Two small makeshift boats, linked only by a rope, left Cuba earlier this week carrying nine men.
Early Saturday morning, one boat made landfall on Miami Beach with five men aboard. But the fate of the other craft, carried away in strong current after the rope gave way, remained uncertain — making for a muted celebration for those who made it to freedom in South Florida.
“I hope they are alive,” said Isvanis Cabrero, 40, one of the men who made it ashore. “It looked like there was a piece of land, like an island, in the direction where they were drifting toward.”
Cabrero said the nine middle-aged men —who were all friends — left Playa San Jacinto, a beach near Camaguey, Cuba’s third-largest city, on Tuesday and reached Miami Beach around midnight. After the boats were separated during the trip, Cabrero and the rest of the men turned their boat around but the other craft had already drifted too far, he said. The men on Cabrera’s boat decided to keep going to see if they could reach land.
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Cabrero said they called police after the boat came ashore. They were detained and later transported to the Dania Beach border patrol station. Magalis Quintanal, Cabrero’s great aunt, said after her nephew was cleared with border patrol in Dania, she sent her husband and son to transport him to Church World Services, where Cabrero and the other men in his boat were processed.
“He caught us by surprise,” Quintanal said. “He called us last night from the beach and we haven’t been able to sleep since we found out he was here.”
Oscar Rivera, a Church World Services spokesman, said its still unclear whether the four men from Cabrero’s boat have family in South Florida. In the meantime, the agency will help the group acclimate in their new home.
“The whole concept of our office is to get them working and self sufficient,” Rivera said, adding that migrants usually receive proper documentation to start working within three to four months.
Cabrero said he was an entrepreneur, shoemaker and carpenter in Cuba, and while the “possibilities are endless” for him now, he’s worried about his friends.
Since President Barack Obama ordered the restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba in December — sparking rumors of halting the “wet foot, dry foot” policy that allows Cubans who make landfall to stay in the U.S. — more Cubans are attempting the 90-mile trip to South Florida. Rivera said most Cubans contact family before making the trip. He said Church World Services has been overwhelmed at times since December.
“We’ve been expecting at least 18 people over the next few days,” Rivera said.