26 rafters intercepted by Coast Guard, seven of them had been shot


The Miami Herald

It’s a mystery on the sea.

When a U.S. Coast Guard crew encountered a makeshift raft just south of Key West on Saturday, they found 26 Cuban migrants aboard — and seven had been shot.

Six had critical wounds and were taken to a hospital on Stock Island. A seventh wounded migrant was transferred with the remaining 19 to a Coast Guard cutter to await likely repatriation to Cuba, unless one or more claim fear of persecution if returned. If that happens, they would then be taken to the Guantánamo naval base to be processed for possible resettlement in a third country.

But who shot them?

Were they injured as they left Cuba? Did they wound themselves in order to get to a U.S. hospital on land? Did they fight among themselves or with a smuggler? Was it an accident?

Authorities aren’t saying much.

When the Coast Guard finds Cuban rafters injured or sick, they bring them ashore to receive medical care. That usually allows them to stay in the United States and apply for permanent residence after more than a year in the country under the Cuban Adjustment Act. Generally, Cuban rafters intercepted at sea are returned to Cuba under the wet foot/dry foot policy.

The Coast Guard issued a statement on Sunday morning recounting the number of migrants found and how many had gunshot wounds.

According to KeysInfoNet, the six were taken to the Lower Keys Medical Center on Stock Island. Coast Guard spokesmen said the Border Patrol was in charge of the six Cubans who were taken to the hospital.

Frank Miller, a Border Patrol spokesman, said four were released to the agency that generally handles their paperwork. He had no information on whether the other two remained in Border Patrol custody.

Miller declined to provide more details because the case is part of a “ongoing investigation.”

Normally, Cuban rafters who reach shore and have not been wounded by gunfire are retained by the Border Patrol for a few hours or at most a day for background checks and to process their parole documents to remain in the country.

The Coast Guard reported last week that nine Cubans had died at sea during a voyage to South Florida, according to Cuban migrants who were rescued by a cruise ship near Marco Island, off the west coast of Florida. The 18 survivors, who were taken to Cozumel, Mexico, said they had tossed the bodies into the sea, according to the Coast Guard.

Also, in separate incidents last week, 58 Cuban migrants intercepted at sea on several vessels were repatriated.

According to Coast Guard figures, so far this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, 2,562 Cubans have been intercepted, sighted or have landed in Florida, 269 of them during February.

In fiscal year 2015, about 4,476 Cuban migrants were intercepted, spotted or arrived by sea, the largest number in more than seven years.

According to the Coast Guard, uncertainty about a possible change in U.S. immigration policy Cuba has led to a larger number of Cuban immigrants since President Barack Obama ordered the restoration of relations with Cuba it began the process of normalization in December 2014.

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