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Cuban Exiles Held in Protest Flotilla

July 15, 2001|From Reuters

The U.S. Coast Guard seized a vessel and briefly detained three Cuban exiles for entering Cuban territorial waters Saturday as they took part in a protest flotilla of boats near the communist island to mark the seventh anniversary of the sinking of a Cuban tugboat near Havana in which more than 40 Cubans died.

The Coast Guard said in a statement that Ramon Saul Sanchez--who heads the organization Democracy Movement, which organized the protest--and two other exiles were detained.

Their 23-foot vessel was seized by the Coast Guard and taken to Key West, at the southern tip of the Florida Keys. The U.S. attorney's office ordered the three detainees released, and it was not known if they would face charges.

Four other vessels in the protest flotilla did not enter Cuban waters and returned to Key West, the Coast Guard said.

In detaining the vessel and crew, the Coast Guard, which sent a cutter to monitor the protest, was implementing a law calling for small private vessels to obtain permits if they intend to enter Cuban waters. The law aims to head off confrontations with Cuban authorities.

"The vessel ignored verbal warnings from the Coast Guard and entered Cuban territorial seas where it stayed for approximately 60 minutes before returning to international waters," the Coast Guard statement said.

In Miami's large Cuban exile community, Sanchez is a well-known activist against the government of Cuban President Fidel Castro, and he has led annual protest flotillas to a spot near Cuban waters to mark the anniversary of the sinking of the tugboat on July 13, 1994, strewing flowers on the ocean to mourn those who died.

Normally such protests have stayed outside the 12-mile limit marking Cuban territorial waters.

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