January 7, 2013

An empty Cuban raft turned up near Cutler Bay, sparking fears that the passengers died

An altar to a Santeria god and an ID card were found aboard the flimsy craft; the people it carried are presumed to be dead.

If you had landed in Miami from Cuba aboard a 12-foot Styrofoam raft, would you then leave on the raft your lucky altar to Eleguá, the god of Santeria that opens and closes all paths to mankind?

Would you also leave behind a Cuban national ID card that would have allowed you to stay in the United States without any question whatsoever under the U.S.’ wet-foot, dry-foot policy?

Those are the grim questions surrounding the discovery Saturday of the raft, with four rowing positions but no clear indication of how many passengers it once carried, that washed ashore near the Black Point Marina near Cutler Bay in South Miami-Dade.

A Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission agent at the scene said the passengers “apparently are dead,” said Nancy Perez, who was on a nature walk with her husband and dog when they spotted the raft and snapped several photos of it.

“No one abandons an Eleguá. If you believe in that and you put it in the raft, you don’t,” said Perez, referring to the clay plate, figure of a child, nails, screws and old colonial-type iron key that made up the altar.

Eleguá is the god in Afro-Cuban religions who is said to open and close paths for mankind. He is said to be the divider between heaven and earth and to walk along the seashores.

Perez said the Fish and Wildlife agent also told her that the Cuban ID card belongs to a young male. Cuban migrants intercepted at sea are usually returned to the island, but those who set foot on U.S. soil are allowed to stay.

A Fish and Wildlife spokesman on Monday denied one of its agents had commented on the possible deaths. U.S. Coast Guard spokesmen said Sunday that no search was underway for the raft’s passengers.

The raft, made with blocks of Styrofoam held together with wood planks, had a sail made from an olive green tarp and four posts for oars, although only two home-made oars were found, Perez said.

On its floor were a five-gallon jug of water, several small bottles with sugared water and honey for energy, empty juice cans, some plastic bags with crumbled food, a blue lighter and what appeared to be a container of coffee.

Also on the floor, Perez said, were a pair of men’s socks, a green polo shirt and gray pants, as well as what appeared to be a tuft of long hair.

More than 350 Cuban rafters made it to U.S. shores and 1,275 were intercepted at sea during the 12 months that ended Sept. 30. The number of those who died trying to cross the perilous Florida Straits has never been known.

Information from Miami Herald news partner WFOR-CBS 4 is included in this report.

Related content



Editor's Choice Videos