isle of Youth, crosses the 135-mile-wide Yucatán Channel, and winds up in the Mexican ports of Isla Mujeres, Cancún and Cozumel. Earlier this month, a report from Cuba said border guards were closing down some beaches on the Isle of Youth in an apparent effort to thwart landings by smugglers. It added that the guards were looking for one particularly fast boat -- outfitted with four outboard engines -- known as Reina del Caribe, or Queen of the Caribbean. Last year, the Cuban coast guard shot one smuggler to death and captured another who Havana media reported had confessed to helping a Mexico-based smuggling ring that charged him $20,000 to arrange his wife and child's departure. MEXICAN CONCERN The head of the Mexican Immigration Institute's regional office in Cancún, Eusebio Romero Pérez, told The Miami Herald that the flow of undocumented Cubans to Mexico is clearly rising -- 413 in the first seven months of this year, compared with 339 in the same period last year. 'There is concern on the part of our service on how to deal with this new phenomenon,' Romero said. He added that his agency had asked the navy to step up its patrols. If the Cubans are intercepted at sea, Mexican authorities often return them to the communist island, Romero said. But if they land and are caught, they are released after paying a 10,000-peso fine (about $920), which essentially gives them 30 days to leave the country. Dozens still waiting to pay the fine are now in detention at facilities in Cancún, Mexico City and Tapachula, on Mexico's southern border with Guatemala. Authorities did not allow The Miami Herald to interview some of them. Ramón Saúl Sánchez, head of the Miami-based Cuban migrant advocacy group Democracy Movement, said he is getting an increasing number of calls from relatives of undocumented Cubans desperate to find out if they have arrived in Mexico. 'There is a silent exodus taking place from Cuba into any nearby country,' Sánchez said. ``People have lost hope, even if Fidel Castro is indeed fading from power.' Mexican officials familiar with the issue say smugglers are charging up to $10,000 a Cuban for their full service -- the boat ride from Cuba to the Yucatán Peninsula and then overland transit to the U.S. border. How the slaying of 30-year-old Lara fits into the profitable but risky business is now under investigation in Mexico. Mexican newspaper reports say Lara told friends that he had fled Cuba through the Yucatán Peninsula and then made his way to South Florida. But a woman who identified herself as the mother of Lara's wife, Alely Acosta, 31, said the couple arrived legally in Miami in 2002. The couple have two young children, but it's not known if they were born in Cuba or South Florida. The woman who said she was Acosta's mother insisted that her daughter was Lara's 'ex-wife' but declined to comment further. Mexican media accounts said Acosta flew to Cancún soon after Lara was kidnapped to pick up the children, who had been staying with him, and flew back to Miami with them. UNDER U.S. SCRUTINY Lara was under investigation by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces U.S. economic sanctions on Cuba, according to a U.S. government official who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak about the case. Treasury spokeswoman Molly Millerwise would not comment on Lara. Lara left South Florida late last year for unknown reasons and headed to Mérida, the largest city on the Yucatán Peninsula, where he met María Elena Carrillo Saénz, a member of a prominent family. Her family owns the luxury El Conquistador hotel along the leafy Paseo de Montejo, one of the city's principal thoroughfares. They began to date and eventually lived together. The Mérida newspaper Diario de Yucatán quoted one of Carrillo's relatives as saying that the family did not like Lara, but had no details. Lara and Carrillo went to Cancún last month to vacation and stayed at a moderately priced hotel, Cancún police told Mexican reporters. On July 19 or 20, police said, they left the hotel ostensibly to go to a nearby supermarket and left Lara's children with a maid. When the couple did not return, the maid called authorities. Lara's body was found July 30, dumped off the road to Mérida. Carrillo's body was found nearby Aug. 3, along with the bodies of two other Mexicans, Edwin Park and Jesús Aguilar. Police in Cancún told Mexican reporters that the two men were involved with migrant smugglers, but gave no details. While Mexican authorities are continuing to investigate the four homicides, the migrant smuggling route that Lara is accused of fostering is continuing to make headlines. The Cancún tabloid Périodico Quequi Quintana Roo carried a front-page story this month outlining the Cuba-Cancún route. Lara's body, meanwhile, remains unclaimed in the Cancún morgue..

2 Cuban migrants quit Gitmo hunger strike

August 10, 2007

Miami Herald- AP

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- (AP) -- Two Cuban migrants held at the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay quit a hunger strike after being hospitalized with health problems, a Miami-based exile group said Wednesday. Twenty other migrants were keeping up the strike that began July 29 to protest their conditions and Washington's refusal to let them settle in the United States, said Ramon Saul Sanchez, president of the Miami-based exile group Democracy Movement. The strikers voted against the pair rejoining them because of their 'very precarious' condition -- one had a blood clot in his lung and the other suffered a hypoglycemic seizure, said Sanchez, who regularly speaks with the migrants by telephone. A medical team has been evaluating some 20 people on 'voluntary fast,' said Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman. 'They all appear to be in good health,' he said. Under Washington's so-called wet-foot-dry-foot policy, Cubans who make it to U.S. soil are generally allowed to stay, while those caught at sea are sent home. The protesters are among 44 Cubans captured at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard who could not be returned to Cuba because authorities determined they had a credible fear of persecution. They have been detained at Guantánamo -- some for more than two years -- while the United States seeks to settle them in a third country. Some have complained about head counts and aggressive searches for contraband. 'They're treating them as if they were criminals,' said Lidiar Reyes, whose brother Duniel Reyes, 23, was picked up by the Coast Guard in May and taken to Guantánamo. ``He left Cuba to get away from a place like that.' U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez defended searches of the migrants, saying they have turned up contraband including pornography, knives and scissors. 'Our priority is the safety and security of all the protected migrants that live at the Migrant Operations Center,' she said. The Cubans sleep in dormitory-style lodgings and are allowed to move freely about the Navy base, holding jobs and attending school. They have no contact with the approximately 360 men detained in another section of Guantánamo on suspicion of terrorism or links to al Qaeda and the Taliban..

Protest planned of Cubans' treatment at Guantanamo

August 8, 2007

Miami Herald- Oscar Corral

Exile activists in Miami and family members of Cubans detained at the U.S. Navy base in Guantánamo Bay said Tuesday that 22 Cubans held at the base were continuing their hunger strike for the 10th day to protest what one former detainee calls 'cruel' treatment. Exile organizations are planning a protest in downtown Miami Wednesday to show support for the Cuban migrants, who complain that they are being treated as common prisoners, with surprise searches, head counts and limited capacity to move around the facility and make phone calls. Several more migrants are expected to join the strike. 'Those people are very cruel with the Cubans,' said Mariela Despaigne Agramonte, 39, who said she spent three months at the Guantánamo base last year and now lives in Connecticut. ``The Cubans in Guantánamo call me every day, desperate.' Exile activist Ramón Saúl Sánchez placed blame on The GEO Group, the private company that runs the Migrant Operations Center at Guantánamo under a U.S. government contract. GEO Group officials could not be reached for comment, but the company's website notes that the Cubans at the center are not ``incarcerated or detained.' 'They live in a relatively unrestricted environment, and have substantial freedom of movement in that they are permitted to sign themselves in and out of the facility to participate in activities on the leeward side of the base,' the company states. ``Some restrictions of movement are necessary due to security concerns.' `POLITICAL PRISONER' But Dionelo Reyes Morales, the father of detainee Duniel Reyes Betancourt, says his son feels like a political prisoner. Reyes Betancourt, 23, fled Cuba on a raft in May and was picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard, said Reyes Morales, 58. Reyes Morales said his son had a visa to come to the United States and had served time as a political prisoner in Cuba, accused of associating to commit delinquency. 'He is being treated like a political prisoner,' Reyes Morales said. ``He left Cuba because he didn't want to be treated that way any more. They search him whenever they want to. They don't let him communicate with his family sometimes.' Barbara Gonzalez, spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Miami, said that the housing for the detainees at Guantánamo is ``similar to college-style dormitories.' 'There are, however, rules that must be followed,' she said. ``Those held at the [facility] can move freely around and many go to work and school.' GRIEVANCE POLICY EXISTS Gonzalez said that head counts are standard practice and that grievance procedures to address a detainee's complaints exist to report misconduct. ICE is looking into allegations of mistreatment, which, Gonzalez said, the agency ``takes seriously.' She acknowledged there are at least 20 Cubans who are ``voluntarily fasting.' Sanchez, head of the Democracy Movement, said the last straw for the prisoners was when one of the guards allegedly touched a 4-year-old girl inappropriately in front of her parents. 'The parents were offended,' he said. ``They pat them all down whenever they want to, including the kids.' Gonzalez said her agency was checking to see if an official complaint had been filed in that case. Democracy Movement and at least one other exile group, Agenda Cuba, are planning to protest Wednesday at noon in front of the Claude Pepper Federal Building, 51 S.W. First Avenue. Under the wet-foot/dry-foot policy, Cubans caught at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard are usually returned to Cuba -- unless they can show a credible fear of persecution. Cubans who reach U.S. shores usually are allowed to stay. The Cubans at Guantánamo were not repatriated because U.S. authorities believe they made a credible case. It can take months, sometimes more than a year, for detainees to be sent to a third country to live -- or eventually to the United States. There are 44 Cubans, including three children, currently being held at the base. They are being held far from about 360 terrorism suspects sent to the base after 9/11, and do not cross paths.

