Tampa lawyer wants to represent Cubans who left the island on a stolen patrol boat
TAMPA — Four Cuban men who fled the island in a military patrol boat could lose their lives if they are sent home, says a Tampa lawyer who wants to represent them.
The U.S. Coast Guard intercepted the boat in international waters several weeks ago and took the men to Guantanamo Bay naval base, where their fate is uncertain.
Ralph Fernandez, who often deals with Cuban immigration issues, said Friday he fears that Cuban authorities will claim the men are terrorists and demand their return, or that U.S. authorities will ship them out to a third country, “which will not be safe because of the long reach of Cuban intelligence” services.
Fernandez was contacted late last month by Jose Diaz, a Tampa cabinetmaker who immigrated to the United States in 1994 and is the uncle of one of the men and cousin of another.
Diaz, 52, said his nephew, Alexi Hernandez, 21, had been conscripted into the Cuban military. He got into trouble when he repeatedly took off from his base and returned home. At one point, when military officials retrieved him, he got into a shoving match with a superior and was facing serious punishment, Diaz said.
But Hernandez had a friend in the military whose job was to guard a patrol boat. The two of them, plus two other men, stole the boat in late May and struck out for the United States.
No violence was involved, Diaz said. “The only problem was they wanted to seek liberty in a free country.”
Diaz said his sister in Cuba, who is Hernandez’s mother, found out about the boat theft when Cuban authorities came to her house and asked about her son’s whereabouts. Diaz said he and his sister talk frequently by cell phone.
“She is crying all the time,” Diaz said. “If they send him back to Cuba, they will kill him as an example to others. He stole a boat.”