By SHARON TURNER
THE Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas spoke this week on the current Cuban detainees controversy, telling the country he leads that he is both “worried” and “concerned” about our nation’s reputation – a reputation that has once again become tarnished in large part by the actions of one of his Ministers – Ministers he ought to keep in check as head of the Cabinet.
As many of you would now know, this issue has spiraled to international attention, with The Bahamas being reported by media houses worldwide as having beaten and tortured refugees from Cuba. The alleged incident has sparked protests in Florida and interventions by prominent US legislators.
I will get back to our frightened Prime Minister later in this column but Bahamas, it’s time for us to call the spade about what is happening in our country right now, because many Bahamians are being deceived by government politicians whose mantra is they are “fighting for you”, when what they are actually fighting for is their personal and geopolitical agendas at your expense.
As I begin, here is a brief summary of what you need to know: this issue is not about random Cuban detainees trying to cause our country problems, this is not about the US trying to harm The Bahamas, and there is photographic hospital evidence of severe alleged beating injuries sustained by several Cuban detainees back in May. Bahamian officials know of and have the photos.
The current Cuban detainee controversy in our country stems from allegations of that abuse. The government says those allegations are under investigation – fine.
And right now there is another kind of abuse happening in all this. The victims are the Bahamian people and the abuser is the government, who through its lack of transparency and the reckless Napoleon-complex crusade of a lone Minister is causing Bahamians to misunderstand all the factors at play here, and causing many of you not to see how the government’s handling of this is playing fast and loose with your livelihood that predominantly depends on our nation’s relationship with the United States.
If you’ve ever been in or seen an abusive or manipulative relationship before, you’ll recognise the following four signs: 1 - a person telling you that what they are doing is for your own good even though it’s actually hurting you; 2 - a person playing on your trigger points and areas they know make you very upset; 3 - a person only telling you half the story while demanding you trust everything they say and 4 - a person making you feel you are weak and a victim and that without them, you would be worse off.
Now take those four signs, and see how they match how the government is playing the Bahamian people on this detainee issue. Sign 1 – we have a Foreign Affairs Minister who for the second time in his second term is waging a personal, unnecessarily bombastic war with the United States as though he and the US are company, and as though causing a strain in our relations with the US is supposed to help The Bahamas, when without the United States the country would be knee-deep picking peas. He says what he is doing is best for you, but it is hurting you and your country’s reputation.
Sign 2 – we have a Foreign Affairs Minister who knows just how much many Bahamians hate, fear or are otherwise averse to migrants – he knows the term “illegal immigrant” is their trigger point and it is all many Bahamians need to hear to take leave of their senses and wave a flag behind anyone who appears to be “dealing with these illegals”. He also knows how many Bahamians, due to decades of mental conditioning see foreigners as their enemies. That is why you see him using the terminology “us against the enemy” when commenting on this issue – he is playing on classical trigger points.
Sign 3 – we have a Foreign Affairs Minister who is not telling you what he knows about the Detention Centre incident, and lashes out against anyone who dares to ask him for details he is not prepared to give. Yet, he insists that you trust his word on all aspects thereof.
Sign 4 – we have a Foreign Affairs Minister whose apparent disdain for the sensibilities of Bahamians is pushing him to try to make you believe the US and/or those in the US are your enemy who he needs to protect you from, hence him portraying himself to you as the great bastion of protection against the “big bad USA” that wants to hurt our reputation over “a few Cubans”.
The way the Minister and by extension the government has handled this issue makes it the largest abuser in this fiasco, because they are taking the power we gave them and are using it to carry out personal diplomatic agendas that run the risk of causing a rift between us and the country our livelihood depends on. It also runs the risk of The Bahamas being formally named as a human rights violator in the region.
The Bahamas is sovereign, but is in no way self-sufficient, so it is critical that our government handles diplomatic matters like these with the country’s best interest being paramount - but unfortunately this saga is redolently reminiscent of a performance we’ve seen before.
World Stage Audition 2005
What we are seeing now is almost an instant replay of the last Christie government – same Minister, different Cuban detainees. Remember 2005? That was the year when the same Foreign Minister we have now, decided to go into a personal war with the United States over two Cuban dentists who wound up stalled in Bahamian waters en-route to America.
They had won the US visa lottery and thus had entry visas for the US, but because Cuban leader Fidel Castro refused to allow them to leave Cuba, they chose to flee Cuba via the open seas to attempt to be re-united with their families who had already been accepted by the United States.
What could have been a simple process of sending those detainees onto the United States dragged on for ten months of the two doctors being detained here. Why? Because our Foreign Affairs Minister decided to get into an unnecessary personal battle with American legislators which led to threats of economic sanctions against The Bahamas at that time.
Now ask yourself this question – since the United States is so critical to our economic existence, why is it that our Foreign Affairs Minister keeps seeing a few Cuban detainees as being worth damaging our relations with the United States?
Our very own Prime Minister says he is worried about our reputation, which suggests that in his view, the handling of this matter has caused us more harm than good. So, since we are not benefitting from the global attention according to the nation’s chief, then ask yourself who is.
