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Cuban Boy Will Be Able to Stay in U.S.

November 27, 2002

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MIAMI (AP) _ A 13-year-old Cuban found in a boat will be allowed to remain in the United States because he could testify against the accused smugglers, federal officials said.

The boy and a suspected smuggler never made it to land after their 21-foot, Florida-registered boat ran out of fuel Monday off Key West, Coast Guard spokesman Luis Diaz said. After a Coast Guard rescue, his father and four others scampered onto a dock. The two suspected smugglers were arrested.

Under the federal government’s ``wet foot, dry foot″ policy, Cubans who make it to shore are generally allowed to stay, while those who don’t are sent back. The teen, however, was a potential material witness, said Jackie Becerra, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami.

The case was announced Tuesday, the third anniversary of the arrival of Elian Gonzalez and evoked comparisons because of questions surrounding the 13-year-old’s custody.

The boy, his father and the other Cubans were in the custody of the Immigration and Naturalization Service on Wednesday. INS spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez would not comment Tuesday on whether the boy or his father had been interviewed.

Officials had no information on the boy’s mother.

Elian, then 5, survived a boat sinking, but his mother died in the attempt to reach the United States. He was brought to Miami to stay with relatives and became ensnared in a bitter custody dispute after Cuban President Fidel Castro demanded the boy be returned to his father, who wanted to stay in Cuba.

Elian was eventually returned to his father after a raid of the Miami relatives’ home in April 2000.

The two men charged Tuesday with alien smuggling were identified as Martin Mendez-Diaz and Elizardo Ruiz-Alvarez, both Florida residents. It was not immediately known if the men were represented by lawyers.

The smuggling charge carries a five-year prison sentence. The men were to be arraigned Wednesday afternoon.

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