Thursday, December 27, 2007

Cubans drown in attempt to reach U.S

Cubans drown in attempt to reach U.S.
A boat suspected of trying to smuggle Cubans into the United States
overturned last week and at least 25 people are presumed dead.
Posted on Thu, Dec. 27, 2007
El Nuevo Herald

At least 25 Cubans are presumed dead after a failed attempt to get to
the United States by boat from the coastal town of Santa Cruz del Norte,
in Havana province.

According to relatives of some of the victims, Cuban authorities
recovered eight bodies and were still searching for 17 others still
missing Wednesday night and presumed dead after their boat overturned
last week. Other unconfirmed reports said authorities had recovered 11

One of the deceased was identified by a family member as Yosvanny Vera
Alvarez, 29, from Aguada de Pasajeros in Cienfuegos in central Cuba. The
victim leaves behind a 9-year-old son.

According to Lázaro Vera Alvarez, who lives in Tampa, his brother's body
was handed over to his mother on Saturday in Aguada de Pasajeros, where
he was buried.

''State security turned up at my mother's house to deliver the body,''
Vera Alvarez said in a telephone interview. ``He's already been buried.''

As of Wednesday evening, Cuban authorities had yet to report the fatalities.

Interviews with Cubans familiar with the drownings offered different
versions of events.

Most of those interviewed by El Nuevo Herald indicated that the group
left aboard a go-fast boat sometime between Thursday and Friday night
with 28 passengers, including children. The motor boat had arrived in
Cuba from Miami, those interviewed said.

The boat capsized shortly after its departure. The boat was being chased
by the Cuban coast guard, those familiar with the incident said, and it
ended up crashing into a reef.

A heated discussion among the passengers ensued, destabilizing the boat
and causing passengers to be flung overboard.

''They told my mother that my brother was rescued after the accident but
that he died of cardiac arrest when he was taken to the coast guard
boat,'' Lázaro Vera said.

``Everything's very strange, but there's evidence that the boat was hit
by the Cuban coast guard.''

Vera Alvarez's mother, reached over the phone in Cuba by El Nuevo,
declined to comment. ''I don't know anything. I am crushed,'' she said.

Vera Alvarez said his brother was a dissident and headed the Independent
Union of Cuban Workers, a group considered illegal by the Cuban government.

Other Cubans interviewed over the phone said that there are three
survivors, among them a woman from Calimete in Matanzas province, east
of Havana; an unidentified alleged smuggler, and a doctor named Sandy
Carmona, from Aguada de Pasajeros. Carmona was taken to the state
security at Villa Marista in Havana.

The deaths would be the second tragedy in less than a month involving
Cubans at sea.

On Nov. 24, 20 Cubans -- including 12 children -- from the town of
Perico in Matanzas, vanished after they left on a boat off the north
coast. The U.S. Coast Guard declared the group lost at sea after a
failed search in the Florida Straits.

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