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Detainees and the reputation of The Bahamas

Published: Aug 14, 2013

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A high-profile international dispute has been playing out for weeks between a group of Cuban detainees and the government of The Bahamas. Protestors from the Miami-based Cuban advocacy group Democracy Movement even engaged in a hunger strike over the alleged abuse of Cuban detainees in The Bahamas at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre.

The Bahamian government has denied that any abuse has taken place. Foreign Minister Fred Mitchell has said repeatedly that The Bahamas has no policy of abusing people in its detention. The Bahamas wants the detainees gone. The United States and Cuba, however, have thus far not accepted the detainees; hence, the standoff.

The latest development in the saga is that Panama may be willing to take the detainees. On Monday, Honorary Consul General of Panama to The Bahamas David McGrath said Panama confirmed its president (Ricardo Martinelli) wishes to make the offer once it establishes who the detainees are; what travel documents they have, and how the logistics can be arranged. Yet, the government has received no formal word from Panama that it intends to offer humanitarian exile to the Cubans detained here, Mitchell confirmed yesterday.

This issue has played out in the international press. The Bahamas has no official policy of torturing foreign detainees. However, the wild accusations by the Cuban protestors have sent the wrong message worldwide. This could harm the reputation of The Bahamas – a country that depends on foreign direct investment.

This incident should be a lesson to The Bahamas. We should redouble our efforts to ensure that undocumented people captured in The Bahamas are quickly returned to their countries of origin once their identities and nationalities are established. For those who seek some type of asylum, the requests too should be processed with haste so that the people are either allowed to stay, or they are sent home. If it is believed that detainees committed crimes they should be punished for, those people should be charged and sent to prison if the courts order them remanded.

The government may also consider the creation of an independent oversight body to hear detainee complaints similar to the body established to hear civilian complaints against police in The Bahamas. This could give even more weight to the country’s claim that it does not systematically abuse foreign detainees to our international partners.

Democracy Movement called off its protests after Panama indicated its intention to accept the migrants. The group has heavily promoted a travel boycott of The Bahamas and recently protested outside the Bahamas Consul General Office in Miami.

While Mitchell is correct stating that The Bahamas should not just bow in fear to any pressure from outside criticizing our practices, we do not need protracted international fights of this nature. If being more efficient in how we process detainees helps get them back home, or to a third country, we should work hard to effect those efficiencies.


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