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Drowned Cuban Migrants Mourned

October 23, 1999

HAVANA (AP) _ Grieving relatives of two Cubans who drowned off Cuba’s coast gathered Friday to retrieve the bodies, and two U.S. residents were being held for allegedly trying to smuggle them off the island, authorities said.

``I was called by officials and told my sister had drowned,″ said a weeping Erisel Rios Nodalse, whose sister, Estrella Rios, 33, and Estrella’s son, Alexis Marquez, 4, died Thursday.

About 30 relatives and friends gathered in the north-central Cuban town of Sagua La Grande, awaiting the arrival of the bodies from Havana.

The U.S. Coast Guard reported that the two Cubans drowned when a U.S.-registered boat capsized Thursday 15 miles north of Havana, said a U.S. State Department official who did not want to be identified. Cuban officials told the State Department eight other people on the 23-foot boat were rescued.

Ms. Rios said the group had left from a fishing village near Sagua La Grande, located about 150 miles east of Havana.

State Department officials declined to reveal the identities of the two men, and the Cuban government had no immediate comment. But U.S. officials did say they had been informed by Cuba that the two were not U.S. citizens but rather had permanent U.S. residency.

The Miami Herald newspaper on Friday identified the men as Sabino Lopez and Luis Rodriguez, both Florida residents.

In September, two Cuban-born U.S. residents became the first people convicted under a newly-strengthened Cuban law against migrant smuggling, with one sentenced to life in prison and the other to 30 years. A Cuban companion was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

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