Police return missing boxers to Cuba

August 5, 2007

Miami Herald- Jack Chang

NITEROI, Brazil — Two Cuban boxers who had abandoned their delegation to the Pan American Games last month were headed back to Cuba Saturday night, leaving behind a mystery whether they had intended to defect to Germany to become professional boxers or were drugged, kidnapped and held here against their will, a story they told police. Two-time Olympic gold medal winner Guillermo Rigondeaux, 25, and Erislandy Lara, 24, were arrested Thursday by Brazilian police as they were walking along a resort beach, police said. They departed a federal police station in Niteroi Saturday night accompanied by heavily armed police and what appeared to be Cuban consular officials. They were heading to Rio's international airport where they would board a charter flight home, said federal police investigator Felicio Laterca. "They're leaving tonight. They're going back to Cuba," he said. The two boxers refused to comment after being approached by a McClatchy Newspapers reporter Saturday outside the police station. Laterca said they said they were returning of their own free will because "they are beloved and famous in their country." The pair had not requested political asylum in Brazil, Laterca said. How and why the boxers deserted their delegation remains a mystery. The boxers told police two German citizens, including one of Cuban descent, had approached them July 20 in the Pan American Games' athletes village in Rio de Janeiro and given them a drugged energy drink. One of the Germans had entered the guarded village with an official press credential, Laterca said. The boxers said they were taken to an apartment in Rio's Copacabana neighborhood in a drugged state, which caused them to miss their scheduled matches the next day, Laterca said. Police believe the Germans were representatives of German boxing promoters Arena, which announced last month that the Cubans had signed five-year contracts with the company. Brazilian prosecutors are investigating the Germans, identified only as Michel and Alex, on the allegations of kidnapping the boxers and inducing them to emigrate, both federal offenses. Police investigators had stopped the two Germans at Rio's international airport Wednesday and questioned them before they boarded a flight back to Germany, Laterca said. The pair were not arrested for lack of evidence against them. In an interview with the Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo published Saturday, Arena representative Ahmet Oner said the company had not forced the boxers to defect. He also said the boxers had changed their mind about going to Germany for fear of their family's safety in Cuba. "They wanted to come," Oner said. "They signed the contract and we were already looking for housing for them." Laterca said the boxers had talked to their wives in Cuba before being found by police Thursday afternoon. In a written statement, Cuban leader Fidel Castro said the boxers had been "knocked down with a blow straight to the chin, paid up with U.S. bills." Jens Wagner, a spokesman for the German embassy in Brazil, said his country's government knew the boxing promoters had organized a deal for the two boxers including new careers for both in Germany. Wagner said he "had no information" about any attempted kidnapping or other criminal activity. The boxers had not filed a request for political asylum in Germany with the embassy. The boxers told police they were taken from the Copacabana apartment to a nearby hotel and then to a guesthouse in the neighboring city of Niteroi. The guesthouse's manager, who asked not to be identified, told McClatchy Newspapers the boxers showed up there July 26 with three other men. One spoke Spanish and another spoke what sounded like German, the manager said. They were accompanied by a translator. The boxers then went Monday to a second guesthouse in the beachside town of Araruama about a 90 minutes' drive up the coast of Rio de Janeiro state. The guesthouse's owners, Reynaldo Safortes and Luzia Campos, said the boxers showed up Monday afternoon with only a taxi driver and a translator. The boxers stayed mostly in their rooms but went for short walks, Safortes said. The translator told him they were Colombian athletes. A neighbor of the guesthouse, Paulo Quintanilha dos Santos, said one of the boxers had approached him Thursday around noon and asked him in what location they were. The boxer then asked dos Santos to take his cell phone and repeat the information to a woman on the other end of the line. "She wasn't Brazilian," dos Santos said. "She spoke Spanish and I assumed she was from where they came from." Police, acting on information from the Germans questioned at the airport, found the boxers a few hours later Thursday walking along a beach near the guesthouse, Laterca said. Police took them back to Niteroi. Two other Cuban members of the delegation have also defected. One, handball player Rafael Capote, has requested political asylum in Brazil, Laterca said..

Custody fight over girl a lot like Elián feud

August 2, 2007

Miami Herald- Fred Grimm

Ten days ago, Anna Mae finally went home. And as the painful, divisive seven-year dispute over custody of the little girl ended in Memphis, Tenn., echoes of her case seem to be resonating through a Miami courtroom. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeri Cohen faces the same underlying issues as she considers the future of a 4-year-old Cuban girl. Foster parents of Anna Mae He, who were seeking permanent custody of the child they had raised since she was 3 weeks old, had warned against the 'substantial harm' that would result in tearing this child from the family she had long bonded with, a family that could offer her the advantages of a middle-class suburban lifestyle. CRUEL REGIME They warned against condemning an American child to life under a cruel communist regime. Memphis was riven as the Chinese biological parents fought for custody through chancery court, into the state appeals court, to the Tennessee Supreme Court, and as petitions were filed in U.S. District and finally the U.S. Supreme Court. As the case pitted the rights of the child's biological parents against the perceived best interests of the child -- a perception beset by political and cultural assumptions -- folks in Memphis were reminded of an earlier Miami case. 'We cited Elián on several occasions,' said Davie Siegel, who represented Jack and Casey He. Siegel told the Tennessee courts that culture, politics, national origin and community fervor ultimately proved irrelevant in the Elián González case, once it was decided that his father was a fit parent. `NO-BRAINER' 'It's a no-brainer,' said Siegel. ``Under the doctrine of superior parental rights, in the battle between biological parents and non-relatives, the parents always win unless you can find unfitness or show that a minor child will suffer substantial harm.' Last week, Anna Mae finally moved eight miles, to the apartment of Casey and Jack He, whose immigration visa has long expired and may indeed face deportation. In Miami, the foster parents, who gained temporary custody of the 4-year-old after her Cuban immigrant mother was declared unfit, argue that their family has bonded with the girl while the father, in his brief visit from Cuba, has not. A psychologist testified that the child reacted angrily at the very idea of a reunion with her biological father. TEMPORARY CUSTODY In Memphis, the foster parents were granted temporary custody of the child when Jack and Casey He were in financial straits. Later, the foster parents used the police to keep the Hes away, then argued that they had abandoned their child. The Chinese family wasn'table to see their child again for another six years as the case dragged through the courts. By then, foster parents invoked a kind of Catch-22, arguing that the child no longer knew her biological parents and was terrified of a reunion. They argued that if the child was taken back to backward China, Anna Mae's life would be in danger. Ultimately, the Tennessee Supreme Court agreed with the friend-of-the-court brief filed by Christina Zawisza, who runs a child-advocacy legal clinic in Memphis, and who represented immigrant children in Miami in the 1990s. She argued, 'It's not the job of the court to find a better set of parents for a child' or to ``second-guess the parents unless the child would be in danger.' Maybe that's a no-brainer but it took seven years for the courts in Tennessee to figure it out. And it won't be easy in Miami.

More Cubans go through Mexico

August 2, 2007

Miami Herald- Alfonso Chardy

In the year since Fidel Castro 'temporarily' ceded power to his younger brother Raúl, Cuban migrants have continued to leave the island amid indications that departures may match or exceed the same period last year. And most are coming by way of Mexico. Already, the number of Cuban migrant arrivals this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, exceeds the total for all of fiscal year 2006 -- with a majority showing up at the Mexican border instead of the Florida Straits. Overall figures that include interdictions are lagging behind last fiscal year, though not by much. Cuban migrants, many of them smuggled by fast boat from Cuba to Cancún, Mexico, are arriving all along the border from San Diego, Calif., to Brownsville, Texas. But most of those migrants are crossing through the Texas cities of Brownsville, Laredo and McAllen, said Jennifer Connors, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman in Washington. `MAKING A DIFFERENCE' Homeland Security officials and Cuban affairs experts attributed the change to intensified Coast Guard interdiction in the Florida Straits. U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Luis Díaz and Zachary Mann, U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman, said combined operations are having an impact. 'We are making a difference,' said Diaz. Mann said his agency's two new helicopters will undergo at least three months of tests, which may include participation in interdiction operations with the Coast Guard. The helicopters are in addition to 'numerous other assets' including a recently deployed Dash-8 maritime surveillance aircraft whose radar can track up to 99 'targets' simultaneously, Mann said. Officials did not discount that at this pace the overall number of Cubans leaving their homeland may equal or surpass the total for fiscal year 2006. Cuban migrant interdictions have been rising steadily with 745 people stopped in May and June compared to 273 in March and April. `NOT EXPLODING' 'The numbers are rising, but not exploding,' said Connors. In other words, she said, there are no signs of a mass exodus. Customs and Border Protection last week said newly released figures showed that more than 80 percent of Cuban migrants in fiscal year 2006 came through the Mexican border. But the percentage was based on incomplete figures. Officials said Wednesday that the statistics released last week reflected arrivals of Cuban migrants at ports of entry -- but did not include arrivals along South Florida beaches. When those arrivals are added, the percentage of Cubans entering through the Mexican border for 2006 was 64.4 percent and currently 69.1 percent for 2007..

