%dheadline(U.S. holds Cubans who swam ashore in Fla.%)
May. 07, 2003
MIAMI (AP) _ Three Cubans who jumped from their rickety wooden boat and swam to shore after refusing to board a U.S. Coast Guard cutter were in custody Wednesday, along with a companion who was captured at sea.
Six other migrants were also in custody after landing a boat at Key West sometime during the night, Coast Guard Petty Officer Ryan Doss said. He did not know their nationality and had no further details.
In Miami, Maria Parrado watched her nephew, Jorge Parrado Martinez, on live television Tuesday as he sat aboard a state wildlife commission vessel in handcuffs while his three friends treaded water.
Maria Parrado believes her nephew, who served a 12-year prison sentence in Cuba after being arrested in Cuban water, will be persecuted if he is sent back there.
``Please, send him anywhere but back to Cuba,'' she said. ``I'll never see him again alive if he's taken back there. I'm sure he's thinking the same thing.''
The Panamanian government said Parrado could go there instead. Panamanian officials did not immediately explain their offer.
The men apparently wanted to swim to shore on their own because Cubans who reach U.S. soil generally are allowed to stay, while those intercepted at sea usually are sent back.
Upon reaching land Tuesday, the three swimmers raised their arms in victory and walked gingerly into the mangroves on North Key Largo.
They were taken into custody by the Border Patrol and taken to a detention center in the Keys, where they remained Wednesday morning. They were to be transferred Wednesday to a center in Miami-Dade County for processing, said Ana Santiago, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection.
U.S. Border Patrol spokesman Keith Roberts insisted that despite the recent arrivals, the number of people who entered the country illegally this year has declined from the same time in 2002. He did not immediately have exact figures.
``Patrol functions are still ongoing as they normally are,'' he said. ``We're still monitoring the traffic as we routinely do.''
Parrado remained on a Coast Guard cutter Wednesday as immigration officials attempted to determine his status, the Coast Guard said.
The Cubans were spotted by the crew of a Coast Guard plane Tuesday afternoon and two vessels were sent to the area, Petty Officer Ryan Doss said. The men swung their oars at the boat to keep the vessels at bay, then went overboard.
Parrado soon tired and allowed the Coast Guard to take him aboard. The other three initially threw life jackets back to Coast Guardsmen, but eventually put them on and swam the two miles to shore. One was wearing flippers.
If the United States doesn't let Parrado stay, Panama Consul General Manuel Cohen said Tuesday night that his Central American nation would offer political asylum to Parrado.
Parrado's father, Andres Parrado, 69, said he would wait until the United States made a decision on his son before making any formal requests.
Jorge Parrado came to Miami with his family in a stolen Cuban government boat in 1983, said his cousin, Mariano Rojas.
Rojas said Parrado was arrested in the early 1990s when he was on a pleasure trip with friends and their boat malfunctioned and drifted into Cuban water. Neither Rojas nor Parrado's father knew what he was charged with in Cuba.