By Travis Cartwright-Carroll
Nassau Guardian Staff Reporter
WASHINGTON, USA -- US President Barack Obama’s nominee to the post of US ambassador to The Bahamas, Cassandra Butts, said one of her priorities, if confirmed, would be to ensure that all illegal migrants detained in The Bahamas are treated humanely.
Butts was responding to a question during a hearing of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio expressed concern about the “forceful repatriation” of Cuban detainees by the government of The Bahamas.
“I’ve seen the videos of some of this,” Rubio said.
He continued, “We've reached out to their government.
“They (the Bahamas government) dispute some of those assertions, but nonetheless, we remain very concerned about it.
“And I would just want to encourage you to work with the Bahamian authorities to ensure that not just Cuban refugees, but as well as other refugees, including Haitian refugees and others, are treated appropriately and humanely, if in fact they wind up on Bahamian territory.
“I think it's something that if people saw some of the images that have been put out there of how some of them have been treated by these authorities, they'd be very concerned.”
Rubio seemed to be referring to the alleged abuse of a group of Cuban detainees at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre last year.
Images were aired on a Spanish language TV station in Miami last June purporting to show Cubans being abused by Bahamian officers.
Butts said the issue of migration is of great importance to her and was what attracted her to the post.
“I have not seen the images,” she said. “I’ve certainly heard about some of the allegations with regard to how the Cuban refugees have been treated, [and how] migrants have been treated in The Bahamas.”
She added, “It will be one of my priorities to ensure that all migrants are treated humanely.
“And I am happy to, if I'm confirmed, to have a chance to come back to you, Senator (Rubio), and to your staff, and keep you up-to-date on the issues.”
According to witness statements from marines and detainees at the facility, Cuban detainees were severely beaten after they attempted to escape from the center.
The Cuban detainees were violently beaten for almost two hours, and one even appeared to have temporarily lost consciousness as a result of the abuse, according to one of the marines.
The allegations made headlines for weeks and incensed Miami-based protest group Democracy Movement.
Rubio was among a group of Florida lawmakers who branded The Bahamas’ decision to repatriate the Cubans among those allegedly beaten, as “immoral” and “spineless”.
The statements were made in a letter addressed to Prime Minister Perry Christie last August.
The government officially ordered an investigation into the alleged abuse of the Cuban detainees, most of whom have been repatriated or granted asylum in a third country.
A disciplinary hearing into the abuse claims started last November.
Five marines were charged in connection with the incident.
The hearings are on hold as the Bahamas government awaits a response from the Cuban government on a request to interview detainees who were repatriated, authorities have said.
Republished with permission of the Nassau Guardian