Published Wednesday, August 14, 1996, in the Miami Herald.

Tragedy at sea cushioned by U.S. gesture Victims' relatives will be let in

By SUSANA BELLIDO and MARIA A. MORALES Herald Staff Writers KEY WEST -- The White House is expected to announce today that at least five relatives of the Cuban rafters who perished at sea will be granted humanitarian visas, congressional sources said Tuesday. Because both Ana Maria Miranda, 47, and 17-month-old Arisleidi Ravelo died, the relatives who accompanied them on the boat will be granted visas, the sources said. Others in the group of 27 rafters whose asylum claims are found to have merit will be transferred to Krome Detention Center, the sources said. Seven of them were turned over to the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Key West late Tuesday, said Jeff Hall, a Coast Guard spokesman. The others remained on the Coast Guard cutter Nantucket. Three were hospitalized and were identified as Marilyn Miranda Gonzalez, 28, Ana Maria Miranda's daughter-in-law; Milagros Calvo Puente, 32; and Calvo's son, Mario Noda Calvo, 9. Marilyn Miranda had a twisted or broken ankle and high fever. Calvo had severe pain and bruised ribs. Mario had minor injuries. ``We were so full of hope that we would arrive,'' said Marilyn Miranda on Tuesday night. The plight of the group was discussed Tuesday evening ``at the highest levels of the Department of Justice,'' said Dan Kane, a spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Washington. He said a decision should be made by today. Ana Maria Miranda and Arisleidi drowned in the Florida Straits this weekend as they were trying to reach U.S. soil. While the Mirandas held a wake Tuesday night for Ana Maria in Little Havana, the Ravelos planned to take the body of the toddler to Miami. More than 200 mourners crowded the Metropolitan Funeral Home in Little Havana to pay their last respects to the Miranda family. ``This is very painful,'' said Domingo Miranda, 55, the brother of Ana Maria Miranda. ``The news that our other relatives will be allowed to come to the U.S. gives us some consolation.'' Others who attended the wake were strangers moved by the family's loss. ``It's really a shame that people have to take these kinds of measures to look for a better life,'' said Ana Gonzalez, 80, a resident of Little Havana. ``Though I don't know anyone on that boat, I feel their pain.'' The funeral procession for Ana Maria Miranda will leave the funeral home at 1 p.m. today for the burial at Woodlawn West Cemetery in Hialeah. Advocates' requests Meanwhile, refugee advocates in Miami pushed for what the group hoped for when it set out on the crossing: a future in the United States. Under current U.S. policy, Cuban rafters are returned to their country unless they reach American shores or prove that they qualify for political asylum. In some extreme cases, authorities will grant humanitarian visas. This group of rafters is such a case, said Arturo Cobo, coordinator of the Transit Center for Cuban Refugees near Key West. ``At least the parents should be released,'' he said. ``They deserve to be there so they can say the last goodbye to this girl. They have plenty of sorrow and suffering ahead, for the rest of their lives.'' U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, both Miami Republicans, wrote Tuesday to Attorney General Janet Reno on behalf of the group. ``We're asking for political asylum for these people who have endured a great tragedy,'' said Ros-Lehtinen from San Diego, where she's attending the Republican National Convention. ``If asylum is out of the question, family members should at least be allowed to attend the funerals of their loved ones,'' she added. Jorge Mas Canosa, chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation, addressed the issue in a letter to President Clinton's chief of staff Leon Panetta and asked for humanitarian parole for the 27 survivors. ``Their return to Cuba will most certainly be met by Cuban government reprisals,'' Mas Canosa wrote. On radio Anguished family members in Miami spent most of Tuesday as guests of Spanish radio talk shows, asking the Clinton administration to parole their relatives and discussing the political persecution they would face if returned to Cuba. Tomas Ravelo, 40, a resident of Hialeah Gardens, spoke of never having met his 17-month-old granddaughter, Arisleidi. All he wants now is for his son and the child's mother to be released so they can attend her funeral in Miami, he said. ``It feels like someone's ripped out a piece of my heart. It's extremely painful,'' he said. ``Whoever has lost a child knows what kind of pain we're all going through right now.'' Boaters found the bodies of Miranda and Arisleidi floating some 25 miles south of Marathon about 10 a.m. Monday. Minutes later, they discovered 27 other Cubans clinging to a capsized 30-foot boat nearby. Among them were the girl's parents and the woman's son. The group ran into trouble hours into their voyage about 11 p.m. Sunday, when their outboard engine malfunctioned. Several leaned over to check what was wrong. The boat overturned. Autopsies determined that the two victims drowned. Two still missing Still missing are two men who split from the group and headed, aboard a rubber raft, toward some lights they thought were Key West. A Coast Guard plane combed 5,000 square miles between the Keys and Miami on Tuesday looking for the two. At nightfall, they suspended the search indefinitely. Relatives in Miami knew of the group's plans to cross the Straits but weren't sure when they would attempt the crossing, said Roman Ravelo, the little girl's uncle. When they first heard of the group found Monday, they called around and eventually determined that one of the victims was their young relative. From friends in Cuba, they determined that the group of relatives and friends from Havana, Bahia Honda and Puerto Esperanza left Sunday night from near Mariel, Ravelo said. Late that night, the group was clinging to their overturned 30-foot fiberglass boat. Marilyn Miranda said her husband, Eduardo Gonzalez, was looking for flares under the boat when he discovered the body of his mother. ``He gave her a kiss, and then just kept on helping the others because most didn't know how to swim,'' Miranda said.

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1996 The Miami Herald.