Saturday, December 29, 2007

Exiles urged to stem tide of Cubans

Exiles urged to stem tide of Cubans
As another group of Cubans landed, the U.S. Coast Guard's top official
called on Cuban exiles to stop financing trips that are resulting in
more dead at sea.
Posted on Sat, Dec. 29, 2007

As the Cuban government blamed U.S. policy Friday for an uptick in the
number of Cubans leaving the island and disputed the number of dead in
recent drownings off its coast, the top U.S. Coast Guard official in
Miami called on exiles to denounce the illegal voyages.

Rear Admiral David W. Kunkel said the Coast Guard has patrol boats and
cutters looking for migrants constantly. ``We have federal, state and
local help. But there's a link missing.''

That link, he said, is the local community.

''They are not working with us. I know that's rather blunt, but the fact
remains that these smugglers are being financed by desperate families,''
he said. ``The only safe way is if we all work together.''

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen agreed Friday that ``we must all do more
to stop these illegal human traffickers who are enriching themselves
while exploiting the suffering of the divided Cuban families.''

Even as Cuba and the United States traded barbs across the Florida
Straits, another group of 38 migrants arrived Friday morning in Adams
Key -- southwest of Elliott Key where 12 migrants landed Thursday.

Miami-Dade County resident and videographer Tom Charron managed to get
several shots of the 38 Cubans as they were unloaded from rescue boats.

''I don't know exactly how many kids there were, but there was one that
was taken off on a stretcher,'' Charron said. ``I could see his eye was


In a Friday report in Granma, the Communist Party daily, the Cuban
government blamed Miami news outlets, including The Miami Herald, for
publishing reports of 25 suspected dead in an attempted escape Dec. 22.

The Cuban government said the boat was in distress and Cuban Border
Guard troops detained a Cuban on land who said he was part of a group
that included women and children who were in trouble at sea.

''As a result of the ground patrol, 26 persons were detained [19 men and
seven women], accompanied by two minors, both 9 years old,'' the report
in Granma noted.

The Cuban government insisted that the sea search was a rescue operation
that turned up two dead, identified as Yosvani Vera Alvarez, 29, and
Zuleica Rodríguez Pérez, 43.

The Cuban government denies having chased the boat -- as Florida family
members of some of the Cubans said earlier this week.

The government blamed the United States' ''wet foot/dry foot'' policy
that allows Cubans who reach U.S. shores to remain in America.

U.S. Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart said Friday that 'the level of human
trafficking that we are witnessing can only occur because the regime is
aware of it and profiting from it. The typical `blame the U.S.' rhetoric
is consistent with the regime's 49-year policy of not accepting
responsibility for its atrocities against the Cuban people.''


Ros-Lehtinen added: ``The Castro regime lies about everything, so we
should not rely on its information. . . . The 13 of March tugboat
massacre [a decade ago] is just one of the many sad examples of the lies
perpetrated by the regime to mask its criminal behavior.''

U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Chris O'Neil said he has not received any
details that would dispute the Granma report.

''But, that being the regime that it is, I have to take their
information with a grain of salt,'' he said.

O'Neil added that the public has not responded to the Coast Guard's
requests for any information about the tragedy.

''It makes it harder to find out what really happened,'' he said.

Havana-born Juan Perez, who landed with the Elliott Key group, said on
Friday that the holidays made it easier to escape.

''People are preoccupied with Christmas and with their families,'' he
said outside a Catholic Charities refugee resettlement office in Doral.

Perez said increasing numbers of people are ''getting fed up'' with the
Castro regime, which could account for the rising number of Cubans
trying to leave illegally since Fidel Castro's emergency surgery in
2006. Fidel's brother, Raúl, is now in charge.

''Raúl está loco,'' Perez said -- ``Raúl is crazy.''

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