Six of the 10 Cubans apprehended off Haulover Beach last week were returned to Cuba on Friday. The other four were bound for Guantánamo, but they are unlikely to gain political asylum.
BY ELAINE DE VALLE AND THERESA BRADLEY
Six of the 10 Cuban migrants—whose dramatic capture last week off Haulover Beach was broadcast live by Miami television stations—were quietly returned to Cuba on Friday, while the others were sent to the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, authorities said.
Meanwhile, leaders of the Miami-based Democracy Movement on Friday protested the controversial U.S. policy that repatriates Cuban migrants who don’t reach land. They called on the community to block the MacArthur Causeway the next time Cubans are interdicted at sea by U.S. authorities.
‘‘We want to send the message of the desperation of this community,’’ said Ramon Saúl Sanchez as he stood with supporters outside the U.S. Coast Guard station in Miami Beach.
Sanchez and his supporters are frustrated with the so-called wet foot/dry foot policy, an agreement reached by the U.S. and Cuban governments in 1995 when an estimated 40,000 rafters and boaters from Cuba attempted to illegally enter the United States.
Under the policy, Cuban migrants who reach U.S. shores are generally allowed to stay, but those picked up at sea are returned to Cuba.
Federal immigration officials declined to discuss the specific cases of the 10 Cubans taken into custody last week, but indicated they would be processed like all other illegal Cuban migrants.
‘‘When Cubans are interdicted at sea, we fly in asylum officers. They do asylum interviews on board the Coast Guard ships to see if there are any protection issues and, if there are, they go to Guantánamo for further interviews,’’ said Dan Kane, a spokesman with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Even if credible fear is established, he said, the refugees cannot be brought back to South Florida.
THIRD COUNTRY SOUGHT
‘‘They can’t come to the United States under our policy,’’ Kane said. ``We try to find them a third country that is willing to take them in.’‘
Luis Diaz, a Coast Guard spokesman, confirmed on Friday that six of the 10 Cubans nabbed last Friday were being returned to Cuba.
The four others were headed to Guantánamo, according to Ana Carbonell, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart.
They include brothers Nilber and Norberto Alvarez Quevedo. Their father, a high-ranking state security officer who recently resigned because of his sons’ opposition to the ruling Communist Party, was reportedly harassed last weekend by Cuban officials, according to Carbonell.
Relatives of the other Cubans worried about the future of their loved ones.
‘‘They should have all been sent to Guantánamo,’’ said Joaquín Almaguer, the father of Serguei Almaguer, 20, one of the 10 Cubans caught last week.
‘‘Now my son will have to pay for the sins of those four. I don’t know why these things happen. It makes no sense. It’s crazy,’’ he said.
Coast Guard officials also said they are reviewing the tactics employed to capture the Cubans.
Coast Guard and Homeland Security Department officials sprayed a water cannon at the Cubans’ homemade boat and repeatedly bumped it, eventually knocking four men overboard.
The tactics drew the ire of Cuban-American community activists.
Coast Guard officials countered that the water cannon was used to try to stall the vessel’s engine—not to harm its passengers.
Cuban-American community leaders argue the wet foot/dry foot rules are inhumane and dangerous, pitting Coast Guard and immigration authorities against Cuban migrants.
‘‘It’s a sordid policy,’’ said the Democracy Movement’s Sanchez, who watched the interdiction unfold live on television.
FEAR OF TRAGEDY
‘‘What we fear is that, if incidents like this continue to happen, we’ll one day see a tragedy, because we haven’t sat down and done our work. So why wait?’’ he said.
Sanchez called on President Bush and congressional leaders to provide Cuban migrants with legal representation, have their interviews with immigration officials videotaped and inform their U.S. relatives that they’ve been taken into custody.
‘‘These are things the president could put in effect with one stroke of the pen,’’ Sanchez said