If diplomatic cables by the US Embassy in Nassau released via Wikileaks over the last several years are to be believed, the answer to who stands to benefit would be behind door number 5 (Minister Mitchell’s order number in Cabinet).
Also previously carried by The Nassau Guardian, diplomats are quoted in the cables as saying: “Mitchell has a desire to be seen and heard in the international arena”, with another US embassy official, according to the cables, claiming “businessman Franklyn Wilson had ‘pleaded with us’ to engage constructively with The Bahamas and support Foreign Minister Mitchell’s desire to play a more prominent role on the world stage”.
Though the Prime Minister, at our expense, has permitted his Minister to behave as though he is running the country, the Prime Minister he is not and probably never will be – not of The Bahamas anyway. Though ironically, there was a time when a leadership role for him in Haiti was allegedly being contemplated.
Leaked US Embassy cables revealed discussions that took place during the controversial removal of former Haitian president Jean Betrand Aristide, where Minister Mitchell was said to have been pegged as one of three “counsel of wise men” who might run Haiti during that transition period. The irony of that “world stage” prospect is deafening.
Back when these cables were released and later reported on by local media, Minister Mitchell was quoted as saying the cables should be taken with a huge grain of salt.
Okay. Well the Minister needs to stop taking that huge grain of salt and rubbing it into the wounds to our diplomacy and reputation that his personal crusades are creating, all the while telling the country he is using that salt to season their pots.
Current Abuse Allegations
The Opposition this week said based on their information, Cubans at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre were in fact beaten following an alleged escape attempt back on May 20 of this year – over three months ago, and that some of them required medical treatment at Princess Margaret Hospital for their injuries.
Minister Mitchell, using his weak and whack “they are siding with the enemy” line, fired back stressing that investigations are still ongoing. It has been over three months now. It is in the best interest of the country to wrap up these “ongoing” investigations and make the full report public.
In the meantime, I have three questions for the Minister about just how interested in The Bahamas he is in all of this. In late June of this year (about a month after the alleged beatings), Minister Mitchell led a Caricom delegation of foreign ministers to the Turks and Caicos Islands on a “fact-finding mission” about that country’s current state of governance.
Within two weeks, Minister Mitchell’s team was able to produce a full report to Caricom on intricate activities and governance of a foreign country. Now, if Minister Mitchell can oversee a fact-finding report on a foreign country that only took him two weeks to have completed, why has it taken over three months to produce the results of fact-finding on something that happened right in his own country where he is in power?
And then there are the pictures of the detainees who were allegedly beaten. The photos taken at PMH are graphic. Bahamian officials have these photos, and the United States apparently knows about them too, as suggested by a June 26, 2013 letter written to Minister Mitchell by Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado.
Referring to those images, the mayor said: “According to the statements of relatives, the refugees are subject to maltreatment and beatings. We are aware that ‘graphic images’ are subject to manipulation, but The Bahamian Authorities may easily dispel any doubts by presenting one or some of the refugees to the media.”
Of course, none of the Cubans who were allegedly beaten would be shown to the media or anyone else – because the government has since sent them back to Cuba.
Thirdly, would the Minister confirm whether or not the viral re-enactment abuse video that became a trigger in this controversy was done with the aid of Bahamians, reportedly having done so, so as to bring light to the alleged beatings that did occur since no corrective government action appeared to be eminent or probable?
The Bahamas is sovereign. I’m in no way suggesting that any other country should control us, but we are also members of the United Nations and signatories to global accords on the treatment of migrants, political refugees and economic refugees. We cannot condone the abuse of anyone in our country, regardless of his or her nationality.
How can Bahamians, meantime, expect to receive the truth from the government on this diplomatic matter when the government has finally revealed that it had wilfully deceived the country for months on another critical diplomatic matter involving the United States – the appointment status of our former Bahamas Ambassador-designate to Washington, Dr Elliston Rahming?
For months, Minister Mitchell continued to tell the country the government was simply waiting for America’s “delayed” confirmation of Dr. Rahming, only to turn around and say there was actually nothing to wait on because the government withdrew his name from consideration months ago – giving the country the trite story of oh, Rahming withdrew himself.
These events all beg the question of why the Prime Minister is sitting back and allowing his subordinate to act as the lone ranger with our diplomatic relations.
As far as US diplomats reportedly saw it in leaked Embassy cables from 2006, “Prime Minister Christie has not been engaged on UN and international issues. Sometimes criticised for failing to attend international events, Christie is content to allow Foreign Minister Mitchell to oversee Bahamian foreign policy… Christie appears to trust Mitchell’s formulation and handling of foreign policy,” they said.
That was then. This is 2013 and our Prime Minister says he is scared of how recent events will impact us as a country. He doesn’t need to be scared, he simply needs to take his Cabinet in hand and take the wheel of the car he repeatedly tells us belongs to him as Prime Minister.
Our reputation and relationship with the United States is not a game. This is our home – most of us have nowhere else to go, so it matters what our government does in our name.
And if Mr Christie is too scared to shut down his own fear, he should perhaps offer suggestions about who the country should try to look to as a leader not afraid of his own Cabinet and what it is doing to the country.