Bahamas releases two Cuban dentists to United States

The Bahamas released two Cuban dentists who had been detained on the islands for nearly a year despite having clearance to enter the U.S.

David Gonzalez-Mejias and Marialis Darias-Mesa arrived in Florida on Tuesday afternoon, according to a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV, a Florida Republican who had pushed for their release and threatened economic sanctions against the Bahamas.

The pair were detained in the Bahamas since April 2005, when a boat carrying them and 16 other Cuban immigrants stalled in Bahamian waters. The U.S. Coast Guard handed the immigrants over to the Bahamas, which has an agreement with Cuba calling for repatriation of Cuban nationals.

Family members said the two decided to flee Cuba after President Fidel Castro's government repeatedly refused to let them leave for the U.S., even though they had obtained visas three years earlier allowing them to emigrate legally.

Their families were permitted to leave and had settled in Florida.

Cuba has for years refused exit visas for doctors, dentists and other health professionals.

The dentists were first flown to Jamaica and then to the U.S. to satisfy concerns that releasing the dentists to the U.S. would encourage other Cubans to try a similar route, said Joshua Sears, the Bahamian ambassador to the U.S.

"In all of this, we sought to ensure that the Bahamas was not used or perceived to be an area by which persons could freely come, risking their lives, to enter the United States," Sears said. "It was always understood that the Bahamas would find a solution to this problem, but I don't think anybody thought it would take as long as it did, " reports the AP.


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