"Working together for a free Cuba"




Cubans stopped as they try to reach Haulover Beach.

South Florida television audience got a rare peek at migrant interdiction on the open seas Friday, as 10 desperate Cuban men fought defiantly with U.S. authorities for 90 minutes as they tried to reach the U.S. mainland.

In the end, less than two miles from Haulover Beach, the U.S. Coast Guard and Homeland Security succeeded in stopping the men, but not before a Homeland Security Go-Fast boat rammed the wooden homemade craft, partially knocking it over and sending four of the men spilling into the sea.

A government spokesman called the ramming "inadvertent.''

The men eventually made it back on board, one man swimming hard against a current, three others hanging onto the side. No one was injured, according to U.S. Coast Guard Spokesman Luis Diaz.

The spectacle outraged leaders of the local Cuban exile community.

''The free world never threw anybody back over the Berlin Wall,'' said U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, who expressed concern that the men would be repatriated to Cuba.

During the melee, the Coast Guard used a rope to try to stall the engine of the wooden craft, tossed lifejackets at the men -- which were thrown back -- gently nudged the wooden craft with a Coast Guard vessel, then briefly sprayed water from a hose at the Cubans.

''It was brief and it was just basically a tactic to let them know this was available,'' said Diaz.

After those tactics failed, the Homeland Security Go Fast craft rammed the starboard side of the 15-foot wooden boat, which sported an orange sail and an engine in its console that spewed some type of steam.

Zach Mann, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, called the ramming incident ``inadvertent.''

''It may have been a stronger bump than it appeared,'' said Mann. ``We're not in the business of trying to harm people and throw them in the water.''

Finally, after gaining control of the situation, Coast Guard officials handcuffed several of the men, placed lifejackets on them and escorted them aboard their boat.

By Friday afternoon the group was on its way to a Coast Guard cutter where the men will be interviewed. Authorities in Washington D.C. will eventually decide if any of the ten should receive political asylum.

The U.S. Coast Guard has the right to board a vessel and take control inside a 12-mile limit if it feels people's lives are at danger. According to the federal ''wet foot/dry foot'' policy, if Cubans are captured before touching land in the U.S. they can be repatriated. If they reach land, they get a hearing and are permitted to stay more often than not.

Source: La Nueva Cuba
The Miami Herald, Miami
Florida, USA
Infosearch: Máximo Tomás
Research Dept.
September 24, 2005