Cubans wage their own Gitmo hunger strike

August 1, 2007

Miami Herald- Ben Fox

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Nearly two dozen Cuban migrants detained at the U.S. Navy base in Guantánamo Bay have begun a hunger strike to protest their confinement, an exile group said Tuesday. The 22 people who began their protest on Sunday are among 44 Cubans, including three children, who were intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard at sea but not repatriated because authorities deemed they had a credible fear of persecution, said Ramon Saul Sanchez, president of the Miami-based Democracy Movement. He said some have been at the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba for more than two years. State Department officials are seeking to settle the Cubans in other countries besides the United States, but Sanchez said they should be released immediately to live with relatives in the United States. 'All of these people are dissidents,' he said. ``They were actively involved in the democracy movement in Cuba.' The 22 Cuban men on the hunger strike have taken nothing but water since Sunday morning, Sanchez said. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez said the agency rejected the Democracy Movement's claims that migrants detained at the U.S. base were mistreated. She said there were 17 migrants -- not 22 -- on a hunger strike since Sunday and that Navy medical staff were closely monitoring their health. The Cuban migrants are not held in the same place on the base or under the same conditions as the 360 or so men detained on suspicion of terrorism or links to al Qaeda or the Taliban -- and their protest is not connected to the long-running hunger strike among the detainees held by the U.S. military. Spokesmen at the remote Navy base refused to comment. Cuban migrants who reach U.S. soil are as a ruleallowed to remain in the United States, while those intercepted at sea are sent home unless they can demonstrate a credible fear of persecution. The American base is not considered U.S. territory. The United States adopted the so-called wet-foot dry-foot policy after tens of thousands of people fled Cuba by boat in a chaotic mass exodus in the 1990s..
July 2007

Cuban dad forced to leave family at border

July 25, 2007

Miami Herald- Alfonso Chardy

Abel Gómez showed up one day last month at a U.S.-Mexico border crossing in Texas certain that immigration authorities would let him in, along with his wife and two children. As a Cuban refugee, Gómez, 30, was indeed paroled into the United States under the wet foot/dry foot policy. But his Venezuelan wife Ocdalis, 22, and their Venezuela-born children -- 2-year-old Abel and 6-year-old Winnelis -- were immediately put in deportation proceedings in Texas. Gomez is among the rising number of Cubans arriving via the Mexican border -- 84 percent of all Cuban migrants came through Mexico, according to figures released Tuesday by Customs and Border Protection. Those numbers have been increasing year by year as a result of intensified Coast Guard interdictions in the Florida Straits. In fiscal year 2005, 8,994 Cuban migrants arrived in the United States -- but the majority, 7,267, came in through the Mexican border. In fiscal year 2006, arrivals reached 10,329, with 8,639 showing up at the border. The Gómez case illustrates the increasingly frequent detention of foreign families under tightened immigration rules post-9/11. Prior to the terrorist attacks in 2001, undocumented families were generally released pending resolution of their cases. But now they are detained to await a ruling by an immigration judge. On any given day, the government has the capacity to detain more than 600 men, women and children picked up along the border and in major cities, according to a February report on family detention issued by the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. `DEEPLY DISAPPOINTED' 'I am saddened and deeply disappointed that immigration officials did not allow my wife and children to be free with me,' said Gómez, now in Miami. ``I feel anguished about them all the time. I don't know what's going to happen.' His Coral Gables immigration attorney, Eduardo Soto, has drafted a letter to Homeland Security asking that Gómez's wife and children be put on supervised release pending resolution of the deportation case. Gómez's case opens a window to the growing number of mixed Cuban-Venezuelan families fleeing to the United States from Venezuela where President Hugo Chávez, an ally of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, is steering the South American country down a socialist path. It would have been difficult for Gómez and his family to qualify for U.S. immigrant visas because they don't have a business or close relatives in the United States who could sponsor them. Even if they qualified, the processing of regular immigrant visas in Venezuela could take years. Gómez said he considered the possibility of traveling alone to the United States and then applying to bring his family. But that also could have taken years and he was fearful that a crisis in U.S.-Venezuelan relations would cut off travel. 'I didn't want children to grow up under a regime whose president has said will navigate in the same waters as Cuba,' Gómez said. The Gómez family's departure from Venezuela was filled with ironic parallels. Gómez's family left Cuba for Venezuela largely to escape Castro's communism. Gómez was 6 when his parents moved to Venezuela. He settled near Barcelona in eastern Venezuela, where he drove a vehicle transporting personnel and goods for a local business. His wife cooked and sold food. Though Gómez became a naturalized Venezuelan, he kept his original Cuban birth certificate and had a Cuban passport on arrival at the U.S. border. Under U.S. law, Cubans and immediate family members -- even if they are not Cuban -- generally qualify for permanent residence under the Cuban Adjustment Act. But the law only applies if the entire family has been paroled or admitted into the country. Ocdalis and the children are considered stopped at the border awaiting admission. LONG JOURNEY The Gómez family began planning their journey north about a year ago. They boarded a plane to Mexico City on June 9. Two days later, they caught a plane to the border and once there took a cab to the international bridge between Reynosa, Mexico, and McAllen, Texas. 'I told the immigration officer that I was seeking asylum for my family and myself and that I was a Cuban,' Gómez said. Gómez was shocked when officers said his wife and children would not be allowed in. Hours later, Ocdalis and the children were transported to the T. Don Hutto Residential Center near Austin, one of two Homeland Security detention facilities for undocumented migrant families..

