By Anthony L Hall
Ever since reports about prison guards abusing Cuban refugees at a detention center in Nassau, Bahamas, went viral last month, the Bahamian government has been trying to weather a public-relations hurricane.
Anthony L. Hall is a Bahamian who descends from the Turks and Caicos Islands. He is an international lawyer and political consultant - headquartered in Washington DC - who also publishes a current events weblog, The iPINIONS Journal, at http://ipjn.com
Unsurprisingly, these reports incited regional outrage. Nowhere more so than in Miami, from where Cuban exiles (aka Miami Cubans) exert apparent
political influence in the United States that defies their political demographics as well as common sense.
For the record, while raising legitimate questions about the authenticity of videotapes allegedly showing this abuse, Bahamian Foreign Minister Fred Mitchell is deflecting blame by drawing:
…a distinction between the possible or alleged individual behaviour of agents of the state and the state itself.
(The Tribune, August 19, 2013)
Unfortunately, for Miami Cubans, this is rather like Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, on the one hand, questioning the authenticity of forensic evidence implicating his regime in the use of chemical weapons, while on the other hand, deflecting blame by pointing to rogue agents of his regime as the culprits….
To be fair, Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe pleaded just days ago that the Bahamian government is still “working on a report into the alleged abuse.”
Except, to complete the analogy, when one considers that it took UN investigators only three weeks to produce their report on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, it seems more like obfuscation, if not obstruction of justice, that it has already taken Bahamian investigators more than three months to produce theirs on this abuse.
Frankly, the Bahamian government would be well advised to admit the obvious, namely, that Cuban refugees were in fact abused while in a government detention center. For context, though, the government might submit that the abuse alleged was no more severe than that which inmates in every prison, in every state in the United States claim prison guards mete out against them every day.
But until the government makes this admission, the powerful politicians who give Miami Cubans their clout will not buy any assurance that those implicated will be held to account, or that new measures have been implemented to prevent further abuse. And, incidentally, it hardly matters that the abuse allegedly stemmed from prison guards reacting, in kind, to a violent attempt by refugees to escape from the detention center.
Which brings me to the more salient point of this commentary: the friggin’ nerve of Miami Cubans.
You can be forgiven for thinking that the reason for their sustained outrage and threats to stage economically crippling protests is the alleged abuse of Cuban detainees. But this is not so.
Instead, what has them waging a public-relations jihad is the Bahamian government’s policy of repatriating people they hail as “freedom-seeking Cuban refugees.” Never mind that this policy is no different from their US government’s policy of repatriating freedom-seeking Haitian refugees….
[Ironically enough, it was another Democratic president, Bill Clinton] who initiated the inherently unfair, if not racist ‘wet foot, dry foot’ immigration policy during his presidency, which stipulates that seafaring Cuban refugees who make it to US shores must be assimilated, unconditionally; whereas seafaring Haitian refugees (fleeing even greater persecution and privations) who make it must be repatriated, summarily
. (“Compassion Fatigue for Haitian Migrants,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 31, 2009)
By contrast, notwithstanding the abuse alleged in this case, The Bahamas should be hailed for having an immigration policy that treats all refugees equally and caters to no special interest group.
More to the point, the Bahamian government rightly relies on guidance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in determining which asylum seekers are granted refugee status and which are repatriated -- after exhausting all legal appeals.
[Foreign Minister] Mitchell confirmed that 24 people, all Cuban nationals, were repatriated to their home country on Friday, August 16…
He said there are 20 others who will be returned home shortly and 275 Haitian migrants were returned to Haiti last week as well
…. (Jamaica Gleaner, August 20, 2013)
Alas, activist Miami Cubans, like those associated with the protest group Democracy Movement, are so indulged by politicians in the United States that every member of the Florida congressional delegation has been fighting to give political sanction to their plainly contrived, hypocritical and misguided outrage. Is it any wonder, then, that they now believe they can even dictate how politicians in other countries deal with Cuban refugees…?
Far more troubling, though, is the number of refugees -- who claim they were abused -- who The Bahamas has sent off to Miami instead of repatriated to Cuba. Because, whatever the merit in doing so, it may have unwittingly given other refugees the impression that sensational claims of abuse (even if self-inflicted -- as has been documented) gets one a ticket to Miami.
Meanwhile, nothing betrays the ulterior political motive of Miami Cubans quite like Democracy Movement protesting the due repatriation of every Cuban refugee.
For, irrespective of claims of abuse, they are now threatening to stage protests everywhere from the curbs of major Florida airports to the docks of major cruise liners. And they are doing all of this in a venal effort to get the Bahamian government to adopt the US immigration policy that accords preferential treatment to Cuban refugees.
This is why Foreign Minister Mitchell is right to decry it as “economic blackmail.” After all, Miami Cubans are clearly banking on Bahamian politicians becoming so unnerved by the mere potential economic impact of any bad publicity that they will do Democracy Movement’s bidding.
Sadly, that Minister of Tourism Wilchcombe is reportedly exhorting Bahamians to stage counter protests is an indication that they might be right, at least insofar as Bahamian politicians becoming unnerved is concerned. This, of course, is absurd.
Not least because anyone who knows anything about the real
influence of Miami Cubans knows that it is limited to voting as a bloc every four years in presidential elections – given Florida’s status as an all-important swing state.
Which is why Democracy Movement trying to persuade anyone who is not a Miami Cuban to abandon their flight or cruise to The Bahamas is rather like Catholic Bishops trying to persuade anyone who is not Roman Catholic to stop having pre-marital sex. Exactly … good luck with that!
Accordingly, the best thing Bahamian officials can do is to completely ignore the idle threats of Democracy Movement’s publicity-seeking crusaders.
Besides, their cause célèbre
will flame out soon enough in this media age where even a story as consequential as the military coup in Egypt has the lifespan of an adult mayfly. Whereas responding to their protests is like adding fuel to fire.
Finally, I urge you to challenge any Miami Cuban who thinks it’s unconscionable for the Bahamian government to repatriate refugees to Cuba to explain why it’s not unconscionable for the U.S. government to have one “special-entry” immigration policy for Cuban refugees and another “papers-please” one for all others (most notably Haitians) from this region….
It is a testament to the conceit and arrogance of Miami Cubans that they firmly believe they’ll be able to return to Cuba after Fidel dies – to inherit the political power and social privileges their ancestors abdicated decades ago. And they assume this prerogative without any regard for the Cubans who have been toiling at home, waiting for their opportunity to govern their country.
But, at this rate, a well-indoctrinated Elian Gonzalez will be Cuban dictator before Miami Cubans are disabused of their antic pining for their paradise lost
. (“Raul Pledges to Continue Fidel’s (50-year) Cuban Revolution,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 26, 2008)