clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

After quick capture, refugees are freed
Protesters say police were brutal, insensitive

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- After public protests, six Cubans who jumped out of a boat just offshore, then fought to evade Coast Guardsmen trying to keep them from reaching land, will be allowed to stay in this country to apply for asylum.

Under U.S. policy, Cubans who reach shore are allowed to stay and eventually get work permits, but those found at sea -- even a few yards offshore -- are usually returned to Cuba.Two of the Cubans made it to shore Tuesday afternoon as a crowd in Surfside, Fla., cheered them on. But one was surrounded by police and handcuffed, and Coast Guardsmen nabbed the others in a struggle that was broadcast on local television.

Hundreds of people protested, accusing the Coast Guard of brutality and insensitivity.

Demonstrators temporarily shut down a major highway, and the police chief of Hialeah was treated for minor injuries after clashing with them.

Public officials joined the protests.

Late Tuesday, Coast Guard officials said the six refugees will be allowed to stay in the United States. After being checked for criminal records, all were expected to be released while they apply for asylum.

The refugees jumped from a 14-foot rowboat about 150 yards off shore, then swam and frantically changed directions each time authorities drew near in one of four boats.

At one point, Coast Guard officers used water hoses on those in the rowboat, and one refugee in the water was hit with pepper spray.

Protesters later gathered outside the Coast Guard station in Miami Beach, waving Cuban flags and yelling "You almost killed them" and "Free them." An estimated 1,000 protesters shut down a causeway to Miami Beach in the midst of rush hour.

Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas said his staff was in contact with Washington officials all day long protesting the action.

"This is a very dark day not just for Miami but for the country," said Miami Mayor Joe Carollo.

"There is no room in this great nation for a policy of such savage and brutal treatment of refugees whose only crime is the pursuit of freedom," Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., wrote to President Clinton.

A Coast Guard spokesman said the agency will investigate the refugees' treatment.