Cuban Migrants Confront Harsher U.S. Tactics at Sea

July 23, 2007

Miami Herald- Robert Block

KEY WEST, Fla. -- Agustin Uralde could barely hear his wife above the roar of the smuggler's speedboat last summer as it tried to outrun two U.S. Coast Guard vessels and a helicopter, bearing down with sirens wailing. Huddled around the couple were 27 other wet and frightened Cubans. "She said, 'Pray for me, my love, because I am praying for you,'" Mr. Uralde recalls. Moments later, a Coast Guard gunner shot two copper slugs into one of the boat's engines, forcing it into a hard left turn before it groaned to a stop. Mr. Uralde says the abrupt motion threw his wife headfirst into the side of the boat. By the time the Coast Guard had brought her ashore for treatment two hours later, following a long debate over whether she was really badly hurt, Anay Machado Gonzalez, 24 years old, was dead. She was the third Cuban migrant in just over a year to die of traumatic head injuries after a high-speed ocean chase. The Journal's Robert Block narrates footage of the tragic story of a woman who became victim to the vagaries of U.S.-Cuba policy. For nearly 13 years, Coast Guard and Border Protection agents have been chasing human smugglers around Florida. In 1994, President Clinton changed U.S. policy to allow only Cubans who physically made it to U.S. soil to stay in the country, while those caught at sea were returned to their Communist island. Before that the Coast Guard simply plucked Cuban migrants off homemade rafts and brought them to Miami as refugees. Now amid a heated national debate over illegal immigration, and growing concerns about terrorism and border security, federal agents are adopting ever-harsher interdiction methods at sea, colliding -- sometimes tragically -- with the vagaries of U.S.-Cuba policy. While the law offers permanent escape to Cubans who make it here, current terrorism policies compel agents to stop migrants almost any way they can. High-speed boat chases at speeds over 45 miles an hour in rough seas are commonplace. Many chases now end with federal agents firing live ammunition -- a technique developed for drug traffickers -- at boats filled with migrants. Since March 2003, half of the estimated 50 cases of customs agents shooting out engines of fleeing boats took place in the bustling sea lanes off Florida and involved illegal-alien smuggling from Cuba, according to U.S. government figures. The rest involved mostly drug traffickers. A recent Coast Guard report shows that four of eight deaths and all of the 13 injuries to Cubans who tried to enter Florida illegally in 2005 and 2006 involved high-speed chases with Coast Guard or Customs and Border Protection vessels. In some cases, enforcement agents were also hurt. Homeland Security officials and the Coast Guard say they're enforcing the law and accept no responsibility for the casualties. The U.S. Attorney's office in South Florida blames the human traffickers, who it says dangerously overload their boats. All deaths are added to charges filed against the smugglers. In the case of Ms. Machado, two Cubans living legally in Florida who were accused of driving the boat pled guilty to accidentally killing her when they failed to heed Coast Guard orders to stop. A third was acquitted of any role in Ms. Machado's death but convicted of being part of the smuggling conspiracy. All three were sentenced to 12 years in prison. 'It's Madness' Mr. Uralde, Ms. Machado's widower, puts equal blame on America's Cuba policy and the methods employed by the Coast Guard. "It's madness," says Mr. Uralde, who is now living legally in the U.S. The "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy has its roots in the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, the legislation underpinning Cubans' right to remain in the U.S. after defecting. Cuba had long complained about the act, and in 1994 President Fidel Castro opened his island to mass emigration. Some 33,000 took to rafts and headed to Florida, leading to howls of outrage from U.S. politicians. So in exchange for Cuba closing its beaches to rafters, and to placate U.S. politicians who didn't want to change the 1966 act, but at the same time opposed Castro's use of mass emigration, "wet-foot, dry-foot" was born. Cuban-Americans are divided over the issue. Some support the right of all Cubans who gain freedom to stay, while others feel the policy is reckless. Many Coast Guardsmen and Homeland Security agents say they want "wet-foot, dry-foot" abolished, but there's no movement in Washington to change it. U.S.-Cuban policy is a sensitive subject governed by strong emotions and Cold War sensibilities. Instead the government is focused on expanding the tactics used in Florida's waters as it exerts more control over the Southwest border with Mexico. "The Coast Guard is building plans to deal with the possibility that we will see more movement around the coast as we seal the border more," says Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. Shooting at a boat's engines is just one option. Other tactics include dropping cables to entangle boat propellers and ramming a boat off course, a technique called "shouldering." They all became standard operating procedure in 2003, when the Coast Guard and Customs became part of the newly created Department of Homeland Security. There's no evidence the harsher methods result in greater success: According to U.S. government figures, more than half the Cubans who attempt to sneak into the U.S. make it, with 3,076 Cubans arriving in Florida in fiscal year 2006, compared with 2,530 who reached the state during the same period in 2005. Nonetheless, there are moves to grant federal border protection agencies the same aggressive powers on land that they have at sea. Congress last year extended authority to land agents to shoot at fleeing vehicles. The Department of Homeland Security is studying how to adapt the Coast Guard's interdiction techniques to roads and highways. In most cases, sirens, loud hailers and the occasional shot across the front of a boat are sufficient to make vessels stop. Not in Florida, where the promise of safety to all Cubans who land successfully has given rise to a multimillion-dollar-a-year smuggling industry. Smugglers charge passengers as much as $10,000 a head to board $350,000 speedboats mounted with as many as four engines that can reach speeds of 65 miles a hour. Mr. Uralde and his wife's ill-fated journey was pieced together from Coast Guard videos and radio transmissions of the July 8, 2006, chase, as well as court documents and interviews with U.S. agents, Mr. Uralde, and several migrants who were on the boat with Mr. Uralde and his wife. Working at his dad's Havana cafe, Mr. Uralde met his future wife through mutual friends seven years ago. She was a waitress, and the pair hit it off immediately. They shared the same taste in music and their love of the beach. They married in 2002. But in 2005, Cuban tax authorities accused Mr. Uralde's father of tax evasion and shuttered the cafe. Later that year, Mr. Uralde's father boarded a smuggling boat for Miami. Mr. Uralde says bills piled up, and the government punished the family for the father's defection. In the meantime, letters from Mr. Uralde's father arrived boasting about Miami life. The couple began discussing leaving the island, too. Mr. Uralde says his wife didn't want to leave her mother, but later relented. Like most immigrants who hire smugglers, Mr. Uralde won't describe how the trip was arranged. Cuban smuggling chains usually start in the U.S., with family members in Miami finding smugglers through word of mouth at Cuban coffee shops. Smugglers depart South Florida, pick up passengers at Cuban beaches, and deposit them in remote areas of the Florida Keys or south Miami-Dade County. Late on July 7, 2006, Mr. Uralde says he got a phone call with instructions to go to a "party" at a beach an hour's drive east of Havana. Just after 3 a.m., a boat with three powerful Mercury engines drifted into shore. According to a federal indictment, the drivers had a global-positioning system with exact coordinates of the landing site. "When the boat came," Mr. Uralde recalls, "Anay took my hand and said, 'Love, this is really happening. We are really going to America. We are going to make it.'" The drivers told the group the trip should take about three hours. Everyone knew the drill: Get to land, call your families and then call the U.S. Border Patrol. The Border Patrol would pick up the group, process them, and then release them to their families within a few days. Under the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, everyone would be able to apply for permanent residency a year and a day later. What the group didn't know was that it was being monitored by Cuba's border guard, which followed the boat out of Cuban waters and sent a fax alerting the Coast Guard at 3:54 a.m. Cuban authorities usually leave interdiction to the U.S., in part because they lack the capabilities to chase the fast boats. 'Up to No Good' Coast Guard Petty Officer James Holmes was skippering the USCG 331255 patrol boat that morning when he got the message. Cranking up his engines, Mr. Holmes plotted an intercept course. About an hour later, he came across what looked like the boat, running without lights in the dark. That's usually a sign "it was up to no good," he later told a court in Key West. Mr. Holmes says he pulled up to within 25 yards of the boat, threw on his blue flashing lights, cranked up the sirens and began shouting over loudspeakers in Spanish for the boat to stop and prepare to be boarded. The smugglers took off. The boat "became an airplane," Mr. Holmes said, jumping 5 feet out of the water. Mr. Holmes told the court he thought someone was going to get tossed out. The migrants, he said, had no life vests. "They were holding on to each other, grabbing whatever they could," he said. Inside the boat, the drivers shouted at their passengers to stay down. Juliet Escandon Hernandez, a passenger on the boat and common-law wife of one of the accused smugglers, told reporters during the trial that even though the migrants were scared, "We told them not to stop, to keep going, because freedom was right in front of us." Ms. Escandon and her husband insist they were passengers, not crew. According to Coast Guard radio transmissions at the height of the chase, Mr. Holmes told his sector commander in Key West that the driver of the speedboat had tried to ram him six times. At the trial, he described the incident less dramatically, testifying that the smuggler's boat veered toward him a few times as he maneuvered to force the smuggler off course. The reports prompted Key West to authorize more-aggressive action. A smaller Coast Guard patrol boat, the USCG 232515, was sent to join the fray, and a Coast Guard helicopter was dispatched to film the chase for training and legal purposes. The chase had lasted nearly an hour, and the boats were now just miles from Key West. According to court testimony, Petty Officer Perry Lanning, the Coast Guard gunner, took out a shotgun and assumed a position on the bow of his boat. To successfully knock out an engine, Mr. Lanning, who was trained specifically to take out a boat from another boat, had to hit it dead center. If he failed, the copper slug could ricochet into the boat or the engine could fragment, sending shrapnel towards the boat's occupants. Because of the dangers, disabling fire is generally the last step in the Coast Guard's arsenal. Mr. Uralde says that when the migrants saw the Coast Guard officer with the gun pointing at them, they began to yell: "Don't shoot. There are women here, pregnant women. There are children here." One of the passengers tried to crawl on top of the outboard motors; he later told agents he was trying to buy some time. But the boat, bouncing along the Caribbean, was going too fast, and in the video the passenger can be seen falling back into the hull. With the target clear, Mr. Lanning testified, he aimed a laser sight at the middle of the starboard engine and fired twice. He was about to fire again when the boat turned hard left and then stopped. Mr. Uralde says it was then when his wife flew out of his arms. She slammed into the side of the boat and her head hit its top edge. "It was a split second," Mr. Uralde says. Holding her limp body, he says he screamed for help. According to the Coast Guard's video, it was 6:29 a.m. Minutes later, three Coast Guard officers boarded the speedboat to arrest the drivers. Petty Officer Mona Benefiel, a member of the boarding party, was trying to move people when one of the migrants tugged at her shirt. "I turned over to look at him and he was pointing something out to me," she told the court. Ms. Machado was unconscious, bleeding from her ears and nose, breathing fast and shallow. "I knew that this wasn't good," Ms. Benefiel said. Ms. Benefiel had been an Army medic before joining the Coast Guard. After examining the unconscious woman, she told Mr. Holmes they had a medical emergency. "I also told him that she needed to be evacuated, ASAP," she said. Mr. Holmes radioed the Coast Guard's sector command headquarters in Key West. A drawn-out debate ensued over whether Ms. Machado was injured by the disabling fire and if she was really hurt badly enough to require being brought ashore. Because bringing her ashore would entitle her to claim asylum, the first question raised was whether Ms. Machado was faking her injuries. "Just make sure these are not acting cases," a voice on the radio from sector command told Mr. Holmes. Over the next 30 minutes, there were at least seven more requests for corroboration of the extent of Ms. Machado's injuries. At 7:33 a.m., an hour after the officers first boarded the boat, Lt. Daniel Henkes, a physician's assistant with the U.S. Public Health Service, arrived with a special lifter that could be hoisted into the helicopter. He testified that Ms. Machado had severe head injuries and needed "immediate" medical treatment onshore. He requested help from the helicopter still in the air filming. Coast Guard command in Key West refused, he said, because the helicopter was on law-enforcement mission status and would not be switched to search-and-rescue status. In response to questions, Coast Guard officials originally said they didn't have the correct lifter for the helicopter. Later they said they opted to send her by boat because no one was qualified to deal with her injuries on the chopper. Choppy Waters Lt. Henkes stabilized Ms. Machado, put her on oxygen to help limit brain swelling, and transferred her from the speedboat to the smaller Coast Guard patrol boat. He told the driver to head slowly but steadily to Key West, where an ambulance was waiting. The boat bounced in the choppy waters and her condition worsened en route. According to Coast Guard records, Ms. Machado reached shore at 8:33 a.m. and was pronounced dead on the spot. A coroner's report later said Ms. Machado had bruises all over her body consistent with someone who had been bouncing around a boat going at excessive speed. The cause of her death was listed as "blunt force head trauma." Capt. P.J. Heyl, then the Key West Sector commander, told a news conference later that day that Ms. Machado died because the smugglers had refused to stop. "Medical help would have come a lot sooner if they hadn't ignored our orders." A Coast Guard spokesman, Capt. James A. Watson IV, told the conference that while the death was regrettable, the disabling-fire process was not to blame. "It worked perfectly," he told reporters. Mr. Uralde and the other passengers were transferred to a Coast Guard cutter ship, which had arrived to process and interview the group before taking them back to Cuba. Mr. Uralde says he assumed that his wife was getting the treatment she needed, and took comfort in the fact that at least she would be able to stay in the U.S. Hours later, a Coast Guard officer informed him that she was dead on arrival. Two days later, the three men arrested for driving the boat were indicted and charged with having killed Ms. Machado without malice. The court ordered everyone who was on the boat with Ms. Machado to be brought ashore as potential material witnesses. Her death allowed the others to reach U.S. shores. Now living with his relatives south of Miami, Mr. Uralde wishes he never came. "Happy to make it to land? I'd rather be dead," he says. "The price was too high to pay. She did not need to die." .

