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Cubans on Floating Truck Denied Visas

September 30, 2003

HAVANA (AP) _ The Cubans who converted a 1951 Chevy pickup truck into a boat and tried to sail to Florida said Monday their attempts to emigrate legally to the United States also failed.

So far, 10 of the 12 people in the group that made the unusual and well-publicized attempt to reach American soil have received letters rejecting their requests for U.S. visas.

``We are really disappointed,″ said Eduardo Perez, a truck-boat passenger.

Isadora Hernandez, wife of Luis Grass, owner of the floating green pickup, told The Associated Press, that the letters began arriving last week.

Hernandez said her husband and another man in the group, Ariel Diego, were the only two of the dozen who had not received letters by Monday.

The U.S. Interest Section was closed Monday evening and no one could be reached for comment.

But the message in the official letters was clear.

``Unfortunately you do not meet the necessary requirements to be processed under the current regulations,″ said the Spanish-language form letter from the mission’s Refugees Program.

The U.S. Coast Guard sent the group back to Cuba in July after a U.S. Customs plane spotted their unusual, bright green truck-boat floating south of Key West in the Florida Straits. The craft came within 40 miles of the U.S. coast.

The truck-boat was kept afloat by empty 55-gallon drums attached to the bottom as pontoons. A propeller attached to the drive shaft pushed the vehicle along at about 8 mph.

The craft contained nine men, two women and one small child. The truck was sunk as a hazard to ocean navigation.

Under U.S. immigration policies, Cubans who reach U.S. shores are allowed to stay while those caught at sea usually are returned.

``What’s left for us now?″ asked Antonio Lau, who also was in the group. ``We went illegally and they sent us back and now we cannot go legally, either.″

The letter suggested the applicants try their luck in the occasional U.S. visa lottery for Cubans, which chooses immigration candidates by chance, or find a U.S. relative to sponsor them so they can immigrate legally.

Migrants have been found on rafts or small boats made from refrigerators, bathtubs, surfboards and inner tubes, but U.S. Coast Guard officials said the truck appeared to be a first.

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