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Ecuadorians’ Journey To U.S. Ends

May 19, 2000

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) _ Last week, Maria Salazar left her husband and two children in a small fishing village on the Ecuadoran coast and boarded a shrimp boat bound for the coast of Florida.

It was the 35-year-old woman’s third attempt at reaching the United States, and it ended not unlike the others. On Sunday night, a U.S. Coast Guard ship intercepted the shrimper 80 miles off the coast of Guatemala and picked up Salazar and 145 other would-be Ecuadoran illegal immigrants.

Despite the setback, Salazar said she had no regrets.

``Any possible way there is to get there, I would take it,″ she said, standing in stocking feet on the filthy green linoleum of a hotel hallway. ``We all would.″

U.N. conventions require that illegal immigrants stopped in international waters be brought to the nearest U.N. member country. In this case, the Americans told Guatemala on Sunday night that it would be getting 146 unwanted visitors.

Now, while U.S. and Guatemalan authorities sort out deportation proceedings, the Ecuadorians dimly ponder the prospect of returning home.

``I will just do this all again,″ Salazar said. ``I will miss everyone terribly next time like I did this time, but all of us make sacrifices.″

Salazar left because Ecuador’s troubled economy has made it impossible for her to earn a decent living, she said. Conditions on the shrimp boat were rotten, but few people complained.

``There were a lot of us on one tiny boat with one toilet, but I think in my first two trips there were worse conditions,″ Salazar said.

Luis Ramirez, 31, was happy the boat’s owners didn’t make passengers pay their fare of $4,000-$6,000 up front. They had planned to work off their passage once they got to the United States.

Others paid their fares, only to be intercepted and sent back, Ramirez said. ``I guess we were lucky.″

Armando Interiano Salazar, deputy director of Guatemala’s immigration service, said it probably will take until the weekend before the 106 men and 40 women who were on the boat are sent back to Ecuador. In the meantime, the U.S. Embassy is bankrolling the Ecuadorians’ food and lodging, Salazar said.

Luis Gonzalo Mayorgua, owner of the shabby Hotel Flores where the Ecuadorians are staying, said 12 Ecuadorians pack each of his one-bed hotel rooms, while 10 are in each of the hotel’s two lounges.

``We have clothes hanging everywhere there isn’t somebody sleeping,″ he said, pointing to a lounge strewn with clothing and dozens of people sprawled on mattresses watching a Spanish-dubbed version of ``The Three Stooges″ on television.

A cup of orange juice and a plate of rice and fried black beans constituted both breakfast and lunch.

In the room beside the bathroom, Julia Roca, 18, slipped on water from an overflown toilet while trying to hang up a shirt, breaking one of the tiny windows that looks out onto the crowded common hallway.

``I guess somebody’s government will have to pay for that,″ she said. ``If it is Ecuador, that will be the first time they helped me out in any way.″

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