Cubans Aboard Coast Guard Cutter To Be Returned To Cuba
MIAMI (AP) _ Gasping for breath and sobbing deeply, the mother of two Cubans destined to be returned to their Communist homeland pleaded for compassion.
``President Clinton, as a mother, I ask please do not send them back. Please have pity on them,″ Miriam Malpica said.
The 13 men, ages 28 to 45, were transferred late Friday to a U.S. Coast Guard cutter in the Old Bahama Channel along the northern coast of Cuba.
``If they go back, they’ll be jailed instantly and God knows what else,″ Malpica said. ``With Fidel, you just don’t know.″
Malpica nearly collapsed at a news conference and was taken to a hospital.
The Justice Department said this group will be the first to be repatriated under a new U.S. policy requiring Cubans picked up at sea to be sent back to their homeland. Thousands of Cubans at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station will be brought to the United States.
``We will follow the policy as it has been stated,″ said Ana Cobian, spokeswoman for the Justice Department.
The transfer just before midnight came as a surprise to the Cuban American National Foundation and some Coast Guard officials, who had thought the rendezvous with the cutter would take place today.
Attorneys for the foundation had been seeking a legal means to stop the transfer.
The men were adrift in two boats about 45 miles south of Little Cayman Island when the crew of the Majesty of the Seas found them late Wednesday, said Jill Oren, spokeswoman for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, which owns the ship.
The men were given food, water and medical attention, though they generally were in good health, she said.
Francisco Pepe Hernandez, president of Cuban American foundation, spoke by telephone with one of Malpica’s sons, 29-year-old Camilo David Rodriguez. Her other son, Felix, 28, and son-in-law, Julian Avalo, 32, were also aboard the ship.
Rodriguez told Hernandez the group had left 15 days ago from Santa Cruz del Sur, on the southern coast of Cuba. The port is one of the farthest from the United States, indicating the group may have wanted to reach the Cayman Islands or Jamaica, Hernandez said.
``So if that is the case, our question is why would this policy ... apply to somebody who is not trying to get to the United States?″ Hernandez said.
Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., said he met with National Security Council advisers Friday and was assured the men would be heard if they had political asylum claims.