569. 4/3/2003

“Two armed men commandeered a ferry today [April 3, 2003] in Havana and set a course for Florida, the second time in two days that Cuban hijackers have taken hostages as they tried to flee to the United States. The F.B.I. said 15 to 20 people were aboard the 45-foot government-run ferry, which runs between Havana and Casablanca, across Havana Bay. The vessel was overtaken at 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday and followed by two Cuban Border Patrol vessels, the Foreign Ministry said…A spokeswoman for the Coast Guard said that it was monitoring the situation and that the ferry and its occupants were the responsibility of Cuba… ‘It gets the attention of those who are on the fence and persuades them to do the same,’ said Gerardo Le Chevallier, director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, a group in Washington. ‘If the U.S. gives asylum to all who take a plane or a boat, it is like inviting others to do it, too.’’ Representatives of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington did not return calls for comment… ‘We’ve long had a very liberal policy with respect to Cubans who make it to our shores, and I’m sure Cubans in Cuba are aware of that,’ said Cheryl Little, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, a legal services organization in Miami. The new hijackings occur as Cuba increases pressure on people considered disloyal to the government. The Castro government recently cracked down on dissidents, arresting scores of journalists and political opponents on charges of conspiring with American diplomats. ‘It comes at a time when there are heightened frictions between the Cuban regime and the United States,’ Mariela Ferretti, a spokeswoman for the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami, said of the hijackings. ‘We have considered the possibility that these people are being manipulated in order to provoke further friction between the United States and Cuba.’”

Dana Canedy & David Gonzalez, “2 Hijackers Seize Havana Ferry and Sail for Florida,” NewYorkTimes.com, April 3, 2003

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