Exile group sends raft with aid to Cuba

Monday, Jul 06, 1998 08:24

MEXICO CITY (AP) -- In a protest aimed at the United States as well as Fidel Castro's government, a Cuban exile group sent a raft loaded with food and humanitarian aid into Cuban waters Monday.

The Miami-based Democracy Movement said it's action was the first by an exile group in Cuban territory since Cuba shot down two unarmed planes in 1996 flown by Brothers to the Rescue, killing four exiles.

The raft, containing food, soap and other supplies, was launched late Sunday from Cuban waters, about 10{ miles from the Cuban coast, said Luis Felipe Rojas, a Democracy Movement spokesman. Attached to the raft was a 20-foot-long blimp with the word "Democracy" emblazoned across it.

The action came one month after the United States resumed direct humanitarian aid to Cuba, which was suspended after the planes were shot down. President Clinton lifted the ban after Pope John Paul II visited Cuba in January.

Democracy Movement said in a statement that it "needs neither a foreign law, nor the arrogant denial of the Cuban government, to take assistance to its own people," describing the operation as "a new tactic within its nonviolent strategy."

The balloon could be seen from a coastal highway outside the capital, Havana, the Mexican state-run news agency Notimex reported.

Later, some foreign journalists could see the deflated balloon and raft on El Chivo beach, west of Havana, the agency said. Security agents kept reporters from getting close to the scene.

Luis Diaz, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman in Miami, said the agency had no knowledge of the group's action.

In April, the Coast Guard seized a Democracy Movement boat that tried to sail into Cuban waters. The boat was later returned.

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