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Cuban Law Targets Boat Owners Who Smuggle Illegal Immigrants

From Times Wire Services

Cuba announced a law Wednesday that will fine the owners and operators of boats used to illegally transport Cubans to the United States.

The publishing of the new law in the Communist Party daily Granma comes amid increased tensions both here and in Miami over illegal immigration by Cubans.

“Those who try to emigrate illegally violate the international commitments of our country and promote disobedience and violation of the law,” the law reads.

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The law, approved by Cuba’s Council of State, led by President Fidel Castro, establishes fines ranging from $500 to $10,000 for those who operate or own boats used for illegal immigrant smuggling.

Under the same law, port officials will be empowered to seize boats and their contents if they suspect that the craft are being used for such trafficking.

Individuals can also be fined for building or repairing any sort of seagoing vessel without the approval of port authorities. All vessels will be required to register with port authorities, and any transportation of vessels by land will also require official approval.

The law is apparently aimed at discouraging Cubans from taking to the sea either on their own vessels or on boats operated by smugglers who charge as much as $8,000 for the journey across the Straits of Florida.

It also appears to be designed to show that Cuba is adhering to immigration accords with the United States and has no intention of opening its coastal borders to provoke an exodus to Florida, as has been rumored throughout Miami’s Cuban exile community.

Under immigration accords reached between the two countries five years ago, the U.S. Coast Guard is charged with repatriating the majority of would-be Cuban immigrants intercepted at sea--even a short distance from land.

Cuban officials are charged with trying to prevent the illegal departure of Cubans for the U.S.

The text of the Cuban law notes that the U.S. government in recent weeks has reiterated its commitment to upholding the agreement. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service recently announced the formation of a new task force to concentrate on the growing practice of smuggling people from Cuba.

“We have repeatedly asked U.S. authorities for their greatest effort in fighting against the trafficking of Cuban emigrants that is organized, paid and undertaken from United States territory,” the text says. “In recent days, statements and measures in this direction have been observed.”

The accords between the two countries were designed to prevent a repetition of the crisis in the summer of 1994. After the Cuban government briefly lowered its coastal borders, more than 30,000 rafters set out across the straits, with hundreds of people leaving the island daily.

The latest move by Cuba’s Communist authorities followed a number of recent dramatic incidents in which would-be Cuban migrants seeking to flee the island were involved in sometimes tense confrontations with Cuban and U.S. coast guards.

This month, Cuban authorities blocked an attempt by a group of Cubans to leave illegally in a wooden boat from the port of Puerto Padre, 420 miles east of Havana.

The would-be migrants, who were eventually detained, had reprovisioned and repaired their boat on the Puerto Padre seafront watched by a large crowd of supporters. The Cuban government denied U.S. news reports that a riot broke out when the authorities initially tried to intervene.

In recent weeks, Cuban officials have become increasingly irritated with speculation in Miami that they plan to lower the coastal borders once again.

Cuban authorities also justified the new measures as a form of clamping down on illegal fishing, which they said was damaging fish stocks and costing the island more than $20 million in lost catches each year.


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