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Bodies of Four Haitians Wash Ashore in Florida

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The bodies of four Haitians, including two children, washed up on the beach early Tuesday after smugglers apparently dropped off some 60 refugees along the central Florida coast.

A U.S. Border Patrol spokesman said that a man, woman and two children--about 5 and 7 years old--apparently drowned in the morning darkness after they were let off the boat yards from shore.

“It’s a tragedy, but we’ve come to expect this,” said Herbert Jefferson, Border Patrol assistant chief. “This is how desperate these people are to come here. And it’s going to continue.”

Found alive were 56 Haitians--including several other children and at least one infant--in two groups separated by about 40 miles. “There were probably two boatloads,” Jefferson said.

The four bodies and 24 survivors were discovered near Stuart, Fla. Thirty-two other Haitians came ashore in Palm Beach and were held by Border Patrol agents outside the grounds of Mar-A-Lago, the beachfront estate owned by financier Donald Trump. Most were later paroled to relatives or resettlement agencies in Miami.

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Taken into custody was one Haitian man found with an airline ticket to the Bahamas, giving authorities hope that they may be able to crack a U.S.-based immigrant-smuggling operation. Haitians have been known to pay from $1,000 to $3,000 for a clandestine and often dangerous trip from the Bahamas to Florida.

“This doesn’t have to happen,” said Catherine Cassidy of Florida Rural Legal Services, a public advocacy group in Ft. Pierce, Fla. “We discriminate against these people because they’re black and force them into actions like this.”

A 1981 interdiction agreement between the United States and Haiti allows the U.S. Coast Guard to immediately return Haitian migrants intercepted in international waters.

Under terms of the pact, either the United States or Haiti can nullify the deal by giving six months’ notice.

“I am prepared to invoke the six-month provision under the interdiction agreement,” Haitian President-in-Exile Jean-Bertrand Aristide said Tuesday from Washington after learning of the latest deaths.

He urged the U.S. government to stop deporting Haitian boat people back to the island, which has been ruled by the military since Aristide’s ouster in September, 1991.

On Monday, the Coast Guard intercepted 30 Haitians on a 25-foot sailboat heading north in the windward passage. Held on a Coast Guard cutter, they are to be repatriated this week, according to Petty Officer Simone Adair.

Also Tuesday, 18 Cuban refugees found at sea by the Coast Guard were brought to Islamorada in the Florida Keys. And in Puerto Rico, 56 other Cubans entered the United States after paying a boat captain to ferry them to Mona Island from the Dominican Republic.

Under U.S policy, the Cubans are regarded as legitimate refugees and will be eligible for U.S. residency after one year here.


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