Cubans join Dominican boatpeople’s duel with death
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – An alien citizen of Cuba died yesterday afternoon, adding to the recent toll of deaths of undocumented aliens in the Mona Passage being transported by smuggling organizations attempting to reach the shores of the US territory of Puerto Rico.
Facing the threat of being intercepted and arrested by law enforcement, yesterday afternoon two human smugglers left a group of aliens of Cuban nationality by “yola” close to the treacherous cliffs of Mona and Monito islands; both part of a natural reserve between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
Federal authorities under the Caribbean Border Interagency Group (CBIG), along with Dominican Republic Navy, were able to join forces to interdict and arrest the two Dominican smugglers and rescue 12 adult males, one male-minor, and three women.
During the late morning hours the crew of a US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) maritime surveillance aircraft detected a 25-foot wooden makeshift “yola” boat en route east from the Dominican Republic towards Monito and Mona Island, Puerto Rico.
Upon noticing the presence of law enforcement authorities in the area, smugglers proceeded to cover the migrant vessel with a blue tarp in an attempt to avoid detection and continued to transit towards Monito Island, where four Cubans jumped into the water and were trapped below the island’s cliff waterline unable to reach safety.
The migrant vessel proceeded to transit rapidly towards Mona Island, where the remaining 12 migrants jumped into the water and began swimming towards shore.
Immediately thereafter, the smugglers proceeded to flee the scene and head back towards the Dominican Republic with the CBP surveillance aircraft in aerial pursuit.
The crew of the US Coast Guard Cutter Cushing arrived to Monito Island, deployed their response boat and combined efforts with the crew of a MH-65 Dolphin helicopter to rescue the four migrants from the water. The helicopter’s rescue swimmer was able to reach the four endangered migrants and pull them to safety, one at a time, aboard the Cushing’s small boat.
The crew of a Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter recovered one other Cuban man deceased from the water and transferred his body to Mona Island.
The crew of the rescue helicopter hoisted one of the survivors onboard, who required immediate medical attention, and transported him to the Good Samaritan Hospital in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. The crew of the Cushing embarked the three other survivors from the cutter’s small boat.
CBP surveillance aircraft continued to maintain visual contact with the fleeing vessel, while Coast Guard Watchstanders in Sector San Juan coordinated with Dominican Republic navy authorities, who responded by diverting the maritime interceptor Barracuda.
The crew of the Barracuda arrived on scene, interdicted the suspect vessel and apprehended the two smugglers, who were transferred to awaiting authorities in the Dominican Republic.
Customs and Border Protection helicopter recovered the 11 survivors and deceased Cuban from Mona Island Thursday night and transported them the main island of Puerto Rico. The Cushing transported the three other survivors to Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, where they turned custody to awaiting CBP Border Patrol Agents.
CBP Border Patrol Agents interviewed the surviving Cuban aliens and transported them to the Ramey Station for further processing.
Upon verification of their immigration status, the group was served a Notice to Appear before an Immigration Judge in San Juan, for proceedings under the Cuban Readjustment Act of 1966.
District Attorney’s from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico along with Agents from CBP Border Patrol and Special Agents from Homeland Security Investigations were transported to the scene in Mona Island for investigation.
The two smugglers are under the custody of the Dominican Republic Navy.
The US Attorney’s Office has filed a petition to the Dominican Republic, requesting the extradition of the two smugglers.
As part of CBP’s “Don’t be fooled” (No te engañes) campaign, this border agency issued a warning about the dangers to undocumented aliens when dealing with smuggling organizations, particularly the risk of death when venturing through the dangerous Mona Passage.
Recently, 52 citizens of the Dominican Republic died near the coast of Samaná attempting a voyage towards Puerto Rico.
According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), while smuggling by sea accounts only for a small portion of overall migrant smuggling around the world, the particular dangers of irregular travel at sea make it a priority for response; due to the reported fact that more deaths occur by sea.