Two Cuban boxers leave delegation, skip fights

July 23, 2007

Miami Herald- AP

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- Cuba's two-time Olympic boxing champion Guillermo Rigondeaux and a teammate left the athletes village did not show up for their scheduled fights at the Pan American Games on Sunday. Rigondeaux failed to make the weigh-in for his quarterfinal bout against Mexico's Carlos Cuadras in the bantamweight division, while Erislandy Lara didn't appear for his fight against Jamaica's Ricardo Smith in the welterweight division. 'They left the village and haven't returned,' said Pedro Roque, coach and chief of Cuba's boxing delegation, stressing that it was all he knew. He learned about the boxer's absence Sunday morning, but would not comment on whether they had deserted. 'Everything is possible in life,' he said. Bienvenido Solano of the Dominican Republic, a technical director for the boxing competitions, earlier said the boxers ``didn't show up for the weigh-in, we don't know why.' Both fighters were disqualified and their opponents advanced to the semifinals. Rigondeaux holds the dual titles of Olympic and world champion in the bantamweight class. He also won the Olympic gold in 2000. Rigondeaux became Cuba's top competitive boxer with the retirement of Mario Kindelan in 2004, and was looking for his third Pan Ams title. Last year, Cuban Olympic boxing champions Yan Barthelemy, Yuriolski Gamboa and Odlanier Solis deserted during a trip to practice in Venezuela. They fled to Colombia and then signed contracts with German promoters in Miami. The three won Olympic golds in Athens and were favored to repeat their titles in Beijing next year.

4-year-old Cuban girl caught between two dads

July 19, 2007

Miami Herald- Carol Marbin Miller

The closed-door custody battle over the 4-year-old Cuban girl who ended up in foster care after her mother attempted suicide went on public display Wednesday, baring finger-pointing, raised voices and raw emotion. Crushed into a courtroom in Miami's dingy juvenile courthouse were about a dozen lawyers, four psychologists, social workers, guardians, an interpreter and a judge. They met in public after an appeals court ordered the hearings, which had been held secretly for more than a year, to be opened. At stake is the fate of a 4-year-old girl who confided to a caseworker that she has two fathers, ``one resting on each shoulder.' The case also is freighted with a half-century's geopolitical conflict. On one side is a Cuban father, hoping to raise his daughter, even in a communist country. On the other is a proud exile community seeking to shield her from the tyranny they fled. 'Everybody is attacking everybody,' Circuit Judge Jeri B. Cohen, who is presiding over the unusual case, said at the hearing Wednesday. ``I can't control all of you.' The youngster, whom The Miami Herald is not identifying to protect her privacy, entered the United States legally in March 2005 when her mother won a visa lottery. By the end of that year, however, she had been sheltered by the Department of Children & Families, which had asked Cohen to declare the girl's mother unfit. The girl now lives with a Cuban exile family that is seeking to adopt her. Her birth father, a fisherman and office worker from Guayos, traveled to Miami six weeks ago to press his case. He attended the hearing Wednesday in a crisply pressed crimson dress shirt and slacks, his dark hair cropped short. His lawyer, Ira Kurzban, a prominent immigration attorney, says he thinks the girl's father is being treated unfairly. Kurzban said the custody dispute is 'extraordinarily one-sided' and hinges largely on the child welfare agency's claims in an updated petition that the girl might be 'endangered' by any reunification with her father. 'No one has ever accused my client of abusing his child. No one has ever accused my client of being involved with drugs. No one has ever accused my client of in any way harming his child,' Kurzban said. ``But he's being treated in this process as if all those things were true.' 'My client has done nothing wrong,' Kurzban added. ``He has done what any parent would do: try to get his child back.' Cohen agreed that DCF's petition to declare the father unfit was 'light' on evidence that he was a poor father. 'You know it, and I know it,' she added, looking squarely at the state's attorneys. DCF is offering the father a chance to win custody of his daughter by completing a set of tasks, such as the visitations, although an agency attorney, Rebecca Kapotsa, said DCF ultimately would like to see the foster family win permanent custody through a guardianship. Said Alan Mishael, the foster family's attorney: ``What is going on with even limited visitation is injurious to the child.' Since he arrived, the father has been allowed only videotaped, supervised visits with the girl in two- or three-hour intervals. During a recent visit, a courtappointed psychologist strongly urged the birth father to tell the girl that the nice people she is living with are not her real family and that he is her real dad. The father showed the little girl pictures of her as a baby in Cuba and pointed out the family resemblance and shared surname, said Julio Vigil, the psychologist. 'She had a very strong emotional reaction to that,' Vigil said. ``She cried and yelled at him, and said she had one father and she loved that father.' Another therapist who is treating the girl, Miguel Firpi, described the girl's father as emotionally detached and warned that, after 17 visits, he has failed to bond or forge an attachment to the little girl. 'The father is not very expressive,' Firpi said. ``There seems to be no bond.' And, Firpi added, it should not be the job of a 4-year-old to establish a relationship with her father. 'I believe this is a great burden for this child,' he said. ``She has expressed it already.' A court-appointed therapist for the father called the visitation plan 'a setup for failure' because the visits aren't long enough or often enough. 'I think the people here are against my patient,' said psychologist Andrew Lagomasino. ``They use [the visitation schedule] as an attempt to prove my patient is not a fit parent.' Cohen agreed it would be difficult for the father to win over the girl in such short visits. She ordered that he be allowed an unsupervised, daylong visit with his daughter next week at the home where he's staying, where they could swim together in a pool. 'Oftentimes,' she said, ``you just have to take a leap of faith.' The hearings -- it's unclear how many have been held because all child welfare records are confidential -- had been closed to the public until Wednesday, and Cohen has ordered that all courtroom participants be gagged from discussing the case. She has even threatened to jail lawyers who violated the gag order. At the start of Wednesday's hearing, Cohen said she would abide by the appeals court's ruling, which came at the request of The Miami Herald, but she defended her decision to preside over the case privately. Revelations about the dispute, she said, ``are the kind of thing that can wreak havoc for the children.' Balancing the public's right to know what goes on at the courthouse against the vulnerability of a small child was just one of the case's challenges, Cohen said. 'I am trying to do what is in the best interests of the child without emotionally damaging her,' the judge said..

U.S.-Cuba visa flap swells tensions

July 18, 2007

Miami Herald- Pablo Bachelet and Frances Robles

WASHINGTON -- The United States will not meet its commitment to provide at least 20,000 visas for Cubans to migrate from the island this year because the Cuban government has placed 'unreasonable constraints' on its diplomatic mission there, the State Department said Tuesday. The surprise admission that Washington would for the first time in nearly a decade fail to meet a key obligation under a 1994 migration accord with Havana came after the Cuban foreign ministry accused the Bush administration of withholding immigration visas in an attempt to destabilize the island. The accusation touches a raw nerve as both sides have often traded allegations that the other uses migration for political ends. The matter has taken renewed importance now, a year after a sick Fidel Castro handed power to his brother Raúl -- setting the stage for the first leadership transition in nearly a half-century. 'People who had their exit interviews at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana a month after me are still waiting in Cuba, and I've been here almost a year,' said Lizette Fernández, a former Cuban dissident who now lives in Hialeah. 'When you call Cuba and ask, `How's so-and-so?' people say, `Ay, chica, he's still waiting for his visa.' ``Not everybody throws themselves to the sea. People want to go legally.' The United States has only awarded 10,724 visas in the nine-month period ending June 30, just 54 percent of the 20,000 annual quota of visas agreed to in the 1994 migration agreement, according to the Cuban statement published in Tuesday's edition of the Communist Party newspaper Granma. A U.S. failure to meet its quota would be a 'grave and unjustifiable' violation of the agreements, the statement added. The visa flap appears to be the latest volley in a diplomatic exchange that began last year when the U.S. Interests Section in Havana put up an electronic billboard on the side of the building broadcasting human rights messages. The sign infuriated Havana, which quickly built a plaza of black flags to block the sign and later temporarily cut the building's water and power. Now, the U.S. government said the Cubans are putting up obstacles that thwart the visa process. The Cuban government has denied visas for U.S. State Department employees to work in Cuba and has impeded the hiring of locals to fill 47 job vacancies, the U.S. Interests Section said in a statement. The government has also blocked the State Department from importing materials and supplies to improve visa facilities. `FULLY COMMITTED' 'Despite the actions of the Government of Cuba, the U.S. government remains fully committed to the Migration Accords' goal of safe, legal, and orderly migration,' the statement said. ``Unfortunately, the Cuban Government has thwarted our efforts to treat Cuban refugees in a respectful manner due to the numerous constraints placed on the U.S. Interests Section.' In the past, U.S. officials have complained that Havana was not giving all visa recipients -- particularly doctors -- exit permits to go to the United States. The migration accords were designed to discourage illegal crossings of the Florida Straits by providing a safe way for Cubans to leave, but Cuba now suggests the Bush administration is slowing the process, presumably to create more tension on the island. FOCUS ON BUSH The Cuba statement asks whether President Bush's desire for change on the island was behind the delay in granting visas, ``even though this provokes a situation of instability that would almost surely also affect the United States.' A U.S. failure to meet its visa quota would be a 'gift' to placate opponents of the migration accords, which the statement identified as ``the Cuban mafia and its representatives in the U.S. Congress.' Fearing a political or economic meltdown in Cuba triggered by the transition, the U.S. government has been preparing for a potential wave of illegal migrants from Cuba, with the Coast Guard leading interagency exercises to intercept Cubans at sea and prevent Cuban Americans from picking up rafters. The Department of Defense is also expanding its installations in the Guantánamo Naval base in Cuba to receive thousands of additional refugees. 'The immigration issue has been a conflict zone ever since Jimmy Carter left office,' said Manuel Vazquez Portal, a former Cuban independent journalist. ``When it isn't the United States putting up obstacles, it's Cuba.'.

