HAVANA (AP) — Cuba has denied that its coast guard vessel was to blame for a collision with a migrant-packed boat that led to the deaths of seven people, including a two-year-old girl, saying the migrant boat made an abrupt turn in heavy swells that caused the crash.
The boat was headed to the United States when it flipped over in October after the crash near Bahía Honda, about two hours from the capital of Havana. The boat, which was made to hold six people, was carrying up to 26, according to state media CubaDebate and CubaVision, which gave a details of the government’s version of events this week.
The government account comes after some survivors of the crash, family members and people on social media accused the coast guard of ramming the migrants' boat. Cuba is facing one of the biggest mass migrations in decades, spurred by compounding and deepening crises.
Colonel Victor Alvarez Valle, an investigator for Ministry of the Interior, said when the driver of the boat saw the coast guard, he “turned on the engine and violently turned in front of the boat,” causing him to lose control and crash. The Cuban report included testimony from the driver, who was detained by the Cuban government following the crash, in which he said he lost control of the boat.
But Héctor Manuel Meizoso González, the uncle of the two-year-old girl who died in the crash, told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday that the boat driver did not make any turn, but that it was hit from behind.
Meizoso González was not on the boat, but said he was speaking for the family because his sister who had been on the boat, Diana Meizoso, was too traumatized to talk about her daughter's death.
“The people (on the boat) were hit hard repeatedly and that’s why so many people died,” he said.
The coast guard denied that it hit the boat multiple times and officials showed photos in which the vessel carrying migrants had a fracture on one side.
Meizoso González said his sister, who had been carrying her daughter, fainted when the collision happened, and that the girl fell from her arms. When she woke up, she began to scream for her daughter, but the toddler was already dead.
In fiscal 2022, American authorities encountered Cubans nearly 221,000 times on the U.S.-Mexico border — a 471% increase from the year before, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
By sea, the American Coast Guard intercepted nearly 6,200 migrants in the same period.
Havana correspondent Andrea Rodríguez contributed to this report.