By Madeline Baró Diaz and Ray Sanchez
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Posted February 28 2007
Lazaro Medina's happiness that six of his countrymen finally reached Key
West on Tuesday was tempered with his disappointment that he hadn't
known they were making another desperate voyage from Cuba.
"I would have left," said Medina, one of a group of 15 Cubans who
reached an abandoned bridge in the Florida Keys in January 2006, only to
be sent back home and then -- after a court intervened -- invited to
return to the United States legally.
Like the six who made it over on Tuesday, Medina, 37, has been attending
meetings with government functionaries but has received no assurance he
will be given the permit required to leave the country.
"I guess they thought the permits wouldn't come. They took another
chance and they made it. I'm really happy for them," he said from his
home in Matanzas province.
The group landed on Higg's Beach around 2 a.m. in a 24-foot wooden boat,
said Victor Colon, assistant chief patrol agent in Miami. There were 23
people on the overloaded boat, all part of a "cooperative" trip, rather
than a smuggling venture, he said.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the Border Patrol was processing the group at
its Pembroke Pines station, Colon said. Because they reached land, they
apparently will be allowed to stay in the United States.
On their first journey, Coast Guard officials determined that because
the group reached a part of the Old Seven Mile Bridge not connected to
land, they had not officially made it to the United States. Under the
so-called wet foot-dry foot policy, only Cubans who touch U.S. soil are
allowed to apply for permanent residency.
A federal judge ruled the officials were wrong and ordered them to try
their best to bring the group back. The United States issued visas to 14
of the 15 Cubans, but the Cuban government did not give them exit permits.
The person who was refused a U.S. visa, Lazaro Jesus Martinez, hopped a
homemade boat with six other people in December, landed in the Keys and
joined relatives in South Florida.
Those who arrived on Tuesday include Elizabeth Hernandez, her husband
Junior Blanco and her son Jhon Maikol, as well as Noel Lazaro, Reyes
Blanco and Alexis Gonzalez, said Cuban activist Ramon Saul Sanchez.
Gonzalez's mother, Marisela Blanco, who lives in San Francisco de Paula
in Matanzas, said someone from the group called a relative in Cuba, who
told Blanco they were with immigration authorities. She said she had
advised them against leaving Cuba.
"I told them not to do it because it was dangerous, but they decided to
go anyway," she said.
Back in Matanzas, Medina, who once worked in a gas station, is
unemployed. He said it is hard to find a job after attempting to leave
the country. Still, he said, he hopes to be allowed to leave legally. He
filed the paperwork a year ago in March.
Madeline Baró Diaz reported from Miami. Ray Sanchez reported from Cuba.
Madeline Baró Diaz can be reached at email@example.com or 305-810-5007.