Detained Cuban hijacker 'a hero'

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The Independent Online
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KEY WEST (AFP) - A Cuban military mechanic who hijacked a boat to carry 25 friends and family members to the United States was being detained yesterday by the US authorities. Leonel Macias Gonzalez, 19, was not immediately charged with a crime, but US authorities were reviewing accusations that he fired at a naval officer, a US Attorney, Kendall Coffey, said.

The other 25 Cubans picked up by the US Coast Guard off the Florida Coast were released on Wednesday to a refugee resettlement organization. The US nearly always grants political asylum to Cubans who arrive in the country and demand it. Ana Isa Bravo, 15, who said she was Macias Gonzalez's girlfriend, said he told her he fired in self-defence, after one of the officers fired two shots near his head. She said she did not know whether the officer was hit. The Cuban authorities initially said a navy lieutenant was killed in Monday's hijacking, but have not repeated the accusation.

In Washington, the head of the Cuban Interests Section, Alfonso Fraga, did not comment on Wednesday's hijacking but acknowledged Cuban officials had not found the lieutenant's body. Another passenger, Jose Raul Garcia, said Macias Gonzalez was a hero. 'He gave us his hand. It was a miracle,' he said. 'They must do everything possible so that this man is not returned to Cuba.'