25,000 Marchers Mourn Rafter, Urge Cuba Blockade : Miami: Hearse carries body of Rafael Gamez, 34, to the Little Havana cemetery. Steps asked to allow paramilitary groups to mount an invasion.


More than 25,000 people, many urging the Clinton Administration with signs and chants to mount a total blockade of Cuba, marched Saturday in a funeral procession honoring a Cuban rafter who died at sea.

A hearse carrying the body of Rafael Gamez, 34, led the two-mile procession down the main street of Little Havana to the cemetery, where several Cuban American elected officials spoke to the crowd.

Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) called for lifting of the Neutrality Act so Cuban American paramilitary groups could mount an invasion of the island. “Cubans don’t want a single GI to die in Cuba,” he said. “We want to be able to fight for our own freedom.”

The marchers, mostly Cuban Americans, urged President Clinton to rebuff increasing calls--from some Democrats, from newspaper editorial boards and from Cuba’s Roman Catholic bishops--to begin talks with the government of Cuban President Fidel Castro to resolve the immigration crisis.


“Clinton should talk with boaters and their families,” read a banner towed by a small plane circling over the rally.

Amid the sea of flags and colorful signs carried by marchers was at least one full-sized effigy of Castro, dressed in fatigues and hanging from a gallows on wheels. “Fidel--assassin,” read an accompanying sign in Spanish. “Your time has come.”

Demonstrators also carried mock coffins representing 40 people believed to have drowned in Havana harbor July 13 when a Cuban tugboat seized by people trying to flee the island was rammed and sunk by pursuing government vessels.

Despite intermittent rain showers that drenched those without umbrellas, Miami police spokesman Angel Calzadilla said the three-hour rally was “very peaceful, very organized, went just as planned. There were no arrests.”


In the Florida Straits, meanwhile, rescues of Cuban rafters continued to decline. On Saturday, 130 Cuban rafters were picked up, compared with more than 300 picked up Friday, according to the Coast Guard.

More than 3,000 Cubans were plucked from the sea on both Tuesday and Wednesday.

The drop in the number of Cubans attempting to make the dangerous crossing aboard small boats and flimsy rafts may be due to the weather, which has been occasionally stormy, or to the growing realization in Cuba that those intercepted at sea will be interned indefinitely at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, on Cuba’s eastern tip.

More than 13,500 Cubans are now being held in the Guantanamo tent city, and more than 1,000 are aboard Coast Guard ships in the Straits as they await transfer to the base, Chief Petty Officer Steve Sapp said.


The weather in the Straits was improving Saturday. As a wave of low pressure moved westward into the Gulf of Mexico, National Hurricane Center forecaster Jim Lushine said waves in the waters between the United States and Cuba would diminish to two to four feet, which is normal.

However, another tropical wave, along with the potential for more thunderstorms and turbulence, was expected to arrive in the area late Wednesday, he said.