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“It’s Very Possible That I Will Try Again,” Says Rafter Repatriated To Cuba

“It’s Very Possible That I Will Try Again,” Says Rafter Repatriated To
Cuba / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 6 July 2016 — Bearded, hungry and full
of frustration, Walter Marrero Velazquez returned to the same island
that saw him leave on a flimsy craft. On 20 May the group, consisting of
24 rafters, was intercepted by the US Coast Guard while clinging to the
American Shoal lighthouse, eight miles off Sugarloaf Key in the Florida
Keys. The case ended up with four of them deported to Cuba and the other
20 taken to the US Naval Base at Guantanamo, to await further action.

Marrero Velaquez arrived in Puerto Padre, Las Tunas on Monday and only
now is seeing the information about “the lighthouse rafters” published
in the international press and by independent reporters. A few hours ago
he learned about the emergency appeal presented by five attorneys from
the Democracy Movement and its rejection by Judge Darrin P. Gayles,
whose decision opened the way for them to be deported.

The rafter remembers each one of the 42 days he spent in the custody of
American authorities. “At first we were in a smaller boat, but then they
put us in at least three larger ships, known as ‘cutters’ or ‘mother
ships,” he told 14ymedio by phone.

The repatriation occurred on 30 June, with the first stop in Havana, and
on the 4th of July, American Independence Day, the rafter was taken to
Las Tunas, where lack of fuel meant that the police could only transfer
him to Puerto Padre hours later. Others of those repatriated were
returned to the same province, while two of them reside in Havana.

In the Cuban capital, immigration authorities and the police asked them
some questions about the origin of the fragile craft’s engine. “They
wanted to get information out of us,” said the rafter, who had to sign
his statement but didn’t receive a “warning letter.” In the
interrogations they never suggested to him not to repeat the illegal
departure from the country.

While on the “mother ship,” Marrero Velaquez came to count 160 Cubans
intercepted at sea who were returned to the island. “The amount of food
they gave us was very small, like enough for a six-month-old baby,” he
complained. “I lost 15 pounds during the days I spent there,” he said.

The young man, 20, said that when they protested the meager ration they
were pushed and handcuffed. The hullabaloo raised by the group was not
expected in such cases, but it did little good, he recalls. Situations
like that led them to write a collective letter which they threw into
the sea in a bottle, like desperate castaways.

“We have spent 37 days sleeping on the floor, the food is for dogs, they
mistreat us to the point of violence and we have companions who are sick
in the head, it is hell,” explained the two-page missive written by
hand. The bottle was fund by a fisherman who didn’t even speak Spanish
and who gave it to the authorities. Held incommunicado, without the
ability to contact attorneys, that letter was the only chance the
rafters had to tell about what they were experiencing.

The SOS message managed to get the case re-heard, and gave them the
chance to travel to the Guantanamo Naval Base, an area administered by
the United States in eastern Cuba. But the young man from Las Tunas
preferred not to take advantage of that opportunity.

“In the interview we had with the consul, one by one, the paper they
made us sign said that, if we went to Guantanamo as refugees, then we
would end up in a third country.” The rafter said that they made it
clear that with this option they would lose the right to enter the
United States. “I decided to come to Cuba because it is very possible to
try again,” he says with determination.

Source: “It’s Very Possible That I Will Try Again,” Says Rafter
Repatriated To Cuba / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez – Translating Cuba –

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