By Jeff Balke
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"We believe these people were executed by those who are part of a Cuban-American mafia," Rodriguez told the Associated Press in August. "They probably hired people to execute them."
The Cuban government has blamed both Mexico and the United States for allowing the trafficking to occur, and calls the killings part of a "bloody war" between Cuban-Americans and the Mexican drug cartel, the Zetas.
Critics claim the Mexican government is taking few measures to prevent Cubans from entering the country. Harry found little more than indifference and neglect in Mexico after his group's initial rescue. At first, he was happy to land in Mexico. After ten days at sea, Harry's boat was found by Mexican fisherman, hundreds of miles from the intended destination. The fisherman alerted the Mexican Navy, which provided the group with food, water and medical attention, then took them to shore.
Harry was detained at an immigration office in Mérida. Mexican officials told his group that if they could pay a "fine" of $1,000, or arrange for a friend or relative to wire the money, they would be set free.
Harry and several others in the group were unable to pay and were taken to a prison in Tapachula, nearly 850 miles south of Cancún. Harry was told he would have to serve three months before being allowed to leave.
Hundreds of Cubans and thousands of Central Americans were detained at the prison. They slept on concrete floors, surviving on a steady diet of watered-down milk, rice and beans.
Harry says that from time to time, a small group of Cubans would be rounded up for deportation. According to the National Institute of Immigration in Mexico, authorities have detained 876 Cubans this year and deported 271.
The Mexican government has adopted a policy similar to the U.S. wet foot/dry foot rule. Still, all Cubans — even those found at sea — are detained for processing in Mexico. Furthermore, some Cubans seized on land are transported to an airport in Cancún and deported back to Cuba. Others, such as Harry, are found at sea but eventually released.
Harry says there seemed to be no logic to who was selected for return to Cuba, and he constantly felt that he might be next for deportation. But five months passed and Harry remained in Tapachula. When workers from Grupo Beta, a Mexican humanitarian organization, visited the prison, Harry decided to file a complaint with the group because he was languishing in the jail months after his anticipated release.
Harry was then taken before an immigration judge at the prison. The judge said that if Harry withdrew his complaint, he would be allowed to leave. Days later, after a hearty dinner and a night in a $10 hotel, Harry was on a bus rumbling north through Mexico.
Marisela Campuzano devoted her life to ballet in Cuba. But when the Cuban government sent her to Venezuela on a "mission" to teach budding young ballerinas, Marisela used the opportunity to escape for the United States.
Marisela and her husband bought fake passports and attempted to fly out of the country. But Venezuelan immigration officials busted them and confiscated the passports. Then Marisela tried paying a man who said he had a contact in the U.S. Embassy and could provide a visa for the right price. That plan failed as well.
After losing money a second time, the couple remained in Venezuela until they managed to obtain a legal visa to visit Mexico. After eight years, the couple, along with their young son, took a flight to Reynosa, Mexico, a border town across from McAllen, and entered the United States.
That was in 2000, when the trend of Cubans crossing the Texas border was about as unique as Mexicans floating to Miami. Customs officials were not versed in Cuban policy, Marisela says, and her family was told to return to Mexico
"We would rather go to jail than go back," Marisela says, "so we made up a story."
Marisela and her husband told customs officers that they had taken a boat from Cuba to Mexico, and that they had paid smugglers to transport them to the U.S. border. Marisela pleaded that she could not return to Mexico because she feared for her life.
Customs officials took Marisela and her husband to a detention facility where they waited for an immigration hearing. After ten days, they were released, and Marisela's aunt and uncle brought the family to Houston.
Prior to 2005, all Cubans were held at detention facilities for weeks at a time until they could be processed, according to Felix Garza, an agent with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. But as spots at the detention facilities started to fill up, and the trickle of Cubans along the border turned into a tide, the Department of Homeland Security changed the policy to allow for almost immediate parole.
Still, some Cubans are detained.
"Once we begin the processing, we do have the authority to make an arrest," says Garza, who oversees border crossings from Del Rio to Brownsville. Garza says that a Cuban could be detained if he is determined to be sick or mentally ill or to have a criminal record.