U.S.: Havana 'roadblocks' behind visa holdup

July 18, 2007

Miami Herald- Pablo Bachelet

WASHINGTON -- The State Department on Wednesday released new details of how it claims Cuba has been preventing the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana from meeting a requirement that Washington issue 20,000 visas to Cubans each year. Cuba on Tuesday accused the Bush administration of deliberately handing out fewer visas to cause instability on the island. It said the State Department had issued fewer than 11,000 visas in the nine months ending June 30, well short of the 20,000 quota agreed in a bilateral 1994 migration accord. Cuban authorities have retained 28 shipping containers with supplies for the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana for a year, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, and denied visas to U.S. personnel who need to go to Havana to maintain technical systems. U.S. personnel who need to go to the mission to carry out electrical repairs also have been waiting for visas for over a year, another State Department official said. Cuba also has refused to allow the mission to replace local staff members who have have left or retired. In a separate statement, the U.S. Interests Section said it needed to hire 47 staff members. 'Of course we want to meet our obligations under this accord, but, frankly, we've been prevented from meeting those obligations by the multiple roadblocks that I've listed here,' McCormack said..
June 2007

Boat with 22 Cuban migrants lands in Honduras

June 12, 2007

Miami Herald- AP

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- (AP) -- A boat packed with 22 Cuban migrants washed ashore in Honduras, officials said Friday. The group, 19 men and three women, arrived last Saturday at the Honduran island of Guanaja, 250 miles north of Tegucigalpa, after leaving Cuba on May 13 from the southern city of Mula, police spokesman Elias Chavez said. They remained free as Honduran officials processed their immigration papers. Immigration director German Espinal said the Cubans paid smugglers $22,000 to $55,000 each to be taken to Miami. Some 80 Cubans have arrived in Honduras this year, and about 600 have been documented in the past two years, Espinal said. 'That's a conservative number because there are many cases that authorities don't know about,' he said. Most Cuban immigrants are granted temporary residency of 15 to 30 days, which can be extended for a longer period. However, most immediately leave for the United States. Cuba and Honduras reinstated diplomatic relations in January 2001, nearly four decades after breaking formal ties..
May 2007

Reunions make Cubans' trip worth it

May 22, 2007

Miami Herald- Erika Beras

Abdiel Ramos tried to leave Cuba for the United States six times in the past six months. On Monday, the 24-year-old from Havana finally succeeded. He was among the 26 Cuban migrants who walked up to the tollbooth at the western end of the Rickenbacker Causeway around 1:30 a.m. 'That trip was terrible,' Ramos said. ``But I feel really good right now.' The group of 10 men, 10 women and six children was the latest in a wave of Cuban migrants -- 663 this year -- who have come ashore in South Florida. The total for 2006 was 1,426. This was also the third time in three weeks that Cuban migrants landed near the Rickenbacker Causeway. After being released later by the U.S. Border Patrol, Ramos said conditions in Cuba made him keep trying. 'Everyone knows things are bad since Fidel [Castro] got sick,' he said. ``There is no food and people are being carted off to prison.' Ramos had plans to stay with relatives in Kendall for a while, then move to Tampa and work with some friends. Ramos also plans to bring his mother to the States one day. 'Not on a boat, though -- nobody should have to live through that,' he said. Waiting to welcome him was his aunt, Acelia Rodriguez. 'I haven't seen him in four years. I've missed him so much,' she said as she paced anxiously in a Doral parking lot where most of the migrants were brought after their release. 14-HOUR DRIVE Also in the parking lot was Adolfo Gonzalez, 37, who has been in the United States for five years. He said he got a call Thursday from his sister in Havana. She told him their mother was on her way. Gonzalez, who lives in Louisiana, jumped into his Dodge Caravan and drove the 14 hours to Miami to reunite with his mother, Nilda Sanchez. 'It's been five years since I've seen her,' he said. ``It's a disaster over there. When they call, all they say is that every day it gets worse.' Their reunion was quiet yet moving. After several days at sea, Sanchez was looking forward to a shower and a meal. Ernesto Cuesta, assistant director of Cuban/Haitians Program of Refugee Services at the United Conference of Catholic Bishops, said such reunions are often emotional. 'You see the desperation in people's faces and you see anxiety and fear, but you also see happiness,' he said. ``There is also some powerlessness. You see in their faces, they've left their homeland.' Frank Figueroa, program administrator at Church World Service, another refugee relief agency, agreed. 'Even though I see it every day, it is still emotional,' he said. ``These people cross the ocean to be here. And a lot of time, they're scared. They're coming from a regime. They're not trained to talk.' NOT THIS TIME Some of the people in the parking lot left without loved ones. Miriam Delgado came with a group of friends after her uncle called to tell her he had seen her son among the migrants on the morning news. Excited, she spent the day driving from agency to agency searching for her 22-year-old son. It turned out he hadn't been on the boat. 'The next one,' she said as she walked toward her car. ``Maybe he'll be on the next one.'.

Rules get tougher on travel by Cubans

May 3, 2007

Miami Herald- Wilfredo Cancio Isla

A new Cuban government regulation that took effect Wednesday will make it more difficult for some Cubans abroad to invite relatives and friends on the island to visit them. Resolution 87/2007, issued by the Foreign Ministry, requires such invitations to be submitted through Cuban consulates abroad, notarized and in accordance with the laws of the country where they are requested. But the consulates will 'have the authority to reject the invitation when there are elements that recommend that,' added the resolution, published in the official gazette. Many Cubans have long used such invitations as a way of obtaining Cuban government permission to leave the island and remain abroad. Before the new regulation, the invitations could be certified in Cuba at the International Legal Consultancy, a quasi-government agency with branches in Havana and other parts of Cuba. That option could speed up the process and make it cheaper, but was open to corruption. The regulation will affect Cuban Americans who used the Consultancy to certify their invitations, but not those who use U.S.-based travel agencies to handle their invitations. Those agencies already process their invitations through the Cuban consulate in Washington, agency officials said. 'I believe this measure was conceived to rationalize and guarantee the consular work on a process that was totally out of control,' said Armando García, president of the Marazul travel agency in Miami..
March 2007

Cuban migrants end trip at toll booth

March 6, 2007

Miami Herald- Erika Beras

Soaked and disoriented, two groups of Cuban migrants walked up to the Rickenbacker Causeway toll booth Monday morning, where they got coffee and blankets from strangers and waited for the Border Patrol. But another group of migrants wasn't so lucky -- 48 Cubans the Coast Guard caught at sea recently were sent back to Bahía de Cabañas, Cuba, on Saturday. And the fate of two Cuban doctors believed to be among boatloads that the Coast Guard intercepted the past few days remains an open question. The doctors might be among another group sent to the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where they will have to make their case to U.S. officials that they should be allowed into the United States or repatriated to a third country. Coast Guard officials would not say how many were in the group sent to Guantánamo. Coral Gables immigration attorney Mario S. Cano said Monday that among those detained on a Coast Guard cutter last week were Sunilda Herrera-Casas and Misleidy Rodriguez-Machado, both doctors. Cano said Herrera-Casas and Rodriguez-Machado had U.S. visas, and they were detained trying to reach Florida on separate boats. Under the 'wet-foot/dry-foot' policy Cubans who reach U.S. shores generally can stay but those caught at sea are usually sent back to the communist island -- unless they can show they would be persecuted if returned to Cuba. Licett Sotolongo, 35, was allowed to stay last week -- even though she was in a boat that never reached land -- because she needed medical care. 'It is a blessing and a curse,' Julio Pujol, a Miami relative said, referring to Sotolongo's frail health, which made it possible for her to stay. ``She belongs here with us, even if it is like this.' Sotolongo remains at Kendall Regional Medical Center, receiving dialysis for kidney problems. U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Luis Diaz said the groups of migrants intercepted the past two weeks ranged from as few as two to as many as 32 in one boat. Smugglers are suspected of bringing the 11 migrants who arrived in two groups Monday within minutes of each other. In August, the Department of Homeland Security announced it would allow Cuban medical personnel working in foreign countries to seek U.S. asylum from those countries. But for Cuban medical personnel trying to reach the U.S. by boat, there are no guarantees. At least two other Cuban doctors who tried to sneak into Florida on a boat -- but were intercepted by the Coast Guard -- were sent to Guantánamo in September. Relatives say one eventually made it to Florida and the other remains in Guantánamo. Miami Herald staff photographer Tim Chapman contributed to this report..

