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8260: Cubans Have Choice of Cuba or Haiti (fwd)

From: Dan Craig <dgcraig@att.net>

This article from NYTimes.com

Cubans Have Choice of Cuba or Haiti

Filed at 7:21 p.m. ET

CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti (AP) -- A group of Cubans whose boat sank this
week before reaching Florida confronted a difficult decision Friday
-- return to the communist island or stay in Haiti, the poorest
nation in the hemisphere.

Some refugees say it's enough to be free of Cuban leader Fidel
Castro. Others, with relatives in Miami, hope the United States
will bend the rules and give them asylum.

``We would all prefer to die, rather than sent back to Cuba,''
33-year-old physician Julio Cesar said in an interview in
Cap-Haitien, 95 miles north of Port-au-Prince.

But the dozen refugees speak little of the Creole and French that
are Haiti's national languages, they have no money, and they're
unaware that Haiti's economy is near collapse and the country has
been locked in a political impasse for more than a year.

The Cubans, all from northern Camaguey province and between 27 and
45 years old, left May 18 aboard a 17-foot raft.

Among them are five medical technicians, an economist, a factory
quality control worker, a small farmer and a fisherman.

For seven days, they waited in the mangroves for a chance to slip
by patrols.

No sooner had they set off than a Cuban helicopter swooped down,
circling lower and lower until the chopper blades were barely 2
feet above their heads.

The aircraft didn't pursue them but the wind from its blades sucked
their food out of the boat and pushed it onto a coral reef,
damaging the motor.

Some 20 miles out to sea, they met another Cuban vessel that gave
them some spare parts and supplies. On May 27, they reached tiny
Cay Lobos island, still some 250 miles from Florida. The next day
the motor broke down, they ran out of water and the boat began to

On May 31, about 145 miles southeast of Miami, the weather worsened
and their boat began going down.

``The boat would have sunk in three hours,'' said John Fenty,
captain of the Haitian freighter Faith, who saved the Cubans.

Fenty continued his voyage to Haiti and on Wednesday, the Cubans
came ashore and requested political asylum.

They all spoke of the deprivations of daily life in Cuba and
political persecution. If repatriated, the Cubans face fines of
$500) each or three years in prison.

Haiti's government has yet to decide on their asylum

Cesar said that if forced to choose between Cuba and Haiti, all of
the refugees would choose Haiti.

Haitians frequently take to the sea in flimsy boats in hopes of
reaching the United States. But their requests for asylum
frequently are turned down. Cubans who reach U.S. soil usually get

This month, the U.S. Coast Guard said it repatriated 46 intercepted
Cubans, while 77 made it to shore. Since October 1999, the Coast
Guard has intercepted more than 1,000 Cubans and some 1,800