Seven Cuban Migrants on Raft Injured by Gunfire

File image courtesy Cruise Law News

By MarEx 2016-03-28 20:38:42

Over the weekend, a U.S. Coast Guard crew intercepted a raft of Cuban migrants off the Florida Keys - and found that seven of those aboard had been shot. 

Yaser Carbrera Romero and Jorge Luis Escalona, two of the injured migrants, said that they had been attacked by unknown assailants as they attempted to begin their journey to the United States. 

“We really don’t know who shot us, but we think it was criminals who wanted to steal the raft,” Romero told the Miami Herald. “We were just arriving in a vehicle that took us to the raft, and while we were still on shore, four people showed up and yelled: ‘Stay where you are. The boat is ours!’” The migrants confronted the robbers and chased them off, he said, but not before the attackers injured Romero and six more, including a pregnant woman. 

He said that after the attempted robbery, the wounded and 19 others decided to board the raft anyways and attempt the hazardous voyage north. A Coast Guard vessel apprehended them as they approached Key West, and transferred the most seriously injured members of the party to a nearby hospital. One with lesser injuries and the uninjured members of the party were repatriated to Cuba. 

Escalona confirmed the account. He added that this journey was his seventeenth attempt to reach the U.S., and he thanked the Coast Guard for rescuing his group at sea. 

Under the United States' longstanding "wet foot, dry foot" policy, Cubans fleeing to America may remain in the U.S., so long as they make it to shore. If intercepted at sea they are returned to Cuba. 

Migration flows have increased markedly since the beginning of a period of detente between Cuba and the U.S.; some Cubans fear the end of "wet foot, dry foot” as relations between the two nations are normalized, and many have chosen to leave Cuba lest the window should close before they can make it to America. The Obama administration has attempted to counter the perception of impending change in immigration policy, and has repeatedly said that it does not intend to end the special status of Cuban migrants. 

The Coast Guard's Seventh District has noted an uptick not only in the number of Cubans arriving by sea - last year 4,500 were intercepted or arrived -  but also a new sense of desperation. Lt. Cmdr. Gabe Somma, a U.S. Coast Guard Seventh District spokesman, recently provided with a long list of incidents involving physical resistance to interception and even self-mutilation (intended to require medical treatment ashore and thereby reach U.S. soil). 

The Coast Guard and the Border Patrol dd not comment on the cause of the shooting, and said that investigations were ongoing.