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Posted September 25, 2005 by mattlawrence in Cuba Human Rights

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Relatives of some of the 10 Cubans apprehended at sea by immigration authorities were less than optimistic that their loved ones would be allowed to stay in the United States.

IMMIGRATION
BY ELAINE DE VALLE
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Francisco de la Ross Carralero knew his two cousins had spent the last two months building a boat out of scrap metal and styrofoam in Cuba. He knew they wanted out of the island nation. And he knew they had set sail for Florida more than a week ago.

But he never imagined witnessing them on live TV on Friday, caught in a cat-and-mouse game with U.S. immigration authorities, near the end of a desperate journey to reach the U.S. mainland.

The first cousin he recognized was Carlos Carralero, who family members affectionately call Carlitn. Then, he spotted Antonio Carralero. The pair were among 10 Cubans apprehended at sea.

On Saturday, the group was aboard a U.S. Coast Guard cutter, where they were being interviewed to determine if they qualified for political asylum or would be returned to Cuba, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Sandi Bartlett.

They are likely to be sent back under the controversial U.S. wet-foot/dry-foot policy, which generally allows Cubans who reach land to remain in the United States.

For de la Ross, who himself had arrived in the United States aboard a raft in 1992, it was a painful scene to watch. After all, he and his cousins were like brothers, all raised in the same home in the small town of Vasquez in Puerto Padre in Las Tunes province.

He said it was the first attempt by his cousins to get to the United States, though they have long wanted to leave Cuba. On two visits to the island, he said his cousins told him they were determined to get out of the country. Carlos, who worked as a baker, told him he never wanted to start a family in Cuba.

‘‘Carlitn would always say that he would have children in this country, not in Cuba because there was no liberty, no way to live there,’’ de la Ross said.

He last spoke to them some six or seven months ago. Then, he got a call eight days ago from relatives in Puerto Padre who told him the two cousins had left in a homemade vessel.

‘‘At least they were alive,’’ de la Ross said.

Joaquin Almaguer, who spotted his son, Serguei Almaguer, aboard the same boat as the Carralero cousins, shared the same mixed emotions.

‘‘The first thing I did was cry,’’ said Almaguer, who had been told last Sunday that his 20-year-old son had left and was afraid that he may have been lost forever in Hurricane Rita’s wake.

``I was so happy because I knew he was getting here. And then I saw the Coast Guard. Then I knew they weren’t going to get in.’‘

A SURPRISE

Almaguer said he had no idea his son, who lives in the same small town with the Carraleros, was planning to make the journey.

The elder Almaguer came to South Florida eight years ago after winning the visa lottery. He said his son was then a minor and the boy’s mother did not let the 12-year-old leave. His son, however, talked about coming to the United States on the father’s recent visits to the island.

‘‘He had commented casually that he wanted to live here with me, but I told him to look for a legal way,’’ Almaguer said, adding that his son gave no hints of his plan last month when they spoke by telephone.

‘‘But he wouldn’t have told me anything because he knows I would not agree with him to come by sea. I never thought he would throw himself to the sea, to the danger,’’ he said.

Both men gathered on Friday at de la Ross’s home to watch the television chronicle their relatives’ battle with U.S. authorities in the Atlantic. The men taped the event, viewing it over and over again.

Almaguer said he was angry with federal authorities using water cannons and guns to capture the Cubans.

‘‘They didn’t have to spray them with water or ram the boat. They could have drowned. They had been out there for seven days at sea and hadn’t eaten or had water. What if they had drowned?’’ he asked.

The use of a water cannon didn’t surprise de la Ross.

``It’s normal. We’ve seen it before on TV. It’s different, of course, when it’s your own blood and even moreso when you know they have no weapons, no knife or machete, and that they are not threatening anybody in any way.

‘‘They just wanted to get here,’’ he said.

Both men fear their relatives will face harsh punishment if returned to Cuba.

‘‘With the new law that Fidel put there, they could be sentenced to five years,’’ de la Ross said. ``Then they will be charged with other things. Where did they get the motor? The materials? They could add years by saying they stole it.

``They will be definitely imprisoned, no matter what.’‘

SEEKING HELP

De La Ross called the Coast Guard and other relatives were calling Cuban-American lawmakers to see if there was anything they could do.

‘‘My only hope is that they can prove something or that we can get someone with authority to intervene and help us out,’’ de la Ross said.

``We don’t know what’s going to happen.’‘

On Saturday afternoon, a few dozen supporters of the Cubans—mostly friends and family of Almaguer—rallied on a busy Little Havana street corner to call for the men’s release. They weren’t optimistic.

‘‘We called a couple of attorneys and they said that there was nothing they could do,’’ Almaguer said. He said they called Cuban-American lawmakers, but had not gotten any returned calls.

‘‘We don’t have anyone important supporting us,’’ Almaguer said.

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