Cuba: is CANF smuggling migrants?

On June 23 the Mexican daily La Jornada reported that according to “judicial sources” the Mexican Attorney General’s Office (PGR) has information that the Miami-based Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) has maintained ties for at least three years with the “Gulf Cartel” drug trafficking operation and “Los Zetas”—a gang of hired assassins working for the cartels—to help in the smuggling of Cuban and Central American immigrants through Mexican territory to the US. CANF, an influential organization of rightwing Cuban Americans in Florida, has friendly relations with US politicians from both the Democratic and Republican parties.

Reporter Alfredo Mendez wrote that the allegations came from an ongoing investigation of two Cuban Americans, Nairobi Claro and Noriel Veloz, who were arrested in the eastern state of Quintana Roo on June 8 for allegedly transporting 33 Cubans to Mexico illegally. The 33 Cubans were later “snatched” from Mexican authorities by armed men, along with four Central Americans; at least 18 of the immigrants were later found in Texas (see Update, June 22). Claro and Veloz reportedly told investigators in Cancún, Quintana Roo, that they were CANF members and that they used payments from the immigrants to bribe Mexican officials, get forged immigration documents and contract Zetas for the immigrant smuggling operation. According to the sources, Claro and Veloz turned down an offer for release on bail, saying they would be executed if they went out on the streets. (LJ, June 23)

CANF president Francisco “Pepe” Hernandez strongly denied the allegations on June 24 and told The Miami Herald that the story was probably “disinformation” planted by the Cuban government to discredit his organization. He said Claro and Veloz had never had any connection with CANF. The two men are both listed in public records as living in Miami’s Little Havana area. (Trading Markets, June 25 from the Miami Herald)

The PGR also denied the story in a letter to La Jornada published on June 26. Reporter Méndez responded that his sources had access to the proceedings in the Fourth District Court in Cancún, adding that Cuban ambassador Manuel Aguilera had confirmed to him in an interview in Mexico City on June 24 that the Cuban government possessed intelligence indicating that CANF is “who’s behind all this.” Aguilera said Cuba had shared this information with the Mexican government. (LJ, June 26)

The smuggling of Cubans through Mexico has grown dramatically since 2002, when just 195 Cuban immigrants were detained in Quintana Roo; by 2005 the number had jumped to 2,504, although it has fallen since then. The smugglers frequently dress the Cubans as tourists, in Bermuda shorts, and transport them in yachts. The US has a “wet foot, dry foot” policy for Cubans; if they are apprehended at sea, they are returned to Cuba, but if they manage to enter the US, they are allowed to stay. (Univision, June 24 from AFP)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 29

See our last posts on Cuba, Mexico’s narco wars and the politics of immigration.