US Court to Listen to the Case of Cuban Rafters who Landed on a US Lighthouse

They won’t be repatriated over the course of the hearing.

By Café Fuerte

Cuban boat people turn themselves over to the US Coast Guard at the lighthouse base in Sugarloaf Key last Friday.
Cuban boat people turn themselves over to the US Coast Guard at the lighthouse base in Sugarloaf Key last Friday.

HAVANA TIMES — A Miami District Court has agreed to listen to the cases of a group of 21 Cuban rafters who managed to reach a lighthouse in the Florida Keys in order to prevent their repatriation to Cuba and receive political asylum in the US.

The federal court announced that it had agreed to consider the emergency appeal filed by Movimiento Democracia (a non-profit organization) and six of the people on the boat, claiming that they should remain on US soil under the protection of the “wet foot/dry foot” policy. The 11-page legal petition argues that when they landed on the American Shoal Lighthouse, just 8 miles offshore from Sugarloaf Key, they automatically became entitled to receive “dry foot” status, as the lighthouse constitutes US territory.

The hearing has been set to take place on Friday May 27 at 2pm before Judge Darrin P. Gayles, at the Wilkie D. Ferguson federal courtroom in downtown Miami.

The claimants’ lawyers as well as representatives from the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security will attend the hearing and each of them will present their cases. Over the next few days, Judge Gayles will have to rule whether the lighthouse does in fact constitute “US territory”, which will be key in deciding the Cuban boat people’s fate.

They won’t be repatriated

For now, the US Coast Guard, who have the 21 Cubans under their custody, has spoken with Movimiento Democracia lawyers and announced that they won’t deport the group of Cubans whilst the federal court deals with the legal immigration process.

“We would like to thank the US Government for their promise to our lawyers that they won’t repatriate any of the Cuban boat people who landed on the Lighthouse whilst the court hearing takes place,” said Ramón Saúl Sánchez, the head of Movimiento Democracia.

The 21 Cubans landed in the surrounding area of Sugarloaf Key last friday after traveling for six days on the high seas. They had originally departed from Caibarién, a town in the north of the Villa Clara province. When the small home-made vessel approached the Florida coast and it’d be seen, it was immediately reported to the Coast Guard who then arrived very quickly at the scene. When they arrived, the Cuban boat people decided to climb up the lighthouse, 33m above sea level, in order to claim their right to receive political asylum in the US. Out of the 21 immigrants, two of them abandoned the lighthouse and jumped into the water to hand themselves over to the Coast Guard.

After a lengthy negotiation process, the Cuban rafters finally left the lighthouse. Since then, they’ve been held at a US Coast Guard cutter whilst they await the Judge’s ruling in regard to the controversial status of the lighthouse.

Sánchez and the team of lawyers who work with Movimiento Democracia have been working non-stop since the event; compiling any information they can about the boat people by contacting their relatives in Miami, writing affidavits and formulating an emergency appeal in order to prevent their repatriation. This legal appeal was presented in court on Tuesday.

Light at the end of the Seven Mile Bridge

The activist explained that the petition had been made in the name of Libán Concepción Lio, Alexeis Leyva, Michael Pérez Pérez, Yordanki Pérez Varea, Alexander Vergara López y Jegnier Cépedes Almaguer on behalf of the 21 Cuban rafters.

“The appeal includes all 21 rafters, because the two of them who handed themselves over to the Coast Guard had also reached the lighthouse,” explained Sánchez. “We remain optimistic because this case has strong legal precedence in its favor.”

The precedent they refer to, which is the foundation of the 21 Cubans request, dates back to a court ruling made by the Federal Judge Federico Moreno, in March 2006. In that case, 15 boat people landed on some piers belonging to the Seven Mile Bridge, in the Florida Keys region, and they were repatriated back to Cuba.

Sánchez carried out a hunger strike and the case led to a similar appeal, led by the same legal team who are now representing the 21 rafters. After a court hearing, Moreno ruled that “the Seven Mile Bridge is as American as apple pie” and the 15 Cubans, who had previously been deported, received visas in Havana to return to the US.
Text from the emergency appeal presented in favor of the 21 Cuban boat people who landed on the lighthouse.


