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Gun battles at sea: Cuba says it was in shootouts with boats heading to pick up migrants

Miami Herald logo Miami Herald 6/29/2022 Nora Gámez Torres, Miami Herald

The Cuban Coast Guard was recently involved in two shootouts at sea with speedboats coming from the United States to pick up Cuban migrants, resulting in the death of one of the smugglers, according to the island’s ministry of the interior.

The Cuban authorities said they have intercepted 13 speedboats and detained 23 people from the United States involved in migrant smuggling operations this year.

The most recent incident happened near Bahia Honda in Artemisa, a town close to Havana, around 3 a.m. Monday. It involved a Dakota speedboat with a Florida registration number, the ministry said in a statement on state television.

“Just as they were about to be identified, the offenders fired shots at our vessel,” the ministry said. “The crew responded to the attack. One of the assailants was seriously injured and later died.”

The ministry, which is in charge of state security in Cuba, said it gave the U.S. Coast Guard the identification details of the boat, the person who died, and “other people detained.” Cuban authorities did not mention how many people were detained or disclose their identities.

A U.S. Coast Guard spokesperson confirmed to the Miami Herald that Cuban authorities informed the Coast Guard about Monday’s incident.

“The fact that the vessel was U.S. registered is under investigation,” spokeswoman Nicole J. Groll said. She did not identify the person who died.

The interior ministry also reported a separate shootout at sea on June 18, when a Cuban Coast Guard vessel tried to intercept another speedboat near the Villa Clara coast in central Cuba.

“During the pursuit, unexpectedly and at close range, one of the crew members of the intruding boat opened fire on the Ministry of the Interior combatants, using a 5.56mm caliber automatic rifle,” the statement said.

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One of the Cuban officers was injured but recovered after undergoing surgery, the ministry said. The boat fled, and Cuban authorities requested that the U.S. Coast Guard detain the vessel and its crew.

The U.S. Coast Guard returned one person involved “in the aggression” on Monday, along with a group of Cuban migrants interdicted at sea, the interior ministry said. It identified the person who was returned as “a citizen” but gave no other details.

Groll said the U.S. Coast Guard “did repatriate a Cuban national who was interdicted on June 18. The person was given the same treatment and due process afforded to anyone the Coast Guard interdicts.”

In its statement on state television, the ministry said “human trafficking operations” have increased this year, and Cuban authorities have so far intercepted 13 speedboats and 23 people from the United States involved in “illicit acts.”

On Monday, Coast Guard Cutter Charles Sexton’s crew repatriated 106 Cubans to Cuba following several interdictions off the Florida Keys, the agency said in a previous statement. The statement released Monday does not mention an interdiction of a speedboat on June 18.

According to the latest U.S. Coast Guard data, 2,900 Cubans have been found at sea trying to reach Florida since October last year, as Cubans flee in unprecedented numbers the deteriorating economic situation in the Caribbean island and a government crackdown on dissent.

More than 140,000 Cubans were detained at U.S. borders between October last year and May, a figure larger than the Mariel boatlift, when 125,000 Cubans left the island in 1980.

Representatives of the two governments met in April to discuss the migration crisis and the Biden administration said it intends to comply with a commitment to issue 20,000 immigration visas annually to Cubans, among other measures to step up legal migration from the island.

The Cuban authorities blamed the United States for the recent violent incidents at sea.

“Once again, unfortunate events are taking place as a result of the hostile and irresponsible policy of the United States government against Cuba in migratory matters,” the interior ministry statement said, adding that U.S. policies encourage “human trafficking operations, organized by unscrupulous elements living in that country, while at the same time hamper safe, orderly and regular migration.”

©2022 Miami Herald. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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