33 Cubans intercepted; one taken to Key West

March 2, 2007

Miami Herald- Alfonso Chardy

The U.S. Coast Guard intercepted 33 Cuban migrants in the Florida Straits this week on a boat headed for South Florida. Officials are holding the group aboard a cutter, including a doctor with a U.S. visa, while the Bush administration decides what to do. After the boat was stopped Tuesday, the Coast Guard brought one of the migrants to Key West because she needed emergency medical treatment related to a kidney illness. The other 32, including the doctor, remained aboard the cutter. The case was the latest involving Cuban migrants interdicted at sea under the controversial wet-foot/dry-foot policy. Under the policy, Cuban migrants stopped at sea are generally repatriated while those who make it to U.S. soil are allowed to stay. Sometimes, certain intercepted Cuban migrants are taken to the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo. They are then sent to other countries. Mario S. Cano, a Coral Gables immigration attorney, said the woman taken ashore -- Licett Sotolongo, 35 -- called relatives of the other migrants. Among those she called was Yordani Morejón-González, 32, husband of Misleidy Rodríguez-Machado, 28, the doctor. Morejón said she received a U.S. visa four years ago but had not obtained the required Cuban government exit permit..

One of the last `bridge Cubans' waits and hopes

March 1, 2007

Sun Sentinel- Ray Sanchez

Matanzas, Cuba ý Lazaro Medina Alpizar said he's never felt so alone. More than a year ago, he was among 15 Cubans who landed on an abandoned bridge near Marathon but were repatriated after American immigration authorities decided they had failed to reach U.S. soil. A federal judge later ruled they should have been allowed into the U.S. under the wet foot, dry foot policy. In the predawn Tuesday, six of those migrants reached Key West. They were admitted into the United States hours later. Seven others from the January 2006 journey also were admitted into the U.S. after making a similar journey from Cuba in December. "It's just two of us now," said Medina, 37, pushing his 1974 MZ 150 motorbike on a desolate street near the waterfront. "Even if I'm stuck here alone, I still have my faith. The Bible says faith can move mountains." The other migrant from the ill-fated voyage to the bridge, Carlos Enríquez Fernández, 36, is serving a four-year prison term for stealing meat two years ago, according to his mother, Caridad. She said he had been free while his case was appealed, but the appeal was denied. He was arrested in Matanzas about 10 days ago. Medina, who delivers bottled gas to his neighbors, had stayed in touch with Enríquez and some of the other migrants, but said he hadn't heard from Enríquez in a week or two. In their last, brief phone conversation, he said, Enríquez told him he had something important to discuss but that he couldn't talk over the phone. "I never heard from him again," he said. A federal judge ruled in March 2006 that U.S. officials should have admitted the migrants, enabling 14 of the 15 to receive travel visas. But they were waiting for the Cuban government to issue exit permits. In the year since their repatriation, Medina said, life had become increasingly difficult for the 15 who became known as the "bridge Cubans" for their voyage that ended at the abandoned Old Seven Mile Bridge. "None of us had real jobs," he said. "When you leave the country illegally and get sent back to Cuba, you're not the same person in the eyes of the government. They see it as a political issue. None of us were ever involved in politics. We just wanted a better life." Cuban authorities consider trips on makeshift boats a crime, and urge citizens wishing to leave to do so via legal channels. The socialist government acknowledges a backlog of exit permits, which they require for citizens leaving the country. But, they say, U.S. immigration policy encourages Cubans to make the dangerous trip, by allowing those who reach dry land to apply for permanent residency. "I simply wanted to leave for economic reasons," said Medina, who previously worked at a gas station for about $10 a month. "I have relatives in the United States." Wednesday morning, Medina rode his motorcycle to the Cuban immigration office in Matanzas to inquire about his exit permit. "They didn't have a response for me," he said. "They told me to come back next week." Medina said he was surprised his friends ventured out again on the risky journey across the Florida Straits. "The first trip was horrible," he said. "They must have given up hope." Asked what he would have done given another chance to leave with his friends, Medina thought for moment. "I would have left with them," he said. "I would be over there right now." .
February 2007

Plan prepared for Cuban exodus

February 16, 2007

Miami Herald- Pablo Bachelet

WASHINGTON - Concerned about a possible mass exodus of Cubans, the Department of Defense plans to spend $18 million to prepare part of the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay to shelter interdicted migrants, U.S. officials told The Miami Herald. The new installation is needed because terrorism suspects occupy space on the base used in past emergencies to hold large numbers of migrants, Bush administration officials directly involved said. They note that the facilities are designed to house people from any Caribbean nation who attempt to enter illegally -- not just Cubans. But they say privately that Fidel Castro's illness and temporary hand-over of power to his brother Raúl last summer injected a renewed sense of urgency into plans to handle a mass exodus. The administration quietly requested the funds about a month ago and Congress has approved it, The Miami Herald was told. The officials, who were authorized to speak on the subject but requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of Cuban issues, say there is no sign a Cuban migration crisis is brewing, but they acknowledge predicting one is difficult. The 1980 Mariel boatlift, which saw 125,000 Cubans arrive in Florida, began when a group of Cubans tried to storm the Peruvian embassy in Havana. BIGGER PLAN The $18 million initiative is part of a broader U.S. government effort to prepare for the death of Castro. The administration will not say how many migrants it believes might flee Cuba or even if any will do so, but one expert warned that up to 500,000 may try to leave the island after Castro's death. Top Bush Cabinet officials have met at least twice since December to review Cuba contingency plans. On March 7 and 8, the Department of Homeland Security will lead an exercise in South Florida involving the Coast Guard and dozens of federal, state and local agencies, focused on stopping U.S. boaters from picking up rafters. The U.S. Navy base, on the eastern tip of Cuba, apparently would be used as a shelter of last resort if the volume of Cubans interdicted at sea overwhelms the U.S. policy known as ``wet foot/dry foot.' Under that policy, Cubans who make it to U.S. territory are allowed to remain. Those intercepted at sea are interviewed aboard Coast Guard vessels and most are repatriated to Cuba. A few who have been found to credibly risk persecution if returned to Cuba have been taken to Guantánamo for more interviews while U.S. officials arrange for their resettlement in third nations. U.S. officials refused to say whether the wet foot/dry foot policy will be changed in case of an exodus, since such an announcement might prompt many Cubans to leave. For years, migrants captured during surges ended up in tent camps at Guantánamo on a bluff called Radio Range, on the larger Windward side of the base. 1994 MIGRATIONS At the height of the last migration crisis in 1994, more than 32,000 Cubans and 21,000 Haitians overwhelmed the base in tent cities. Most of the Cubans were later sent to the United States. Most of the Haitians were sent home. The Pentagon has since built its sprawling terrorism detention and interrogation center at the site of the old tent camps, limiting shelter space. The plan would put them on the smaller Leeward side, which has an airstrip but no docks for large ships. 'The capacity to process migrants at Guantánamo is an integral part of our overall plans to ensure that any attempted mass migration in the Caribbean is not successful,' said one official, who also declined to be identified. The official said the new facility is ``part of prudent contingency planning.' 'The U.S. has established avenues for safe, orderly, legal migration from the various countries in the Caribbean,' the official added. ``Any effort to send people to the United States via unsafe and illegal means will not succeed.' The Pentagon already has solicited construction bids for the new facility. The $18 million would pay for things like land leveling, sewage and electrical infrastructure, bathrooms, dining facilities and administrative offices to process asylum applications. The installations will be initially designed to handle about 10,000 migrants, officials say, though more can be quickly accommodated if needed. SCENARIOS Andy Gomez, senior fellow at the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, says focus groups and other interviews show many young Cubans are eager to leave. 'If the economic conditions do not get better, there is the strong possibility that as many as 500,000 Cubans will want to leave the island in all directions,' he says. ``The other possibility will also be a large group of Cubans rushing the U.S. base in Guantánamo or foreign embassies in Havana.' Latin American countries may be reluctant to take in numerous migrants, he added. Meanwhile, the Coast Guard is finalizing plans for an exercise next month that will involve scores of vessels. Rear Adm. David Kunkel, head of the Coast Guard's South East District, is in charge of coordinating interdiction efforts among many agencies, including the U.S. Navy and Miami-Dade Police. 'We would be concerned with boaters leaving from South Florida marinas to potentially increase the problem,' said Jim Watson, chief of staff of the South East District. He said 'deterrent elements' would be tested. Miami Republican Reps. Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, who have been briefed on preparations, could not be reached for comment. Miami Herald staff writer Carol Rosenberg contributed to this report.
January 2007