11 thoughts on “US Court to Listen to the Case of Cuban Rafters who Landed on a US Lighthouse

  • Now you’ve got wage and economic slavery under the American ‘Dog eat Dog’ Capitalist System. Its nearing the end of its rope as I see it. The average American citizen is frustrated and angry. Lots of crime. Murder rate up. Use of drugs out of control. Social and economic Inequality Big changes are coming. They’re not going to put up with it much longer. And it won’t be pretty. .But, in the meantime,go ahead and continue to harp about conditions in Cuba. .

  • Huh?

    North Korea reports 100% voter turnout and 100% support for the regime. They must be an even happier with their government.

  • Those 21 rafters are simply looking for capital. Of course the USians will give it to them. The Blockade and Hurricanes have kept Cuba in a state of relative poverty but with 90% of the population continuing to vote in the Socialist Government – I would say the majority of Cubans are quite pleased to live in a free and supportive country.

  • Yes Ben, the plaque commemorates a bad and sad part of history which only closed with the end of slavery. But long after slavery had ended in the US, it continued in Cuba under the Spanish and only ended in 1886, the last country in the world to terminate the system.
    But for the Spanish there was another way left to avoid any physical work themselves, by importing indentured Chinese coolies. Following the eventual end of slavery in Cuba, the Spanish controlled government became concerned about the possibility of the growing number of blacks potentially exceeding the number of whites. As an answer they provided financial assistance to Catholic Spaniards from Galicia to farm. That is where the Castro brothers father came from.
    There are relatively few of European descent in North America who do not come from countries responsible for slavery – but the Arabs were involved prior to the Europeans.
    The relative question is whether the countries and nationalities involved learned from their mistakes?

  • That was also 150+ years ago. I believe Cuba, under Spanish rule, had slavery much longer than that. So anyways, whats your point?

    ….your problem is that you, like most other Castro apologists, try and gloss over Cuba’s problems by throwing blame. You’re so obvious!

  • Several years ago my wife and I took a trip to Niagara Falls, New York to visit relatives. While visiting with them they took us on a tour of the historic area around Lewiston, New York. We came upon a group of life sized bronze statues with a plaque entitled FREEDOM CROSSING MONUMENT. On the display it stated that the monument is “A tribute to the enslaved who sought a new life of freedom in Canada and to the local volunteers who helped them on their journey to cross the Niagara River”
    “The underground railroad was a secret network of trails and safe homes that enslaved African Americans from the Southern United States used to escape to Canada”
    Folks , we’re not talking about Cuba here but the land of the Free and the Brave. The good old US of A.

  • Well, the only question remaining is: If a U.S. citizen on that oil platform would be able to claim all rights afforded a U.S. citizen, then the Cubans have the same right. If so, then the Cubans have beat the system and they should be granted entry. if our government doesn’t agree, then our government should do away with the “Cuban Adjustment Act,” before returning this group. Simple.

  • Great idea!

  • When with me in Canada, I took my wife to visit the beautiful Waterton National Park which adjoins the US Glacier National park, the two forming the world’s first International Peace Park. At Waterton there is a family which owns a boat and they run trips down the length of Waterton Lake to Ghost Haunt in the US. We made the trip without passports and upon landing at Ghost Haunt, walked the 150 metres on US territory to the small immigration office. The immigration officers agreed that my wife met dry foot policies, but she in response said that she had no wish to take advantage of it.
    I know of several Cubans who have immigrated to Canada and there is a Cuban Association in our city. This latest example of Cubans fleeing to the US is indicative of the thirst for freedom. It might be a good idea to return their boat to Cuba and allow those numerous US residents who write in these pages of their admiration for dictatorship and communism whilst disparaging their own country, the opportunity for a free one way trip. They too could claim dry feet!

  • I’m kinda surprised this is even going to court.

  • If a Russian submarine torpedoed this lighthouse, the US government would consider it an attack on the US. This case should be a slam dunk.

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