Posted on September 21, 2004

Cubans at Gitmo Launch Hunger Strike

Paisley Dodds, AP, Sept. 21

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A group of Cubans who tried to make it to Florida aboard a boat made from a 1959 Buick have started a hunger strike to protest the limbo they’ve fallen into since being sent to Guantanamo Bay where they are waiting on their asylum claims.

Similar hunger strikes were launched in the past by some 550 terror suspects being held at the U.S. outpost in Cuba. Many have been held for nearly three years without charge.

The Cubans — 13 of the some 38 — began the hunger strike on Saturday after being held at the U.S. outpost in eastern Cuba for months, according to William Sanchez, a Miami attorney for Luis Grass Rodriguez, one of the Cubans who made the trip in the makeshift boat in February.

“What they’re asking for is to be granted political asylum in the United States or for the United States to expedite political asylum, or for the minimum a third country, but to not keep them in Guantanamo any longer because that violates international law on political asylum and because the stay there is unbearable,” said Sanchez.

The migrants are being held on the Leeward side of the base away from the terror suspects. Some Haitians are also being held, although the U.S. government has not released numbers.

Reporters from The Associated Press visiting the base in July to cover the detention of prisoners accused of links to Afghanistan’s fallen Taliban regime or al-Qaida terror network were turned away from the Cubans, saying journalists were not permitted to speak to them.

“A small number of Cuban migrants at Guantanamo Naval Base who are waiting third country resettlement by the State Department are conducting a hunger strike to highlight their desire to be resettled rapidly,” said Darla Jordan, U.S. State department spokeswoman.

“The State Department is in active discussion with several potential resettlement counties with the goal of resettling all eligible migrants at Guantanamo as rapidly as possible.”

No details were offered as to what countries might accept the Cubans.

Luis Grass, who tried to speak to the AP reporters in July, was one of the migrants who attempted the U.S.-bound trip in a Buick sedan in February. His wife and child are being held at Guantanamo. Eight others who made the trip with them were returned to Cuba.

It was unclear who else was on the hunger strike, or how long they had been held.

The Department of Homeland Security decided the Grass family had a credible fear of persecution if the were to be sent home, American officials said at the time.

Under U.S. immigration policy, Cubans who reach U.S. shores generally are allowed to stay while those caught at sea are usually returned.

The Cubans are reportedly only drinking water to protest their detentions, Sanchez said.

Dozens of terror suspects launched hunger strikes shortly after arriving at the U.S. outpost in January of 2002. There have been 34 suicide attempts among prisoners.

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