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Cuba: 2 Migrants Die in Boat Capsize
Two Cubans in a boatload of people being smuggled to the United States drowned last week when their craft capsized off the island's coast, authorities said Thursday. Nine other passengers and two smugglers managed to swim to shore.

A note from Cuba's Interior Ministry, read on state television, was the government's first official confirmation of the Dec. 22 accident off the northern coast of Havana province.

The go-fast boat was carrying 13 people when its motor failed, the note said. The craft then hit a reef and overturned, killing two of the passengers. Authorities believe the two smugglers are hiding in Cuban territory.

Twenty-six people were being held in police custody, including the nine surviving passengers. The rest of those held appeared to be would-be migrants who were turned away from the boat for lack of room.

Earlier Thursday, the U.S. Coast Guard in Miami said it had received via the U.S. Interests Section in Havana " the American mission here " a report from the Cuban Coast Guard about the accident that said two adults had died and 11 people were unharmed.

U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Chris O'Neil, public affairs officer for district in Miami, criticized South Florida migrant smuggling operations and what he said was "the tacit or direct protection of the local community."

As long as "people are content to see the lives of their loved ones needlessly endangered by the reckless, negligent and criminal actions of migrant smugglers, migrant smuggling and the human tragedy associated with it will continue in the Florida Straits," O'Neil said in a statement.

The Cuban Interior Ministry report identified the dead as Yosvani Vera, 29, and Zuleika Rodriguez, 43.

The ministry blamed the deaths on the Cuban Adjustment Act and the greed of migrant smugglers.

Washington's so-called "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy, which springs from the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, generally allows Cubans who reach U.S. soil to stay in the country while most Cubans the U.S. Coast Guard picks up at sea are repatriated.

Havana complains the policy encourages Cubans to undertake risky such sea voyages.

The U.S. Coast Guard said it had interdicted 3,197 Cuban migrants in 2007, compared to 2,293 in 2006.

The Interior Ministry note did not mention another possible tragedy involving Cuban migrants.

The U.S. Coast Guard said it was notified by family members on Dec. 6 that up to 40 Cubans had not been heard from since departing Cuba aboard a migrant-smuggling boat on Nov. 24.

Separately, police detained 21 Cuban migrants who said they had arrived on Honduras' Caribbean coast in a homemade boat.

The 16 men and 5 women were detained Wednesday in the town of El Porvenir, Honduras' General Office of Criminal Investigation reported.

The migrants said they left Cuba two weeks ago aboard a boat headed to Honduras, where some of them have relatives. The Cubans were turned over to Honduran immigration authorities.


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