“WHAT stands out as a lesson to other governments is how reaction, if not thought through, can actually exacerbate a situation and, turning it into a matter unlikely to be forgotten and which in this case, may, in time, come to affect Bahamas-US relations.”
So wrote syndicated columnist David Jessop, Managing Director of the London-based Caribbean Council, in commenting on Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell’s handling of the allegations of beating of Cuban detainees at the Carmichael Detention Centre several months ago. The investigation has retreated behind closed doors, although even the accused marines’ defence attorney has urged that the trial be open to the public.
According to Mr Mitchell, there will be no fall-out from this unhappy affair on our tourist industry. “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.”
However, Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe, closer to our tourism industry than Mr Mitchell, had other views. In his opinion, the Bahamas will, in the end, suffer from the Cuban-American boycotts in Miami in retaliation for the treatment of their fellow Cubans in our detention centre here. In Mr Wilchcombe’s opinion, “the impact of this on our economy will not be good”.
And although National Security Minister Dr Bernard Nottage was confident that the matter would be satisfactorily resolved, he too saw that it was a incident that could not be brushed aside. “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,” he said.
Nor did Mr Jessop think that the issue would easily evaporate without leaving a stain. He used the Bahamas’ mishandling of the Cuban affair as a lesson on what a country should not do in the delicate arena of foreign relations. Mishandling, as in the case of the Bahamas, can do untold damage to a “nation’s image and reputation.” he said
And wrote Mr Jessop, in a cautionary note to the rest of the Caribbean: “Throughout, the issue has not been helped by the response of The Bahamas government which went from denial, to seeming misinformation, to anger, to announcing a public enquiry, to returning the detainees who might have given evidence, to unfortunately voiced exasperation on the part of government about what to do next: all against a background of representations from the US Government, the deepening involvement of human-rights NGOs, and opposition criticism then support.”
In Miami, a group of anti-Cuban, Cuban-American activists had organised a boycott outside the Bahamas consulate, at the airport and docks from which tourists leave for the Bahamas. They have presently called off the boycotts as they tentatively await the outcome of the promised investigation of the accused defence force officers.
Mr Jessop warned the Caribbean: “News and comments are now instant and global, and social media, 24-hour rolling news channels, and the Internet, have enabled cross-border citizen activism.
“For the most part,” he continued, “Caribbean governments seem transfixed by this, unable to respond in real time, or to recognise that opinions and news items on YouTube or Twitter can go viral in hours, and that their traditional and often pedestrian response, let alone an entrenched desire to brush aside bad news, is no longer adequate.”
This was Mr Mitchell’s pitfall.
From the moment it was determined that the “fake” tape of the beatings went viral from Miami, Mr Mitchell clutched to the “fake” tape straw, refusing to accept that the video was actually a recreation of what was meant to have taken place in the detention centre on that fateful night. Mr Mitchell insisted that the tape was not recorded at the centre. As it turned out, the re-enactment was filmed at the centre with one of the Cuban actors wearing a uniform loaned him by one of the Bahamian guards. But to the bitter end, Mr Mitchell clung to his broken reed and the statement that a friendly Bahamian government never beat anyone — as if the government were ever accused.
In the end, he was sucked down in the quagmire of his own oft contradictory words railing against treasonous Bahamians and enemies of the country. His pathetic show torpedoed the country’s cause. Let’s hope that he will now leave the conclusion of this matter to safer hands.
It is probably too early to estimate what damage, if any, this long drawn-out fiasco has had on our tourist figures. However, we understand that there has been a critical fall-off in tourist arrivals, both by air and by sea.
It has been a long time since these figures have been published. It is now time for reporters to start asking questions. Bahamians have a right to know the state of our tourist industry.
In case our readers missed Mr Jessop’s column commenting on the Cuban situation in the Bahamas, it was published in The Tribune on Monday, October 7, in the Insight column under the heading “Reputational Damage.”
• The article can also be found on The Tribune’s website – under Editorial – Insight.