The Deadly Road Through Mexico

When Cubans leave their homeland, things can get lots worse.

Even some prominent Cuban-Americans question the legitimacy of asylum claims by "dusty foot" Cubans. Grisel Ybarra, an immigration attorney in Miami who fled Cuba in 1962, thinks the Cuban Adjustment Act shouldn't apply in Texas. She thinks most Cubans are seeking a better-paying job, not political freedom.

"These Cubans come here, tell some bullshit story at the border, and they get their green card," Ybarra says. "I came here seeking freedom, not hot dogs. My generation, we are refugees; they are immigrants. If you came to Miami and asked Cubans who came here before Mariel [in 1980], 99 percent of them would agree with me...."

Compounding the problem, Ybarra adds, are Cuban-Americans who support illegal human trafficking by paying tens of thousands of dollars to get their relatives off the island. "Cubans are the richest Hispanic group in the U.S.," she says. "We live in million-dollar homes in Coral Gables. We have the money to pay for boats to get people out of Cuba."

Six undocumented Cubans are towed into a marina in Isla Mujeres on the Yucatán Peninsula.
AP Wide World
Six undocumented Cubans are towed into a marina in Isla Mujeres on the Yucatán Peninsula.
Mexican Prosecutor Bello Melchor Rodríguez holds up the autopsy report of Luis Lázaro Lara Morejón, a 30-year-old Cuban-American murdered for his role in a human smuggling ring.
AP Wide World
Mexican Prosecutor Bello Melchor Rodríguez holds up the autopsy report of Luis Lázaro Lara Morejón, a 30-year-old Cuban-American murdered for his role in a human smuggling ring.

In the Florida Straits, the Coast Guard has become more aggressive toward suspected smugglers, according to Chief Petty Ofcr. Dana Warr of the U.S. Coast Guard. Officers are instructed to shoot at boats that do not respond to warning shots. Gunfire has a 100 percent success rate, Warr says, so it's no surprise that smugglers have changed direction. "We know it's happening, that there is a lot of maritime smuggling between Cuba and Mexico," he says. "We have a vested interest because, indirectly, that is illegal smuggling into the U.S."

If smuggling continues to affect the number of Cubans crossing the Texas border, Warr says, Coast Guard ships could patrol as far south as the Yucatán Channel. "The Caribbean Sea is two million square miles, and we try to patrol every bit of it," he says. "We realize we can't catch them all."

Quintana Roo Attorney General Bello Melchor Rodríguez acknowledges Mexican law enforcement is having a difficult time battling smugglers. Moreover, Rodríguez says, some rings employ assassins known as Los Zetas, or The Zs, former Mexican National Police officers and ex-special armed forces soldiers turned freelance mercenaries. Los Zetas are responsible for the turf war-related murder of reputed human trafficker Francisco Javier Fernández Ramírez this past July and the July 27 shooting of suspected Cuban smuggler Alberto Maya Mendoza, who spent two weeks in a coma in a Mérida hospital.

Jenaro Villamil, a reporter for Yucatán newspaper Periódico AM, says the rings act with impunity. "We are talking about a multimillion-dollar industry involving Mexican cartels, local businessmen, corrupt immigration authorities, and the Cuban-American mafia," Villamil says. "The battle for control is taking place in Quintana Roo, specifically in Cancún."


The roots of Miami resident Luis Lázaro Lara Morejón's bloody execution-style killing in Cancún date back at least five years. He and his then-wife, Alely Acosta, arrived in Miami from Cuba in 2002, when they took up residence in a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condominium in west Hialeah, about a three-minute drive from Palmetto General Hospital. Over the next four years, the couple and their two children moved to two different condos within five miles of each other.

Little is known about Morejón's time in Miami-Dade County. Six of his neighbors New Times questioned couldn't remember him or Acosta, whom Morejón apparently split with sometime in 2005 — about a year before he fled to Mexico. New Times was not able to locate Acosta at her last known address, a one-bedroom apartment 10 blocks from the condo at 65th Street and 24th Avenue in west Hialeah. The place was empty during a recent visit, perhaps indicating she and the young children fled after the murder.

Morejón's name appears in the Miami-Dade County Clerk's online database, but no information is available about any charges, indicating he probably has a sealed criminal record. The clerk's website also reveals Morejón's Florida driver's license was suspended March 27, 2006, when he failed to pay a $162 fine for a traffic violation.

The reason is clear. By then, Morejón was in Cancún. He had joined more than 200 Cuban-Americans, many of whom are originally from Miami, in the smuggling business, asserts Quintana Roo prosecutor Melchor Rodríguez.

Shortly after his arrival, Morejón hooked up with Manuel Duarte Díaz, nicknamed "El Maní" ("The Peanut"), the alleged top man of a human trafficking ring operating in Mérida and Cancún, Rodríguez says. Morejón mediated between El Maní and Cuban-Americans in the United States seeking to get their relatives out of Cuba. The exiles would send Morejón the money and he would then pick up their relatives and take them to a safe house in Mérida. There he would provide them with food and new clothes so they wouldn't arouse the attention of law enforcement in the Yucatán province where Mérida is located.

Rodríguez won't say exactly how much Morejón was earning, but contends it was more than $100,000 per year.

According to police officials in Quintana Roo, El Maní and Morejón knew a local named David (authorities declined to provide his full name), who worked for the regional office of the National Immigration Institute of Mexico. The Cubans paid David to help them secure legal immigration status for the undocumented Cubans. The alleged smugglers were also doing business with Francisco Ramírez, the Cuban executed at the hands of Los Zetas. Ramírez owned a fishing charter business with Edwin Park, one of the two Mexicans executed alongside Morejón's girlfriend María Sáenz.

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