In his remarks at the closing of the 7th Congress of the Federation of Cuban Women this past March 8, Comrade Fidel stated that on the following day, Thursday, a U.S. Coast Guard cutter would return 18 Cubans who had been intercepted at sea, out of a total of 107 who had attempted to reach the United States’ coasts between March 2 and 6.

The return announced by the Coast Guard Service did not take place on Thursday but on Friday. They brought back a total of seven women, seven men, two two-year-old girls, a four-year-old boy, and a 12-year-old boy.

Based on the testimony provided by the adults and the 12-year-old boy, in addition to information from official records, the story of the risky voyage on which they were intercepted has been reconstructed with a good many details as well as the personal history of the people involved, whether consciously or not as in the case of children.

What follows is a brief summary:

Milagros Reyes León, age 37, a native of Caibarién, Villa Clara, the mother of 12-year-old Yaisel Hernández Reyes. She had left the country illegally with her son in 1998 only to be repatriated by the Bahamian authorities. She frankly admitted that back then and on this occasion her son had said that he did not want to leave the country. Before this most recent departure, she added, he told her that he wanted to stay in Cuba with his grandmother.

She said that her main motivation was to be reunited with a brother living in the United States, who had influenced her decision, and that she had not been spurred to take this action for economic reasons.

Julia Estela Araque García, age 22, a native of Caibarién, Villa Clara. She left the country illegally with her two-year-old daughter to join her husband, Humberto Campos Rodríguez, who had gone to the United States in the same way.

Laisy Karina Becerra, age 29, a native of Santa Clara, Villa Clara. Her husband, Luis Alberto Gallardo Rojas, left the country illegally in mid-February this year; she did not want to go with him at the time because of her young daughter. Nevertheless, two weeks later, she set off with the two-year-old girl on this illegal voyage. Her living standard was quite comfortable since her husband earned a high income as a self-employed truck driver.

Niurka María Alejo Trujillo, age 33, a native of Santa Clara, Villa Clara. She declared that in 1995 she had signed up for an immigration visa lottery held by the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, and continued to participate in every subsequent lottery without ever receiving a reply. She had even considered the possibility of divorcing her husband and marrying someone else who managed to win the lottery.

Her motivation to leave the country illegally with her four-year-old son was to join her husband, Orestes Bernal Ruiz, who left the country illegally two years ago and currently lives in Tampa. She received 100 dollars a month from him, which allowed her to easily meet her own needs and those of her son.

After failing to get a visa, she decided to leave the country illegally with her four-year-old son unaware that something could go wrong. Alberto Reyes Manso, the man who organized the illegal voyage, to whom she was supposed to pay 6000 dollars for the trip upon arrival in the United States, contacted her.

Yoanna Anoceto Rial, age 24, a native of Caibarién, Villa Clara. She noted that she had had a difficult childhood, having been abandoned by her parents at a very young age and left in the care of an aunt. She tried to leave the country for the first time in February of 1998 but was returned to Cuba the following month. Her motivation for this second attempt was to follow her husband, Luis Orlando Vento Pérez, who left the country illegally in July of 1999.

María Isabel Rodríguez Perera, age 28, a native of Caibarién, Villa Clara. Her motivation was to be reunited with her husband, Rayner Normando Herrera Pérez, who left the country illegally in July of 1999 and lives in the United States. She has a son and daughter, both of them minors, who were not fathered by Rayner Normando Herrera Pérez. She did not attempt to take them with her because they are not in her custody and care.

Nercy Gómez Gómez, age 47, a native of Camagüey. She graduated from senior high school in 1970 and married Ángel Barbera. In 1980, the latter began the procedures to acquire Spanish citizenship since he was the son of Spaniards. That same year he went to Spain and subsequently moved to Miami. Nercy began to work in a store where she was considered an efficient manager. In addition, she received money every month from the father of her children. In 1990 she quit working to live off of these remittances. In 1994, her ex-husband initiated the procedures to claim his two sons, Ángel Barbera Gómez and Kadel Barbera Gómez, who left the country legally in August of that same year and joined their father in Miami. From that year on, Nercy signed up for the various lotteries organized by the U.S. Interests Section in Havana but she did not get a visa. She then sold her house to pay what she was charged for the illegal trip out of the country. Although she was returned as part of the group of 18, this woman was the only one not traveling on the same boat as the other 17 when intercepted at sea.

