Family of five crosses Straits under cover of darkness
SANDRA MARQUEZ GARCIA AND ARNOLD MARKOWITZ
A Cuban family dropped off the coast of Virginia Key in a pre-dawn
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
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
including a car, color television, refrigerator and clothes washer -- in addition to
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,
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
Washington, D.C., Monday afternoon said a spokesman was unavailable to
comment on the case.
Rosa Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for Jackson Memorial Hospital, said
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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.