Dead boy’s folks enter U.S.
Federal authorities brought a dead 6-year-old boy to shore with his parents
as prosecutors debate whether to pursue a criminal case against smuggling
BY ELAINE DE VALLE AND JENNIFER BABSON
KEY WEST – As federal authorities weighed possible criminal prosecution
against migrant-smuggling suspects whose boat capsized early Thursday in the
Florida Straits, the parents of a 6-year old boy who died in the ordeal were
on their way to Key West late Friday.
The parents, among more than two dozen survivors of the failed smuggling
trip, were allowed to enter the United States in a departure from normal
procedure under the wet-foot/dry-foot immigration policy.
Generally, Cubans apprehended at sea are returned to Cuba; those who reach
the United States typically can remain here.
Acting U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta said he asked officials in
Washington to permit Julian Villasuso’s parents to enter the United States.
The couple, Julian Villasuso, 49, and Maizy Hurtado, 32, along with the
other survivors could become key witnesses in a federal case against the
alleged smugglers. The others remained aboard the Coast Guard cutter on
”The United States Attorney’s Office is in the process of reviewing the
evidence to determine whether prosecution is appropriate,” Acosta said in a
In the past, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, in consultation with the State
Department, has pressed to bring some Cuban migrants into the United States
to assist in prosecutions.
In this case, the smugglers could face a federal charge of attempted alien
smuggling resulting in death, an offense that can carry the death penalty.
Federal investigators and prosecutors spent Friday debating whether to mount
a criminal case against the smuggling suspects, who were rescued along with
their passengers by the Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection
some 52 miles south of Key West. The vessel toppled with 31 people aboard,
including young Julian, who died when he became trapped beneath the 33-foot
His body was turned over late Thursday to the Monroe County Medical
Examiner’s Office, which said preliminary results of an autopsy indicate he
The rest of the passengers were rescued after the vessel began taking on
water and capsized at 1:24 a.m. Thursday following a nearly 30-minute chase
by the Coast Guard.
Julian was not discovered until hours later, floating underneath the vessel
as it was righted.
On Friday afternoon, the Coast Guard also brought a female passenger ashore
after she showed signs of appendicitis. She was not identified. The child is
related to former Miami Commissioner Willy Gort’s nephew, Alex. News of the
boy’s death stunned his relatives.
Mari Villasuso, the boy’s aunt, described her nephew as a “joyful, happy
”He was always smiling. He would just giggle and it made you laugh,” she
Relatives in Miami first heard of the incident from family in Cuba,
”They heard the news that a boat had capsized, and my brother was missing
from home,” she said. “So they called me, and I started calling the Coast
Guard. Late at night, they confirmed that the three names I gave them were
PLANS NOT KNOWN
She said she had no idea of her brother’s plans to come to Miami.
”I knew he wanted to come here and he had applied for a visa,” she said.
“But I never would have expected this.”
She said other relatives, including her parents and two brothers, were aware
of the Villasuso family’s decision to slip out of Cuba.
`I DON’T UNDERSTAND’
”My mom and dad, it’s very hard on them,” she said. “I don’t know how
they got out there. I don’t understand how this happened.”
Coast Guard officials said one of the reasons they brought Julian’s body to
the Keys late Thursday — before his parents — was because there is no
morgue aboard the 210-foot cutter.
”We don’t have really any facilities aboard a cutter to store a deceased
body,” said Ryan Doss, a Miami-based Coast Guard spokesman.
The legal particulars looming for federal authorities were not on the minds
of many in Miami’s Cuban-American community Friday.
On WAQI (710 AM), a popular Spanish-language talk radio station, Cuban
commentator Ninoska Pérez Castellón said the community needed to stop
turning to smugglers — referred to as lancheros or contrabandistas in
Spanish — to solve their immigration woes.
”We have to finish with these smugglers,” she said. “This is not the
first time someone is killed on the voyage.
”And God knows the ones we don’t know about,” said Armando Gutiérrez, a
political consultant who became a spokesman for Elián González’s Miami
He appeared on the same radio program on Friday.
Gutiérrez also had a message for Cubans on the island who want to employ
smugglers to get into the United States.
”The most important thing is to say that these trips are very dangerous,”
Gutiérrez said. “The people who bring Cubans here do it for money, not