The Miami Herald
November 28, 2000

Family of five crosses Straits under cover of darkness


 A Cuban family dropped off the coast of Virginia Key in a pre-dawn smuggling
 operation Monday said they fled the communist island because they could not
 afford medical care for their eldest daughter, who has a congenital heart defect.

 Miguel Gorayeb, 50, an architect who said he spent 10 years working for Cuba's
 nuclear power plant, and his wife, Ana Amelia Pérez, 35, a former supermarket
 clerk, said their daughter was referred to a medical clinic that normally treats

 ``I would need to pay $15,000 if I wanted to have her operated on again,'' Pérez
 said. ``That is why I left Cuba.''

 The trip was still costly: They paid a smuggler all of their material possessions --
 including a car, color television, refrigerator and clothes washer -- in addition to
 $5,000 cash.

 Louris Gorayeb, 13, was born with part of a heart valve missing, her parents said.
 After a visiting French doctor operated on her four years ago, the girl's lips and
 fingers no longer turned blue from lack of oxygen and she was able to climb a
 flight of stairs.

 But the girl's long-term prognosis depended on an additional operation, and Louris
 had not been examined by a cardiologist in a year, her parents said.

 Making matters worse, her parents said, Dr. Luis Arango, one of the doctors who
 had overseen Louris' treatment at the William Soler Pediatric Hospital in Havana
 since she was an infant, defected earlier this year. The team of specialists who
 worked with him was transferred to a clinic that treats foreigners -- and the couple
 said they were told they would have to pay ``like any other'' if they wanted an
 operation for their daughter.

 ``The doctors mean very well,'' a weary Pérez said. ``They want to help you, and
 they want to practice their profession. If they don't have a syringe or a towel, what
 can they do?''

 A Cuban diplomat who answered the phone at the Cuban Interests Section in
 Washington, D.C., Monday afternoon said a spokesman was unavailable to
 comment on the case.

 Rosa Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for Jackson Memorial Hospital, said emergency
 room doctors examined Louris, but she was unable to disclose specifics about
 the girl's medical history.

 ``The only thing I can tell you is the condition: It is good,'' Gonzalez said.

 Juan Carlos Pérez, the girl's Miami uncle, said doctors performed a number of
 tests on Louris -- including a sonogram and an electrocardiogram -- and gave her
 an appointment for next week.

 ``I think it will be necessary to operate,'' said Pérez, an electrician. He said the
 family had not yet discussed fees, but he said a social worker told the family the
 hospital might be able to help pay for the treatment.

 Family members said they began planning their escape two months ago after
 meeting a Havana-based smuggler.

 On Friday night, the plan became a reality. The couple rounded up their three
 children -- Louris, 10-year-old Michel and 2-year-old Ana María -- and headed to
 the central bus station in Havana where they waited 10 hours until they got seats
 on a bus to Matanzas. From there, they caught a jitney to Cárdenas, they said.

 Saturday night was spent walking up the coast with one of the smuggler's agents
 who kept in touch with a fast boat on his cellular phone. Even in the pitch
 darkness, they stopped constantly, making sure they weren't being followed.

 ``I have lost about 20 pounds worrying about getting stopped at sea,'' Gorayeb

 Before boarding the boat at 11 p.m. Sunday, Pérez said she gave a bottle of milk
 to her youngest child, Ana María, and then climbed into the bottom of the craft,
 where she held tightly to her three children.

 The couple said they were unable to say how long the trip took -- the boat
 stopped to pick up five more passengers -- but once they departed, they traveled
 as ``fast as a lightning bolt.''

 When the boat came to a sudden stop, the smugglers ordered everyone off in
 waist-deep water about 200 meters off land, they said. The family hesitated at first
 and became separated from the other passengers.

 Making their way in the early-morning darkness, they walked aimlessly, getting
 their first glimpse of high-rise apartment buildings and the Miami Seaquarium
 before ``a man in a red car'' pulled over and offered to call authorities.

 The man -- a chief building official for Key Biscayne -- could not be reached for

 Miami-Dade Police found the family at about 5 a.m., waiting on the Rickenbacker
 Causeway, near the docks of the University of Miami's marine science campus.

 ``Somebody brought them there in a go-fast boat and told them to walk to shore
 and call the police. They flagged down the first driver they saw,'' said Detective
 Nelda Fonticiella.

 The couple plan to live with Pérez's brother, Juan Carlos Pérez, and his family in
 Miami until they find jobs. The siblings had not seen each other in six years, and
 Juan Carlos said he was struck with how much his sister's situation had changed.
 Gorayeb said his family's standard of living declined after he tried to emigrate
 legally from Cuba six years ago.