Yaisel Hernández Reyes, age 12, the son of Milagros Reyes and the only child involved capable of precisely expressing his feelings, is enrolled in the eighth grade at Julio Antonio Mella Junior High School in Caibarién. He said that he liked his school and that he had not yet decided what he would study in the future. He said that he liked playing on the street with his friends and that his favorite hobby was raising pigeons.

This child has been forced to participate in two illegal departures with his parents, at the ages of 10 and 12. Both times he was taken against his will despite repeatedly telling his mother that he did not want to go. He said that it made him sad to leave his school, his friends and his pigeons. He told a journalist that he wanted to stay with his grandmother who was to undergo surgery. He commented that both times he was afraid that the boat would sink or that he would fall into the sea or that a big wave would wash over the boat and capsize it. "I wouldn’t want to do it again, not now or ever."

These are the men involved:

Heberto Arango Aguiar, age 38, a native of Villa Clara. His father has been in the United States for close to 20 years. This past February his father came to visit him for two weeks, and this influenced his decision to leave the country illegally. He has no criminal record.

Dasni Landaburu Padrón, age 22, a native of Ranchuelo, Villa Clara. Categorized as an antisocial element. He has never been formally employed. He was involved in illegal activities from the day he dropped out of junior high school. According to police report 173/95, in 1995 he was prosecuted for purchasing stolen goods and was also arrested for petty larceny that same year in the province of Cienfuegos.

Juan Hernández Pérez, age 47, a native of Caibarién, Villa Clara. Worked as a dispatcher at the Caibarién bus station. He was prosecuted for embezzlement in 1997. On March 1, 1998, he left the country illegally from the Caibarién sports fishing base, on board the boat Azael, together with 30 other people; among them were numerous children, including his own son. The Bahamian authorities returned him on May 18, 1998 through the José Martí International Airport. On June 20 of that same year, he attempted to leave the country illegally once again, this time from the Caibarién seawall. He was warned against trying it again. He has no other crimes on record.

Antonio Sosa Carballal, age 34, a native of Santa Clara, Villa Clara. He does not know his father. He is a multiple re-offender of common crimes as well as an ex-convict. He served a three-year prison sentence for theft and public nuisance according to case No. 45/85. He was in prison from May of 1987 until April of 1989. He was also tried and convicted for inflicting serious bodily harm according to case No. 563/90 at the Villa Clara Provincial Court and imprisoned from November of 1990 until May of 1995. He had once tried to leave the country illegally and was returned by the U.S. Coast Guard Service on July 2, 1998.

Inocente Rafael Aguiar Rodríguez, age 36, a native of Ranchuelo, Villa Clara. He showed learning disabilities in grammar school and was diagnosed as schizophrenic. He loses his temper easily and frequently.

He began to work in a cigar factory but quit his job and turned to illegal activities eventually becoming an antisocial element with a dire record of conduct. The Ranchuelo Municipal Court sentenced him to eight months in prison, according to case No. 146/92, for resisting arrest. He served the sentence from April to October of 1992.

On numerous occasions he has been arrested for contempt of authority, illegal possession of arms with a blade, acquisition of stolen goods and all sorts of illegal activities for which diverse sanctions have been applied.

Humberto Teodoro García Sosa, age 41, a native of Ranchuelo, Villa Clara.

Sentenced to prison for theft in case No. 511/87. Sentenced to prison for purchasing stolen goods in case No. 285/90. Charged with minor assault and battery according to case No. 645/90. Charged with theft under report No. 46/91. Sentenced in case No. 36/96 for theft and killing of cattle.

