IN AN article published in The Tribune on Wednesday, guest commentator Kirkland Turner repeated a humorous catch praise describing diplomacy as the “art of telling someone to go to hell and having them look forward to the journey”.
If, as has been claimed, Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell’s ambition is to spread his wings on the international stage, then we advise him to step down from his post and seriously take courses to prepare himself to be a diplomat. His present attitude that no one is going to push him around — it’s his country right or wrong — is not a diplomatic position to take.
The abuse of Cuban detainees in the Detention Centre is not an argument between the US, Cuban-Americans and the Bahamas. Nor is it a question of how much money Bahamians spend on their shopping trips to South Florida. As one commentator pointed out the money that Bahamians spend in Florida has been made possible by the money American visitors spend here. So cut off that supply of revenue, and no more shopping in South Florida for Bahamians. How much money spent by Bahamians in Florida gives no one the right to abuse anyone being held in our Detention Centre in New Providence.
Nor is this a squabble about the powerful US taking advantage of these little string of islands. It is a much bigger argument than that. It is a fight for the recognition of human rights — the right of all humanity to be treated with dignity.
Prime Minister Christie has admitted that he is concerned with the country’s reputation in the international community over the current diplomatic debacle. The Prime Minister should be concerned. However, he has only himself to blame. He has not taken an interest in foreign affairs and has put this important Ministry in the hands of a man who has yet to learn the art of telling someone to go to hell and have him look forward to the trip.
But seriously, all rules and conventions are broken when one goes to the extent of defending one’s country when fully aware that what is being defended in indefensible.
In the shadow of Prime Minister Christie’s statement, Mr Mitchell has abjectly admitted that things could have been handled differently.
Yes, Mr Mitchell, there’s nothing like telling the whole truth from the beginning. But once it was discovered that the video shown in Miami of a scene of prisoners being beaten at the Detention Centre was a fake, the whole episode being protested became a fake.
Speaking from Singapore on July 17, our roving foreign minister declared that he had had “enough” of these Cuban-American protestors “who need to give it a rest”.
Instead of assuring the protestors of his concern and resolve to look into their complaints, he declared: “I’m trying to organise Bahamians in Miami and at home. If we don’t push back, then people will start to believe that it is true. All Bahamians have to speak out against this. People in our detention lock-ups are treated humanely. If there are issues, let us know and we will address them. The conditions are humane, they are not the best, but people are not beaten.”
“That video is a complete falsehood and an outrageous concoction,” he added.
“It remains to be said that the Bahamas government does not beat those in its custody.”
No one was accusing the Bahamas government of beating anyone. However, we all know — and this is not the first time that there have been accusations of brutality at the centre — that there are some persons at the Detention Centre who over the years have done so.
With his “fake” video in hand, Mr Mitchell thought he was on a strong wicket. On July 25, he said that the government had to “stiffen its spine” and reach agreement about Cubans being detained here. He then urged that specific allegations be brought to the “attention of authorities,” promising that “those matters will be investigated in due course. The anger of the protesters is misdirected”.
The tables then started to turn. Disgusted with Mr Mitchell’s persistent assurance that nothing was amiss, an impeccable source made a telephone call.
“Mr Mitchell knows more than he is letting on about the Cuban abuse claims,” our reporter was told. “Mr Mitchell and other top officials were well aware of an incident at the Detention Centre several weeks before, which ended in the beating of several Cuban men by guards. Three of them had to be taken to hospital, one of them remaining there for an extended period due to the severity of his injuries.” Our reporter was also told that the Defence Force command was aware of the incident.
And so by July 25, The Tribune knew that there was more than a “fake” video involved. We have since learned that there are photographs of the severe injuries inflicted on at least one of the men. Mr Mitchell has obviously seen them, and should be fully aware of the injuries.
But as late as August 18, Mr Mitchell was still adamant that “no one from the Bahamas government has admitted that there was any abuse of detainees by the Bahamas government. The Bahamas has not admitted to the authenticity of the video which the protestors themselves have admitted is a fake. This is contrary to an assertion made by a legislator in the United States”.
What has now been discovered is that following the beatings, the remaining detainees re-enacted the brutal scene, facilitated by an unidentified Defence Force officer or officers who provided the fatigues for the actors. This was the “fake” video — the important alibi.
While David McGrath, Honorary Consul of Panama, which had offered visas for the Cubans, said that he tried to speak to local officials for days but got no response, 24 Cubans were deported to Cuba.
Now the big agitation is going to be: Were the Cubans — some of whom were either the victims or witnesses of the beatings — hurried off to Cuba to get rid of the evidence?
Yes, Mr Mitchell, there was another way to handle the situation, which would have blown over by now if there was not so much protestation over what now seems to be the truth.
The English novelist Thomas Hardy wrote in one of his novels that “if an offence comes out of the truth, better is it that the offence comes than the truth be concealed”.