Cuba disputes migrant drownings account
Posted on Fri, Dec. 28, 2007
By MIAMI HERALD STAFF
The Cuban government on Friday confirmed the deaths of two citizens and
the arrest of several others caught last week after trying to flee the
island illegally in an apparent failed attempt to reach the United States.
The two confirmed deaths dispute earlier family accounts that as many as
25 people had drowned in the boat accident following a chase by Cuban
The unusual detailed account of the incident, published in Granma, the
Communist Party daily, blamed U.S. law for the deaths in the apparent
smuggling operation. It also blamed Miami news outlets, including The
Miami Herald, for the dissemination of the unconfirmed death tally.
What follows is a direct translation of Cuba's account of the incident:
Once again fostered by the Cuban Adjustment Act, which the U.S.
government utilizes against Cuba, and with the participation of
traffickers in human beings, a lamentable event occurred at dawn Dec.
22, when a speed boat that originated in the United States sank in the
region of Piedra Alta, Santa Cruz del Norte, province of Havana, taking
the lives of two people.
At 4:39 a.m. that day, the guard duty officer at the Havana outpost of
the Border Guards reported to the command of the Directorate of Border
Guard Troops (DTGF) that an officer at the border post in Boca de Jaruco
had detained a citizen in the area of Piedra Alta who said he was part
of a group of 15 to 20 persons who had made an illegal departure from
the country aboard a speed boat from abroad, which foundered, and the
rest of the people, including women and children, were still at sea.
From that moment on, a sea search was instituted with air and naval
craft, as well as patrols on land.
Coast Guard boat 040 and Patrol speed boat 60 were sent to the area, as
well as a [Cuban Air Force] helicopter, which found objects belonging to
the seagoing craft. Also mobilized were a search-and-rescue group of the
firefighters unit of Santa Cruz del Norte, alarm groups of the Border
Guard troops and a patrol car of the national police.
At 6:50 a.m., the crew of Patrol speed boat 60 picked up the body of a
woman in her 40s; later, the body of a citizen between 25 and 30 years
old. Both were taken to the border post at Boca de Jaruco.
As a result of the ground patrol, 26 persons were detained (19 men and
seven women), accompanied by two minors, both 9 years old. The ages of
the older detainees range between 20 and 66 years. Twelve of them have
The bodies were identified as Yosvani Vera Alvarez, 29, a self-employed
taxi-bike driver who lived in the municipality of Aguada de Pasajeros,
Cienfuegos province, and Zuleica Rodríguez Pérez, 43, a resident of the
municipality of Jovellanos, province of Matanzas.
Autopsies conducted at the forensics institute established the cause of
death in both cases as asphyxia by submersion. At 10:30 p.m. on Dec. 22,
the bodies were turned over to their respective families. Funerals were
held later, without incident.
During initial interviews, several of the people involved stated that
they were asked by relatives living in the U.S. to travel to the town of
Sierrita in Santa Cruz del Norte. There, they were led by a citizen (who
has not been located) to a cave on the coast, where 25 people gathered.
Another presumed guide apparently communicated by telephone with the
speed boat drivers. He announced when the boat would arrive.
Minutes later, a white boat approached the shore. Two men stood in the
cabin, which was astern, right above two outboard motors. One of them
gave the signal to board, telling the passengers they had only 10
seconds to come aboard. However, because of the waves, only 11 persons
were able to go aboard.
According to the citizens who managed to board the speed boat, the craft
approached from an area filled with reefs. One of the traffickers used
his legs to try to keep the craft from crashing into the rocks. This was
verified during an inspection of the rocks, which showed evidence of damage.
The survivors themselves say that, from the moment of departure, the
boat started to take in water and one of the engines failed. The
circumstances forced the drivers to return to shore a few minutes later.
While doing so, in a sudden move, the craft overturned and sank by the
stern, about one kilometer [0.6 miles] from shore.
According to the survivors' testimony, all began to swim to shore. One
of the drivers handed two lifesavers to a woman with a girl (Yusimi
Sánchez Torres and her daughter, Melisa Chapelli) but the rest of the
survivors lacked lifesavers. Nine illegal migrants and the two drivers
managed to reach shore.
As a result of the events, little Melisa Chapelli was given medical
attention, because she was very weak. Luciano Rodríguez Lozano was
treated for fuel burns; Lester García Soto, a diabetic, was given
insulin. All were treated and released by doctors.
The Ministry of the Interior reported that the authorities are searching
for the drivers, who apparently fled inland, leaving the would-be migrants.
While in Cuba the investigation continues into this lamentable
occurrence provoked by the murderous Cuban Adjustment Act, which took
two more lives in its long list of casualties and endangered 28 others,
including two minors, in Miami the counter-revolution made use of its
arsenal of lies, which always has sided with the aforementioned
Thus, on Dec. 26, in the program Noticias 41, Channel 41 in Miami stated
that ''25 Cuban rafters died at sea,'' a version repeated the following
day by The Miami Herald, whose storyteller spread the lie that
``apparently the craft was detected and pursued by Border Guard patrol
boats, and, while being pursued, crashed against a reef, suffering
Radio Mambí was not far behind. ''It is said the boat was rammed by the
Cuban border guards. Twenty-five people died and only 11 bodies have
been recovered.'' And the announcer added: ``Now we have to wait to
learn the whole truth, because the regime will never tell the truth.''
The truth is that Washington's aggressive policy against Cuba has
stimulated the unscrupulous trafficking of persons by groups that enjoy
impunity in Florida and utilize the same routes and means used in the
drug-trafficking operations, which also affects neighboring countries,
such as Mexico, where the mafias linked to these deals shoot each other
to claim control and profits.
That is the truth. The Cuban Adjustment Act is a criminal tool of
aggression used by the U.S. government and its mercenaries in Miami, who
resort to any means, whether it's death or lies, in their eagerness to
defeat the revolution.
Miami Herald translator Renato Pérez contributed to this report.