FRED Mitchell probably feels quite a hero having secured the support of the Caribbean community in his argument with the Miami-based Cuban exile group fighting for the rights of their countrymen to be treated humanely while in the Bahamas’ detention centre.
It depends on what story Foreign Affairs Mitchell told Caricom. His first statement to Bahamians — a story he stuck to almost to the bitter end — was that no one was beaten in the government managed Carmichael Detention Centre. Also, he has often pointed out that there is no “traction in the United States when it repatriates scores of Cubans back to Cuba every month”, but there is only a fuss when the Bahamas does so. Did Mr Mitchell in recounting the events to Caricom conveniently leave out the difference between the two repatriations? The basic difference is that the US sends their Cubans back without beatings, while the heart of this particular case is that the Cubans leaving here had been brutally beaten, three of them ending up in hospital. The argument is not the repatriation, but the human rights abuse. Was this detail kept from Caricom?
Also, it was claimed that among those 24 Cubans hurried out of Nassau while Panama was trying to negotiate their asylum were several victims of the Detention Centre beatings. The Miami Cubans were protesting the abuse of the human rights of these particular Cubans. They were also protesting their repatriation because if there was to be an investigation, victims and witnesses were needed. It is understood that all the evidence was being quickly flown out. Now they are talking about an “imminent” investigation of accused Defence Force officers, but — where are the victims, and where are the witnesses? Is this going to be passed off as a fair and impartial trial? Or are they negotiating for the Cubans’ return to give evidence?
The worry now is what will the impact of this boycott – now suspended until the Bahamas makes another misstep – will have on our major industry, tourism.
According to Mr Mitchell, who in our opinion has grossly mishandled this affair, there will be no fall-out. He recounts how he has been on “two official stints” to the United States since this became a public matter, but no one has told him they would avoid the Bahamas because of it. “The universal experience,” he said, “has been that of a destination which looms large in the popular imagination as a place for fun and relaxation.”
He also attended a reception given in New York by US President Barack Obama — even had a photo taken with the presidential couple as a nice memento for his scrapbook. At no time in the various exchanges was the Miami protest featured. One would not expect it to be. Cocktail parties are usually polite, superficial gatherings, not a place to raise controversial matters. Situations such as the Florida affair is usually reserved for the negotiating table behind closed doors. Mr Mitchell is also chuffed because the Miami Heat Basketball team will continue with its plans to hold their practice season here — in fact they arrived last night. And so, as our Foreign Affairs Minister is wafted away on a cloud of euphoria, our Tourism Minister has headaches of his own.
In his opinion, the Bahamas in the end will suffer from the Miami boycotts, organised as retaliation for the detention centre beatings. Minister Obie Wilchcombe, although he deplored the boycotts against our country, thought that “the impact of this on our economy will not be good.”
As for National Security Minister Dr Bernard Nottage, in whose hands the fate of the investigation now rests, there is no evidence as yet that the boycott has damaged the Bahamas’ tourism industry.
“However,” he added, “we cannot ignore it because cumulatively, if the matter is not resolved in a matter consistent with good relations, then we will suffer the results of it. But I am confident that the matter will be resolved in a way that would satisfy both our local population and the international countries – I have no doubt about that.”
But while all of this has been going on has anyone noticed that almost two years has passed and the Bahamas is still without an American Ambassador? In the past this has always been a bad omen. It certainly agitated the late Prime Minister Sir Lynden Pindling during the drug years in the eighties when for the first two years of the late President Ronald Reagan’s administration the Bahamas was without an ambassador. Prime Minister Pindling took it as a deliberate snub, which threatened the signing of the continuation of the AUTEC agreement. Sir Lynden eventually made it clear that there could be no thawing of the chill until an ambassador was appointed.
On Tuesday, November 22, 2011, the last US Ambassador to the Bahamas — Mrs Nicole Avant — stepped down and Deputy Chief of Mission, John Dinkelman, moved in the following day as Chargé d’Affaires. He has done an excellent job, but there has been no mention of an ambassador.
It certainly cannot have anything to do with this current affair, but could it have something to do with the mishandling by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Elliston Rahming appointment to Washington, which ended in his withdrawal?
Whatever the problem, knowing how sacred human rights are to the United States, this latest episode can only further aggravate whatever has caused the apparent rift.
If there is in fact a grievance, the US is keeping it close to its chest. Maybe Mr Mitchell as Foreign Affairs Minister would enlighten the Bahamian people. After all, Mr Mitchell, this concerns your ministry and almost two years has passed — you must admit that this is a rather long time. Is anything wrong? If there is, the Bahamian people have a right to know.