Fewer Cuban, Haitian migrants stopped at sea in '06

January 3, 2007

Miami Herald- Alfonso Chardy

The number of undocumented Cuban and Haitian migrants stopped at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard, which had been rising steadily year by year, dropped in 2006 -- dramatically in the case of Haitians and noticeably in the case of Cubans. While Cuban interdictions are down, the number of Cuban arrivals in South Florida on smuggling and other organized trips is up -- with 546 more landings in fiscal year 2006 than 2005, according to Border Patrol figures. The Coast Guard, which tracks interdictions monthly and by calendar year, notes that 769 Haitian migrants were intercepted in 2006 compared to 1,828 in 2005 -- the first significant decline in Haitian interdictions since 1999 when 480 were stopped. Coast Guard figures can be found at www.d7publicaffairs.com. There were 2,260 Cubans interdicted in 2006, compared to 2,952 in 2005 -- the first decline in annual Cuban interceptions since 2001 when 777 were stopped. The figures may simply reflect cyclical declines, but they could also represent a more complex set of factors such as weather, a new government in Haiti and use of alternate routes by Cubans to reach the United States including more efficient smuggling trips. Petty Officer Jennifer Johnson, a Coast Guard spokeswoman, attributed the decline in Haitian and Cuban interdictions to weather 'particularly during the winter months.' But Ralph Latortue, the Haitian consul in Miami and Marleine Bastien, a prominent Haitian community activist, said fewer Haitians left their homeland last year because of the advent of a new government in Port-au-Prince. `RENEWED HOPE' The presidential election last year of René Preval, a former president and one-time ally of ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, 'brought renewed hope among the people of Haiti who love their country and prefer to live in Haiti and raise their children there,' said Bastien, executive director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami or Haitian Women of Miami. However, she added, some people are beginning to lose hope because of renewed violence and instability in Haiti. Ira Kurzban, a Miami immigration attorney who has represented the Haitian government for years, said the decline also reflects tightened Coast Guard patrolling off Haitian shores ``which has forced people to remain in Haiti.' The drop in Cuban interdictions, however, does not reflect the change of leadership in Cuba where an ailing Fidel Castro temporarily turned over power to brother Raúl in July. In fiscal year 2006, there were 3,076 Cuban arrivals in South Florida on smuggling and other organized trips. Additional undocumented Cuban migrants have arrived via land borders with Mexico and Canada. Unauthorized Haitian arrivals are significantly down -- just like interceptions at sea. In fiscal year 2006, for example, only 23 undocumented Haitians were detected and detained on arrival compared to 119 in fiscal year 2005. Many other Haitians may have arrived undetected. HAITIANS' FATE Haitians who reach U.S. shores are subject to detention and deportation. Cubans who make it to shore, however, report themselves immediately to U.S. authorities because they are generally allowed to stay under the wet-foot/dry-foot policy. Those interdicted at sea are generally sent back. Bastien said a decline in Haitian interdictions also occurred in 1990 whenAristide, a Roman Catholic priest, was elected president. That year 1,124 Haitians were stopped at sea compared to almost 4,000 in 1989. Aristide's overthrow in 1991 unleashed a mass exodus with more than 10,000 Haitian migrants stopped at sea that year and 31,438 the next year. Fewer Haitians attempted to leave in 1995, a year after Aristide returned to power following the landing of U.S. forces in Haiti. Migrant flows began to increase again in 2004, when Aristide was forced to resign during a violent uprising..
December 2006

Migrants say Cuba is slow to issue exit visas

December 18, 2006

Miami Herald- Elias Lopez

Reunited and relieved. That summed up the sentiments of a group of Cuban migrants who went before a cluster of microphones and television cameras Saturday to talk about their successful journey to U.S. soil -- nearly a year after the U.S. government had returned them to Cuba in a controversial decision that angered many in Miami's Cuban exile community. 'We're very happy to be here,' said Marino Hernández, 42. ``We were never afraid, we just decided to do it.' Hernández was among nine Cuban migrants who made it to shore in a homemade boat on Friday. The group landed in the Florida Keys, just south of the Seven Mile Bridge. Hernandez and 14-year-old Osmiel were reunited with Mariela Conesa, of Hialeah, who had not seen her husband and son in almost nine years. 'He's already a man,' said Conesa, 36, rubbing her son's shoulders at the press conference. ``He's braver than I ever was.' The reunification of the family brought to an end a long odyssey that began in the predawn hours of Jan. 4 when Hernández and Osmiel first landed on a piling of the Old Flagler Bridge near Marathon with 13 other Cubans. What they didn't realize is that they and the others would become entwined in an immigration debate centered around the wet-foot/dry-foot policy, which was adopted in 1994 by the Clinton administration to deal with the Cuban rafter exodus. Under the policy, Cuban migrants who reach U.S. soil are allowed to stay and apply for residency, but those intercepted at sea are generally returned to Cuba. Federal officials determined that the bridge, not connected to land, was a structure and not part of U.S. territory. As a result, the Cubans were repatriated, setting off a legal battle. The migrants ultimately won the fight earlier this year, when a federal judge found that the U.S. government erred and that the bridge was part of the United States. Since the judge's decision, U.S. and Cuban officials have been negotiating the return of the migrants. But some of the migrants who arrived Friday said they saw no choice but to attempt the journey again because they claimed the Cuban government was dragging its feet in providing them exit permits. 'The Cuban government forced us to do it,' said Tomás Perdomo, a Cuban dissident. ``I wanted to come the legal way.' 'This is a testimony of the tragedy of the Cuban people,' added Ramón Saúl Sánchez, who heads Movimiento Democracia, which organized the news conference and provided the migrants with attorneys. Several members of the group who reached the Keys in January are still in Cuba, including Elizabeth Hernández, her husband Yunior Alexis Blanco and their 3-year-old son. 'We're very happy that they made it,' said Elizabeth Hernández in a telephone conversation from her home in San Francisco, a small town in Cuba's Matanzas province. ``Now we're hopeful that the Cuban government would expedite our permits . because I know how dangerous is the sea and we think it's logical to wait and not to risk the life of our son.'.
October 2006

Two plead guilty in migrant-smuggling death

October 4, 2006

Miami Herald- Cammy Clark

KEY WEST - Two men charged in a Cuban-migrant smuggling operation that left a 24-year-old woman dead pleaded guilty to all 68 counts Tuesday in federal court. Rolando Gonzalez, 20, and Heinrich Castillo, 28, pleaded guilty in Spanish and showed little emotion during the 30-minute proceeding. But several family members and friends wept when assistant U.S. attorney Jeff Tsai said that the most serious offense, migrant smuggling that results in death, carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. U.S. District Court Judge K. Michael Moore set sentencing for Jan. 8. A third defendant, Amil Gonzalez, decided to take his chances at a trial next week. Gonzalez has said he was not a smuggler, but simply a migrant like the others who were intercepted by the Coast Guard on July 8. The government's case against Gonzalez and Castillo appeared solid. Prosecutors said the pair picked up an unregistered go-fast boat in Key Largo and navigated it to Cuba in the middle of the night to pick up 32 people waiting ashore. As the boat was returning to the United States, it was detected by the Coast Guard. The 30-minute chase, partially captured on video, ended only after the Coast Guard fired two disabling shots into one of the boat's three engines. Tsai said in court that the Coast Guard found several people on the boat who appeared to be badly injured and an unconscious woman, Anay Machado. Tsai said Machado had a large cut on her face and bruises on her nose, and her was face covered in blood. U.S. Coast Guard officials said Machado was treated immediately but she died en route to a hospital in Key West. The Monroe County medical examiner said her death was caused by blunt-force trauma to her head. While neither side disputes that the injury occurred during the crossing of the Florida Straits, they disagree on when it occurred. Prosecutors said the woman was hurt early in the chase, citing witness accounts. But Castillo's lawyer, Melvin Black, said other witnesses said the injury occurred when the boat was stopped, spun to the left and was rammed by the Coast Guard boat. Black said Castillo and Rolando Gonzalez 'are not shirking responsibility and understand a tragic death has incurred.' But he said he hopes the discrepancy over the timing of the injury occurred would be taken into consideration in the Jan. 8 sentencing. The case against Amil Gonzalez, a Cuban national who said he had never before been in the United States, appears less clear-cut. Prosecutors, citing Cuban intelligence, said it was Gonzalez who orchestrated the pickup in Cuba, waving a flashlight to signal the go-fast boat. The government also said Gonzalez was at the console with the other two defendants during the chase and signaled to a migrant to act as a human shield in front of the engine to prevent the disabling shots from the Coast Guard. 'He's innocent,' attorney Irving Gonzalez said of his client, who is not related. Also on the boat was Gonzalez' common-law wife, Julie Escandon. The trial was supposed to begin Tuesday but was delayed a week to give the defense time to retain an expert medical witness..