On September 10, 1997, he was charged for black-marketeering, on September 12, 1998 for public nuisance and on March 9, 1999 for theft. According to case No. 284/99 he was charged of purchasing stolen goods and in case No. 162/99 for antisocial conduct. He was also repeatedly warned for illegal sales of beef and vagrancy.

Noy Agustín Enríquez Caballero, age 31, a native of Santa Clara, Villa Clara. Report No. 122/91, robbery with intimidation. April 2, 199, theft.

Charged in cases number 519/91, 979/97, 981/97, 438/97 and 833/97, in the municipalities of Santa Clara and Cifuentes, for breaking-ins, burglaries, theft and killing of cattle.

Prosecuted for escaping from prison in case No. 312/95. He became a fugitive as of April 1, 1999 upon escaping from the Villa Clara penitentiary, where he was serving a 12-year sentence for theft and killing of cattle according to case No. 131/98. He tried to leave the country illegally on numerous occasions.

All of these individuals with particularly disturbing records, who would have never been granted visas to enter the United States, would have been welcomed without the slightest objection if they had managed to set foot on its coasts thanks to the Cuban Adjustment Act.

Alberto Reyes Manso, age 45, a native of Villa Clara, was the organizer of the trip. He left Caibarién with his family and a number of other participants in this misadventure on the train from Caibarién to Santa Clara, at 4:40 a.m. Upon reaching Santa Clara, they got on a truck that took them to Sagua la Grande. From there they walked to a place on the coast that they reached at nightfall. A small boat made two trips to take them from there to a nearby key where they were picked up by a two-motor boat of the kind typically used in the trafficking of immigrants. An individual whose name has not been specified piloted the boat that had set out from Florida. He was accompanied by Rayner Herrera Pérez and Humberto Campos Rodríguez, who had left the country in July of 1999 and were living in the United States since; they are the husbands of María Isabel Rodríguez Perera and Julia Estela Araque, two of the participants in this illegal voyage.

The two-motor boat, which had one motor damaged, advanced slowly along the Bahamas Channel overloaded with the 22 emigrants on board and the three Florida residents who had come with it.

They soon ran out of gas. They asked for help from the passengers of a passing white U.S.-registered yacht but they refused. The yachters may have alerted the Coast Guard that later intercepted the troubled boat and took all those traveling on it on board.

Then, complications began. On March 9, the U.S. authorities informed that they would be returning 18 people intercepted on the high seas while on their way to the United States. They later announced that two more would be coming. These two were none other than the two Cuban illegal immigrants who had received resident status in the United States, the ones who hired the two-motor boat and accompanied the trafficker piloting it. They were told that these two individuals involved in the operation were U.S. residents and would not be accepted here.

On the other hand, they had singled out from this group the organizer of the trip, his wife, and his three children, including a four-year-old girl.

Alberto Reyes Manso, the man mainly responsible for this operation, had quit his job in Caibarién approximately ten years ago and had since then been fully involved in illegal business dealings and gambling. On February 11, 1992, he had been convicted for attempting to leave the country illegally in case No. 1053/92. He left the country on March 1, 1998 and was repatriated to Cuba in May of that same year by the Bahamian authorities. On that illegal and risky voyage on a boat with 30 people on board, he took with him his wife and three children, the youngest of whom was a two-year-old girl.

While delving into the possible reasons of the strange decision to not return Reyes Manso and his family, we learned that he had contacts in Caibarién with members of a small group of "close friends" of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, which had adopted the picturesque name of the Peace, Democracy and Freedom Rafters Association. This is a clear example of the United States close connection with traitors, annexionists and criminals in Cuba.

This story clearly exposes the consequences of the Cuban Adjustment Act as part of the U.S. perfidious policy towards Cuba.

As a result of this Act, every Cuban who travels illegally to the United States sets off a chain of other illegal voyages, with all of the risks these entail including the frequent loss of human lives.

