Published Tuesday, September 24, 1996, in the Miami Herald.

Total of 35 land in Keys, on beach

By CONNIE PILOTO Herald Staff Writer KEY WEST -- Three groups of Cuban refugees arrived on South Florida shores Monday, including 20 who apparently were smuggled from Cuba in a fishing boat and dropped off at a Stock Island marina. ``They told us they came in a fishing boat from Cuba and were left at the marina,'' said Lemar Wooley, spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Miami. ``We don't know much more about who brought them here.'' A group of 10 others -- including two who had tried more than 20 times to make the crossing -- arrived in Miami Beach. And five Cuban men were found on State Road 905 in North Key Largo about 5 p.m. They told Monroe County deputies that they had come on a boat, but the Marine Patrol couldn't find it by nightfall. Late Monday, anti-smuggling investigators from the Border Patrol were sent to interview the group in Key West. The refugees will likely be sent to the Krome Detention Center in Dade County. Refugee smuggling has been under intense federal scrutiny in recent years. In August, two people from a group of about 25 drowned when a smuggler's boat capsized off Marathon. In January, a woman died from the pounding she took from the waves as a smuggler's vessel raced across the Straits of Florida. The two smugglers in that case got 16 months for involuntary manslaughter. The refugees in Monday's case in Key West -- 11 women, three children and six men -- spent their first day in the United States resting on tables in a large, locked room at the Key West International Airport. Most wore blue uniforms from the Monroe County Jail. The Cuban women, most in their early to late 20s, huddled together as they paged through a magazine. The men looked out a window, and the children -- wearing bathing suits -- frolicked while sucking on lollipops. One woman had a swollen leg and was keeping it iced, but the rest of the group appeared healthy, authorities said. ``I wanted to take them to the transit center so we could reach their relatives, but they aren't being released,'' said Arturo Cobo, coordinator of the Refugee Transit Center on Stock Island. ``We're doing everything we can to get them whatever they need.'' In the morning, Cobo delivered trays filled with Cuban coffee, milk and toast. He returned midday with rice, black beans, meat and baby food. By late afternoon, INS officials asked whether he could deliver diapers, underwear and blankets.

Just after midnight

The refugees -- from Havana, Guanabacoa and Regla -- arrived at a dock at Peninsular Marine in Stock Island about 12:30 a.m. Monday, deputies said. They found no one at the marina, so they walked about a block to a security booth at Oceanside Marina, where they found a guard and told him that they had just arrived from Cuba, Oceanside manager Roger Greene said. The guard called the sheriff's office. Deputies loaded some refugees into the back seats of several police cars -- the rest rode in the back of the guard's pickup truck -- and took them to the airport, where they were left in the custody of INS officials, said deputy Becky Herrin, sheriff's spokeswoman. Shortly after daybreak, a group of 10 refugees came ashore behind the Days Inn, 4299 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. They came on the Julia, a 19-foot wood boat powered by an oil-spitting Russian engine, from a central Cuban port town. They leaped off the vessel, knelt on the sand and seaweed and made the sign of the cross. ``Look at this place,'' said Pedro Melian Alvarez, 30, pointing at a yellow Art Deco building. ``Miami! Miami!''

Twenty-three tries

Also aboard were Roberto Gonzalez, 30, and Doris Uz Duque, 22, who said it was their 23rd attempt to flee communist Cuba. Miami Beach police identified the others as Yanett Rodriguez, 18; Alfredo Arramendi, 40; Ricardo Valdez, 22; and Enrique Lopez, 25, and his wife, Levis, 18. The Cubans were greeted ashore just after 8 a.m. by curious tourists, beach residents, joggers and their dogs. Several passersby offered them Marlboro Lights and towels or pulled out cellular phones so the newly arrived refugees could call their families in Miami -- many of whom showed up before police and the Border Patrol. ``We made it,'' Uz told her older brother Silvio, 29, of Miami, as they hugged on the shoreline for the first time in nearly two years. ``No more Cuba. . . . We have a future.'' U.S. Border Patrol officers took the Cubans to Krome, where they would be screened for political asylum. Last year, federal policy changed concerning Cubans fleeing by sea. Those caught by the Coast Guard are routinely repatriated unless they prove a ``credible'' fear of returning. Some who have made it to U.S. shores have been released after the Immigration and Naturalization Service examined their cases.
Herald staff writers Manny Garcia and Nancy Klingener contributed to this report.

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1996 The Miami Herald.