Cuban boat people continued setting sail for the United States Saturday, heading north in fine weather to join thousands of others.
Most of them were picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard and taken to the naval base at Guantanamo Bay.For several hours Saturday afternoon, from a hired fishing vessel sailing north of Havana, Reuters cameraman Alfredo Tedeschi spotted dozens of small, homemade vessels each carrying four or more people.
In fine weather and placid seas, the rafters appeared to be in good spirits as they sailed slowly north on their unwieldy vessels, made from inner tubes, oil drums, wood and sometimes with makeshift sails.
Rafter interceptions by the Coast Guard continued steady Saturday, with almost 600 picked up by late afternoon after 1,353 people were intercepted on Friday, the service said.
Faced with the threat of a mass exodus, the United States began in mid-August to detain Cuban refugees at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba rather than allowing them near-automatic admission to this country.
But rafters who spoke with Reuters overwelmingly say they are leaving Cuba because they are fed up with harsh conditions in the island's current economic crisis.
One vessel bobbing through the water about six miles north of the Cuban capital held about a dozen people, including a small child and a baby.
They had evaded a ban announced by President Fidel Castro last Sunday on rafters setting out on the perilous journey with children on board. Coast Guard officers and police have been patrolling the Cuban shores for the past week to enforce the ban.
Talks between the United States and Cuba that began Thursday in New York on the rafter exodus were due to resume Sunday after a one-day break.
Further out to sea, in international waters about 15 miles north of the Cuban capital, some rafters were seen being picked up by Coast Guard vessels.
U.S. sailors aboard the cutter Key Largo, which had sent a motor dinghy out to one raft, quickly handed bright red life jackets to the rafters upon reaching the cutter.
Another group of four had made good pace on their oil-drum contraption, setting out Friday night from Santa Cruz, a small town east of Havana, and traveling 15 miles north by Saturday afternoon.