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#3390: Haitian boat survivors arrive ashore in Nassau (fwd)


Published Saturday, April 29, 2000, in the Miami Herald 

 Haitian boat survivors arrive ashore in Nassau

 NASSAU -- Looking dehydrated and with clumps of sand still in their
hair, 222 Haitian shipwreck survivors stumbled off a
 Bahamian coast guard cutter Friday -- the final stop before their
expected repatriation to their troubled homeland. A Haitian government
official who interviewed several of the survivors said the reported
death toll of 14 people could climb higher. ``One of the first things
they told me was that more than 14 people died,'' said Pierre Richard
Cajuste, Haiti's consul in the Bahamas. Cajuste said complex factors
were to blame for the recent surge in illegal immigration from Haiti,
but he said the country's dire economy was the biggest catalyst.
 ``It's difficult to know exactly what reason,'' Cajuste said. ``Haiti
is experiencing an economic crisis.'' But at least one survivor who was
transferred to Nassau on Friday said political persecution led him to
flee his country. Genio Eloi, 32, said he and other passengers had
received threats in Haiti because of their affiliation with Espace, an
opposition political coalition.  The headquarters of one party in the
coalition was set on fire this month by mobs who accused its members of
orchestrating the murder of Haiti's most famous radio journalist.
 ``We had problems after the death of Jean Dominique,'' Eloi said.
``They said it was Espace that killed him. They told us all to go into
hiding.'' While immigration officials ferried the last group of 60
survivors from the Coast Guard cutter onto school buses, Eloi offered a
few details of the doomed journey: The trip was an impromptu escape
effort that got its start after a group of young men stole the boat, he


 After several days at sea with limited food and water, some of the
passengers died. The crowded conditions made it almost impossible to
tally the dead. ``They died of hunger. They died because they couldn't
get water,'' he said. The shipwreck survivors disembarked from the Coast
Guard cutter in the heart of Nassau's pastel-colored tourist village as
Calypso music boomed in the background and cruise ships and hotel
resorts beckoned.In interviews with government officials and reporters,
passengers on the doomed 50-foot sailboat told of the harrowing
conditions they had endured. Carlton Wright, a spokesman for the
Bahamian Foreign Ministry, said there were 181 men and 41 women on board
the cutter Friday. The group was being taken to a detention area at the
Foxhill prison where they would await a return flight to their
 homeland. ``They will be repatriated back to Haiti as soon as
arrangements can be made,'' Wright said. The status of one passenger who
said he was Cuban was still under investigation, he said.


 Wright, who speaks Creole, said the death toll on board remained
unconfirmed. In interviews with survivors he learned that most of those
who died had been tossed overboard by fellow passengers. But the
shipwreck survivors had to conduct last rites for two others after their
boat ran aground on a narrow island strip Wednesday. ``They buried two
people on Flamingo Cay,'' he said. Withfield Mortimer, 65, a Bahamian
taxi driver who observed the transfer, shook his head in quiet sympathy.
``It saddens me to see that people will risk their lives like that,''
Mortimer said. ``It's just because their country is so depraved. That's
really what you call desperation. I hope the Bahamas will never become
like that.''