Bahama Trauma

Miami kayaker Miguel Hernandez was having the time of his life on a solo voyage to Cuba -- until a multinational team of drug cops crashed the party

Op-BAT officials are either unwilling or unable to say precisely what motivated Hernandez's arrest -- other than his being in the wrong place at the wrong time, minding his own business. "One of the crews spotted a guy on this little rock in the middle of nowhere," says Miami-based Coast Guard spokesman Dave Waldschmidt. "First they offered to fly him out of there, but he refused. Then they [Bahamian police] radioed for a background check and decided to take him in. We were basically assisting them in effecting their law. Our involvement is to provide an aircraft and crew."

Reginald Ferguson, superintendent of the Royal Bahamas Police Drug Enforcement Unit, declined to discuss the specific justification for Hernandez's arrest, or to describe legal procedures used by civilian Bahamian police during their participation in Op-BAT.

Toni Teresi, DEA supervisor for Op-BAT in Nassau, allows that she remembers Hernandez's arrest, but she refuses to comment on it because of long-standing agency policy. For his part, Miami DEA spokesman Jim Shedd defends the arrest in principle, citing the concept of Bahamian national sovereignty and the overriding benefits to American society in seeing that the maze of 3000 rocks, cays, and islands are vigorously patrolled. "Who are we to question how another country makes arrests?" Shedd huffs. "And what makes anybody think that in this day and age someone can travel through international waters and not be aware of the geopolitical implications of his actions? I would find it very strange if I was out there and saw some guy in a kayak. I don't see anything wrong with them yanking him out of there and taking a closer look. Frankly, I don't think this guy has all his oars in the water."

Miguel Hernandez sums it up a little more tersely: "This drug war has been going on for decades now. You get in the middle of it, you're screwed."

In mid-November, Hernandez returned to Anguila Cays aboard a friend's yacht and found his kayak where he had left it. Now back in Miami, he plans to circumnavigate Cuba sometime in the next year -- an idea that has drawn promises of monetary sponsorship from several Miami businessmen who privately support normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations. Last week Hernandez returned from Canada after meeting with designers at the Vancouver-based kayak company Current Designs, the manufacturer of his current model. He is hiring the firm to build a special 22-foot kayak with a small sail and lots of storage room. Hernandez says he will begin seeking approval for the trip from the Cuban government by the end of this month.

Since his untimely ejection from the Bahamas, Hernandez has been working as a full-time guide for his friend Dave Berman at Mangrove Coast SeaKayaks in South Miami. Berman's shop sells fiberglass kayaks and leads aquatic day trips around Biscayne Bay, the Keys, and the Everglades.

Despite his run-in with Op-BAT, Hernandez asserts he'll always love the Bahamas, Anguila Cays in particular. "It's like being on another planet," he sighs. "I would like to have a house there. The first. I can work something out with the Bahamian government." Just a hint of a smile.

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