The Coast Guard says their family members were smuggled out of Cuba in a trip that turned deadly.
But these family members say they did not pay anyone to bring their relatives from Cuba this weekend. Amay Machado Gonzalez, 24, was apparently killed by being battered around on the boat when the Coast Guard gave chase to the suspected smuggling vessel.
I interviewed some of the family members Monday afternoon. Here's what they said:
Rebeca Croes, the twin sister of one of the passengers, Morelia Croes, said her sister and several friends made a makeshift boat and tried to leave Cuba on it. But it started sinking outside Cuban waters. She said the men who are accused of smuggling happened to see the sinking boat and rescued them.
"They did the work of the Coast Guard," Croes said of the accused smugglers. She said her family did not pay for her sister to get smuggled
out. "I don't even have furniture in my living room," Croes said in Spanish. "I sleep in the same bed as my daughter. It's not as like if I had enough money to pay someone."
Croes' half sister, Laura Hernandez, also said no money exchanged hands. "No one was paid," she said.
For Arturo Conde, news of the smuggling operation was terrifying at first. He said his daughter, Odalys Conde, was on the boat. When news broke of the smuggling, he heard an unidentified woman had been killed, but had to wait until much later in the day to learn the woman's name from news reports. It was not his daughter.
"She's been wanting to leave Cuba for a long time," he said of his daughter, Odalys, 40, who he said was with her own two daughters on the boat. "If they send them back to Cuba, Fidel Castro will take her daughters away from her."
Other relatives said the people who were aboard the smuggling boat were all friends and family and had been trying to leave Cuba for a long time.
Laura Hernandez said she visited her sister, Morelia, in Cuba two months ago, and said she was desperate to get out. "When I came from Cuba, she said that they couldn't stand it any more," she said.
Photograph by Herald Photographer Carl Juste. From left to right, Ovilio Conde, America Lau, Migdalia Ramos Conde, Alex Conde, Elsa Conde, Arturo Conde, Alfredo Conde, Rebeca Croes, Laura Hernandez