December 30, 2005

87 Cuban migrants arrive on Florida’s coast

MIAMI (Reuters) - Eighty-seven Cuban migrants reached
Florida's coast on Friday, including a group of 28 who waded
ashore in a Miami Beach waterfront park.

Federal officials said most of the migrants appeared to
have been brought to the United States by smugglers who carry
Cubans in fast boats across the 100 miles of open water that
separates the communist-ruled island from Florida.

The arrivals capped a year in which unusually high numbers
of Cubans and Dominicans left their Caribbean homelands looking
for better living conditions in the United States.

Fifty-six Cubans landed in the Florida Keys and three came
ashore in Key Biscayne, a wealthy island town near Miami.

The 12 men, seven women and nine children who landed at
Miami Beach told police they left Cuba on Wednesday in a
makeshift boat, which began to sink somewhere between Cuba and

They said they were picked up by a yacht and dropped off in
waist-deep water just off South Pointe Park in Miami Beach,
which is alongside Miami's main shipping channel in the shadow
of luxury condo towers.

"They were all in pretty good shape," Miami Beach police
spokeswoman Arley Flaherty said. "They were a little
dehydrated, cold."

But Steve McDonald, an assistant chief with the U.S. Border
Patrol, said the Miami Beach incident and some of the other
landings bore the hallmarks of smuggling operations. The boats
were nowhere to be found and the migrants were less disheveled
than they would have been after days at sea, he said.

"We think they're smuggling-related," he said.

Under the U.S. "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy, Cubans who are
interdicted at sea are routinely taken back to Cuba, while
those who manage to set foot on land are allowed to stay.
McDonald said 801 Cubans had landed in Florida since the start
of the federal fiscal year on October 1.

The U.S. Coast Guard has picked up 2,866 Cubans at sea in
2005, nearly twice as many as last year and the highest number
since 1994, when more than 37,000 were intercepted in a major
exodus from the island.

Only Dominicans have taken to sea in greater numbers in the
Caribbean region -- 4,388 as of Thursday, nearly matching last
year's total of 4,568.

Fewer Haitians have attempted the journey this year --
1,828 have been intercepted compared with 3,078 last year,
according to Coast Guard statistics.