Presently, the U.S. is trying to return to Cuba two illegal immigrants who had received resident status in the United States thanks to the Cuban Adjustment Act and who took part in this smuggling operation. They do not dare to put them on trial in Florida. They have returned to Cuba only 17 of the 22 people traveling on the damaged boat that ran out of gas and added a woman who was intercepted on a different illegal voyage. Nothing has been said about the numerous other people traveling with her in that other immigrant smuggling operation.

The organizer of this trip is being kept with his family in the United States where they will be given resident status, doubtlessly to please his friends of the Cuban-American National Foundation and their allies in the U.S. Congress, despite the fact that he endangered the lives of 21 people including seven women and five children if we count in his wife and young daughter and leave out the woman intercepted in that other mysterious voyage.

They do not say a word about the total number of people intercepted on that boat or about those who should have been repatriated like the rest, according to the terms of the migratory agreements, but were not.

When asked about the total number of women and children who had traveled illegally to the United States during the first week of March, and had either arrived on its coasts or were intercepted on the way, they refused to provide an answer to the country of which these people are citizens, as if they were ghosts roaming the seas. They know that this is a highly sensitive issue in the context of the problem created with the scandalous kidnapping of a shipwrecked Cuban child who was not even six years old at the time.

Embarrassed over their own contradictions, frightened by the screaming of the Cuban-American terrorist mob in Miami, caught up in the politicking of a multi-million dollar electoral campaign, they make mistake after mistake. The Coast Guard Service, battered by tricks, traps and negative campaigning, has grown increasingly demoralized and less efficient.

The agreements in force clearly establish that all those intercepted on the high seas must be returned to Cuba. Of all the people intercepted over the years, they have failed to return 30%, an obvious concession to the enemies of the migratory agreements. The number of those intercepted is growing smaller. If we abide by the figure of 140 Cubans, the official approximate number recognized by the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, as corresponding to the first week of March then of every 100 who tried to leave the country illegally the United States intercepted only 12.85%. This is either a major mockery or absolute impotence.

An immigrant smuggling industry has emerged with boats registered in the United States and smugglers who are residents there. Not one of these people has been arrested. Is it mockery? Is it impotence? Is it bad faith?

We have signed agreements that establish that each side will adopt the necessary measures to guarantee legal, orderly and safe migration; we have both pledged to promote the reunification of families and to prevent the loss of human lives.

The United States has not been able or has not wanted to honor its commitments. The granting of no less than 20,000 visas annually –-certainly the only provision they have complied with–- will solve nothing by itself. Tens of thousands of Cubans will continue to be exposed to the danger of perishing in the often-troubled seas as long as there are separate families who sometimes become desperate and in growing numbers attempt an illegal departure as the figures offered here demonstrate.

There are also criminals, idlers and loafers who dream of a paradise of leisure and crime as well as ordinary people who cannot withstand the hardships imposed by the criminal and genocidal blockade, people who seek better material living conditions and who know that after taking the risk of reaching a little island in the Bahamas where they will later be picked up by smugglers in speedboats, like a drug shipment, or letting themselves be pulled along by the Gulf Stream in a fragile home-made craft, they will automatically receive resident status, the immediate right to a job, much higher salaries and no risk of repatriation from land or sea.

What would happen if there were an Adjustment Act for the millions of Mexicans, Haitians and Dominicans who risk their lives every year to reach the United States neither pressed by an economic blockade nor with guaranteed resident status or the immediate right to a job? It would be impossible to calculate the number of those who would perish.

The United States is increasingly failing to comply with essential aspects of the migratory agreements.

Cuba, on the other hand, has rigorously fulfilled each and every one of its commitments. The 18 people who arrived on March 10 --with the exception of one who was an escaped convict and will thus go back to jail-- have been sent back to their homes with the same status they had when they left the country. If the children sent back or their mothers need help, the revolutionary state will give it to them, as it has always done with all those who require it. After all, ours is a socialist state.