Story at a glance

  • Yacht operators are making hundreds of thousands of dollars smuggling undocumented Chinese immigrants from the Bahamas to Florida.
  • Reports say that this is part of the Chinese expanding their presence in the Caribbean for investment opportunities.
  • Such presence has triggered national security concerns.

Federal criminal charges have been filed in South Florida against the operators of luxury yachts who allegedly smuggled foreign nationals into the U.S. without proper documentation for personal financial gain, The Miami Herald reports. 

While it’s unclear why these Chinese nationals sought to come to South Florida, the move is part of a larger five-year trend in the region. The Bahamas has seen a surge of Chinese workers as China invests in the archipelago's hospitality and tourism industries. China’s presence in the Bahamas reportedly stems from a burgeoning relationship between the two countries, after China provided disaster relief in a bid to establish trade. 

In this case, an Italian national, Rocco Oppedisano, is charged with conspiracy to transport undocumented foreign nationals into the U.S. for financial gain. The Coast Guard initially halted his 63-foot Sunseeker yacht and found 14 Chinese passengers and one Bahamian on board in early December. 

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Authorities seized the yacht, as well as $172,000 in Bahamian dollars and $41,000 in U.S. dollars.

Coast Guards caught another luxury yacht illegally transporting Chinese nationals last July approximately 20 miles east of South Florida. Officers stopped a 70-foot Hatteras, and found 12 Chinese passengers without the necessary visas to enter the U.S. 

Crew member Robert L. McNeil Jr. and Captain James A. Bradford were arrested and indicted on the same charges of Oppedisano. Authorities also seized $118,100 in presumably U.S. dollars in a secret cabinet behind the yacht’s wall paneling, as well as $2,800 from McNeil. 

China’s presence has raised national security concerns for the U.S., motivating the current administration to increase disaster relief efforts and social development. 

Speaking with NPR, José Cárdenas, a former National Security Council official and consultant, warned that the Chinese presence in Latin America and the Caribbean “isn’t all sweetness and light.”

"The temptation is so great to take advantage of Chinese largesse," Cárdenas told NPR. "But to the peoples of the hemisphere, the United States ought to be very clear in a public diplomacy campaign that the Chinese government largesse comes with a lot of baggage. It comes with a lot of strings attached, and it has implications for democratic institutions and rule of law."

 

Published on Jan 16, 2020