- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 28, 2002

MIAMI (AP) A 14-year-old Cuban boy found in a boat off the Florida coast will be allowed to stay in the United States because he may end up testifying against the men accused of smuggling him, federal officials said.
The 21-foot boat ran out of fuel Monday off Key West. The Coast Guard towed it to shore, unaware that the boy, his father and four other Cubans were hiding inside.
After the rescue, the adults scampered onto a dock while the boy remained on board. Under government policy, Cubans who make it to shore generally are allowed to stay in the United States, while those who don't are sent back to the communist nation.
The teenager will be allowed to stay because the Justice Department is treating him as a material witness in a smuggling case against two of the men on the boat, said Jackie Becerra, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami.
Immigration officials refused to disclose the boy's whereabouts.
Coast Guard spokesman Luis Diaz said the six Cubans were from Havana and Holguin.
The adults on the boat told investigators they set out from Cuba on their own and were picked up by the boat, but the boy said the boat picked up the group in Cuba, a Justice Department official in Washington said on the condition of anonymity.
The official also said it appeared the father has legal custody of the boy. The boy's mother is believed to be in Cuba.
The case was announced Tuesday, the third anniversary of the arrival of Elian Gonzalez, and evoked comparisons to that case because of questions about the 14-year-old's custody.
Elian, 5, survived a boat sinking, but his mother died in the attempt to reach the United States. He was brought to Miami to stay with relatives and became ensnared in a bitter custody dispute after Cuban President Fidel Castro demanded the boy be returned to his father in Cuba.
Elian was returned to Cuba after he was seized at gunpoint during a raid on the Miami relatives' home in April 2000.
Boat owner Elizardo Ruiz Alvarez and Martin Mendez Diaz, two Miami Cuban Americans, are charged with alien smuggling. The charge carries a prison sentence of up to 5 years.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Dube set bond at $60,000 yesterday but set a hearing for tomorrow to review the amount. The defendants are represented by Frank Quintero, who represented Elian's Miami family in a lawsuit filed after the federal raid of their home.
Mr. Ruiz's cousin, Luis Crespo, said the trip was intended to pick up relatives and did not involve any smuggling fees.


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