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Cuban boy tells of trip

Affidavit describes journey for 14-year-old found on boat

From Mark Potter
CNN

cuban
The Coast Guard escorted the boat to shore.

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KEY WEST, Florida (CNN) -- The 14-year-old Cuban boy found hiding on a boat Monday with five adult Cubans and two U.S. residents described his trip in an affidavit presented in federal court Wednesday.

The boy's account, presented to U.S. Magistrate Robert Dube, said two U.S. men picked up the traveling party Saturday in Mariel, Cuba, and that he knew the group was going to the United States.

The boy was identified by the government only as "LFO" because of his youth.

After getting a report of a boat in trouble in bad weather about 25 miles off Key West, the Coast Guard made contact with two U.S. men on the boat and escorted it to shore.

When Coast Guard officers boarded the vessel at the dock, they saw six Cubans -- four men, one woman and the boy -- in the hold of the vessel.

The boy's story contradicted the one told to officials by the adults, who said they began their journey in a raft and were picked up by the men in the boat while at sea.

LFO will be allowed to stay in the United States as a material witness in the smuggling case against Elizardo Ruiz-Alvarez and Martin Mendez-Diaz, both U.S. residents.

The two men made no statements in their first appearance in Judge Dube's magistrate's court Wednesday afternoon. They will return to the courtroom Friday for a bond hearing.

While the adult Cubans, including a man believed to be the boy's father, fled and made it ashore, the boy did not make it off the boat.

The distinction is important because of the "wet foot/dry foot" policy, which gives automatic refugee status to Cubans who manage to make landfall in the United States, even those who are smuggled in.

Unsure of how to proceed, officers kept the boy on a Coast Guard boat overnight.

But Tuesday, a law enforcement official said a decision was made "at the highest levels" to bring the boy ashore as a "material witness" in a possible smuggling case against the two men piloting the boat. The boy is in the custody of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The two men and five Cuban adults who made it to shore were detained and turned over to the Border Patrol, a law enforcement official said. But under the immigration policy for Cubans, the adults will be allowed to stay.

Sources at the Justice Department in Washington said the boy would remain in the United States as well and reunited with his father shortly. All six will be paroled into the United States, the sources said.

A law enforcement official said the boy's mother is believed to be in Cuba.

The incident occurred three years to the day after 5-year-old Elian Gonzalez was found clinging to an inner tube off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, the only survivor of a group of 13 Cuban refugees trying to make it to the United States.

His mother was among the dead. His father, back in Cuba, demanded his return, touching off an international custody battle between the father and Elian's relatives in Miami.

Eventually, then-Attorney General Janet Reno decided to send the boy back to the Communist-ruled island, touching off anger in Miami's large Cuban-American community.

CNN's Mark Potter and Rich Phillips contributed to this report.



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