Immigration

Bleeding Cuban rafters rescued in Florida Straits likely shot themselves

Cuban rafters Denny Rumbaut, left, and Yarelys Rios, who's pregnant, explains the ordeal of getting shot while leaving the island of Cuba in a small boat along with 24 others.
Cuban rafters Denny Rumbaut, left, and Yarelys Rios, who's pregnant, explains the ordeal of getting shot while leaving the island of Cuba in a small boat along with 24 others. cmguerrero@elnuevoherald.com

The seven rafters recently found with gunshot wounds south of Key West might have injured themselves to force the U.S. Coast Guard to bring them ashore, according to a U.S. official familiar with the case.

However, the official said authorities will not take any action against the rafters because there is no evidence to pursue a criminal case.

“There is a strong possibility that these Cubans injured themselves, but I am unable to confirm that,” said the official, who asked not be to identified by name or title.

There is a strong possibility that these Cubans injured themselves

U.S. Coast Guard official

Miller 's statement came only a few hours after the Coast Guard repatriated to Cuba 52 Cuban migrants, including the seventh wounded rafter who was not brought ashore because his injuries were not deemed serious. A statement from the Coast Guard said the Coast Guard cutter Isaac May took the repatriated Cubans to Bahía de Cabanas port. The 52 repatriated Cubans belonged to groups intercepted in three separate events in the Straits of Florida in recent days.

Among rafters returned was Dornaile Gálvez, young Cuban who was among the seven wounded migrants found aboard the rickety boat south of Key West. Gálvez was the only one of seven not brought ashore. The other six were transported to shore for medical care because their injuries were considered serious.

Gálvez had a wound in a foot or a leg, according to some of the six wounded rafters interviewed in Miami. Two others were wounded on the side, one in the abdomen and one in the shoulder. The six wounded rafters brought ashore said they were shot by criminals who wanted to steal their boat shortly before the group sailed from Cuba. The rafters vehemently denied injuring themselves to force the Coast Guard to bring them ashore.

Under the current wet foot/dry foot policy, Cuban rafters who reach U.S. soil can stay while those intercepted at sea are usually returned to the island. Gálvez's repatriation closes a chapter on an incident that sparked widespread media attention because of the dramatic circumstances surrounding the case and because it happened at a time when an increasing number of Cuban rafters is reaching South Florida.

This increase was first noticed after President Barack Obama ordered the restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba in December 2014. Since then, many Cuban rafters interviewed in Miami have said they left the island because they feared the impending elimination of the Cuban Adjustment Act and the wet foot/dry foot policy.

A Coast Guard statement says that there has been an increase in attempts by Cuban migrants to reach South Florida since Obama's Cuba policy shift. Since Oct. 1, 2015, the Coast Guard in Miami estimates that some 2,753 Cubans have attempted to immigrate illegally by sea. The number represents the total of interceptions at sea, arrivals on the coast and sightings in the Straits of Florida, the Caribbean and the Atlantic.

Natalia Fernández, Gálvez's wife, told Telemundo 51 in Cuba that she had no information about her husband and that she feared for his health and safety. Waldistrudis Castro, an aunt of Galvez 's wife, told Telemundo 51 in Miami that she was not satisfied with the treatment U.S. authorities afforded the wounded rafter.

“They treated him little and then put him on the Coast Guard cutter because his life was not in danger,” Castro told Telemundo 51. “There is no danger here, but there is there.” Castro also expressed fear that Gálvez's repatriation to Cuba could result in a police case against him on the island.

“He also fought to shield the raft,’ she said. ‘He is was wounded to save the raft, and now for being tough he may end up in jail, or face other retaliation.”

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