The NAACP announced yesterday that it will send a team to Miami to investigate claims by Florida officials that 33 Haitians who drowned Monday appeared to have been dropped just offshore in a rickety, homemade sailboat by a freighter that was probably piloted by smugglers.
Chester Higgins, a spokesman for the NAACP in New York, said his organization "deplores" the current U.S. policy of turning back the Haitians on the open seas and plans to launch a lobbying campaign in Congress on behalf of the Haitians.
The Haitians claim they are political refugees fleeing the oppressive regime of Jean Claude Duvalier, but the U.S. government insists they are economic refugees fleeing the poverty of Haiti.
Higgins said yesterday that NAACP investigators will go to the detention camp outside Miami where the Haitians are being held to interview the survivors. "We will make our own determination," he said.
In Florida, Dr. Ronald Wright, Broward County medical examiner, said autopsies on the drowning victims revealed they had eaten a substantial meal of cooked chicken, rice, potatoes, pork and celery--a meal that could not have been prepared aboard the tiny sailboat--only two hours before they died.
Wright said celery found during the autopsies could not have stayed fresh through the entire trip without refrigeration which would have been impossible on the homemade sailboat that swamped off the exclusive beach.
"This absolutely confirms it that the Haitians are being taken off the larger boats--the freighters--and placed into rickety sailboats and left to somehow manage to make it to shore," Wright said.
"They couldn't have gotten that food aboard their sailboat. It had to have come from the freighter that ferried them to the Florida territorial waters," Wright said.
Thirty-four other Haitians who also were aboard the craft survived after swimming to shore against a strong undertow. The 30-foot boat capsized about 50 yards off an exclusive beach lined with luxury oceanfront villas and high-rise condominiums.
The Haitians were discovered when a resident saw a crowd of survivors walking down the beach, the women sobbing hysterically. By dawn, bodies were washing ashore and the outline of the swamped sailboat became visible offshore.
Federal officials estimate that the Haitian "boat people" have been arriving on South Florida shores from Haiti and the Bahamas at the rate of about 1,000 a month for more than two years.
Wright said he believed the freighter was piloted by smugglers who probably received $1,000 from each of the Haitians. "The smugglers have their money. They don't care what happens to those people after they are off the freighter," he said.