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Cuba Experts Question Exiles’ Flotilla Protests

September 3, 1995

KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) _ Cuban exiles called the failure of their latest seagoing anti-Castro demonstration a minor setback, while Cuba watchers questioned the effectiveness of the protest in which a boat sank and a man died.

``The sinking indicated the organizers have not focused on organization or the safety of their own members,″ said Jim Whisenand, publisher of Cuba Report, a newsletter focusing on economic and social issues on the communist island. ``I think it will affect future participation.″

The 25-boat flotilla set off from Key West on Saturday to stage a protest off the coast of Havana. The group turned back after the Sundown Two sank 10 miles out of Key West. The Coast Guard is investigating the accident.

The 47 people aboard were rescued by some of the other boats and Coast Guard ships and helicopters. A 59-year-old man had a heart attack and died soon after he was rescued.

``I feel sad,″ flotilla leader Ramon Saul Sanchez said Sunday. ``It’s a tragedy. However, I feel more committed to this non-violent movement today than ever before.″

The next flotilla will be in New York City’s East River when Cuban president Fidel Castro visits the United Nations on Oct. 22, Sanchez said.

The first flotilla ended with three people injured after two Cuban gunboats sideswiped the lead boat, which had crossed into Cuba’s territorial waters.

Considering the outcome of both expeditions, some questioned the value of the flotillas.

``They should consider other alternatives that may be more effective _ in the human and material costs _ at reaching the same ends,″ said Juan Clark, a sociologist at Miami-Dade Community College. ``The ultimate question is, `What good did it do in Cuba?′ Did it promote reaction in the population? Or did it bring more oppression for the dissidents?″

Some passengers complained that the Sundown Two had been taking on water in 6-foot seas well before the crew radioed the Coast Guard for help.

The boat’s captain said Saturday that the boat was in fine shape before leaving the marina.

Miguel A. Sanguily of Miami, who along with two brothers pulled six Sundown Two passengers onto his boat, blamed organizers for the tragedy.

``We needed more organization when leaving,″ he said. ``There were so many people. There were not enough boats.″

But Rose and Rafael Palacios, passengers on one of the flotilla’s largest boats, were inspired.

``It’s sad and it was expensive, both morally, emotionally and in dollars,″ Mrs. Palacios said.

``But you sit down, you are sorry for the man and you go forward,″ said her husband.

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