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Tuesday, September 21, 1999 Published at 07:30 GMT 08:30 UK

World: Americas

Life for Cuba 'people smuggler'

Cubans are trying to reach US soil by any means

A Cuban court has sentenced two United States residents to prison terms of life and 30 years for trying to smuggle people out of the country to Florida.

The two men, both Cuba-born, were arrested in July after a speedboat carrying illegal migrants capsized outside Havana. One of the passengers drowned.

[ image: President Castro sees people smuggling as motivated by greed]
President Castro sees people smuggling as motivated by greed
Another defendant, a Cuban national, was given a 15-year term.

The three, who have the right of appeal, were accused of charging each person $8,000 for the trip to Miami.

The sentence was passed on Friday, but it was only made public after court documents in the case had been made available to journalists.

Tougher line on people trafficking

These are the first convictions under new legislation introduced by Cuba to combat a growing trade in people smuggling.

Joel Dorta Garcia, who received the life sentence, is a resident of Key West, Florida.

David Garcia Capote, sentenced to 30 years, emigrated illegally to Miami earlier this year.

The Cuban national was named as Pedro Cordoba.


[ image: The Cuban economy is in a desperate state]
The Cuban economy is in a desperate state
The speedboat capsized off the Cuban coast on 3 July after catching sight of a Cuban coastguard vessel.

There were 14 people on board, including five children. The authorities say the boat was strong enough to carry only six to eight people.

During the past year, the number of Cubans reaching Florida has tripled.

Since October last year, more than 2,000 Cubans have reached Florida's shores, up sharply from 615 the year before, according to the US Border Patrol.

Wet feet - dry feet

About 80% of illegal Cuban migrants who reach the US state by sea do so aboard speedboats.

The US authorities employ a so-called 'wet feet - dry feet' policy. Migrants intercepted at sea, even metres from Florida's shores, are returned immediately to Cuban authorities.

But unlike other immigrants, Cubans who reach US soil undetected are able to normalise their status and can immediately seek a work permit.

Cuba and the US co-operate to try to stop illegal immigration, but the Cubans say the US courts have been far too lenient with those traffickers who have been tried in Florida.

Cuba is holding some 40 US residents accused of trafficking.

Cuban President Fidel Castro in a speech earlier this year accuse them of being motivated by greed.

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