IT WAS April, 2012 — a month before a general election – when large billboards suddenly sprung up along the western highway in full view of visitors being driven from the airport to their uptown hotels.
The billboards informed the world that the Bahamas was a crime-ridden destination, not the glorious get-away-from-it-all paradise that the Tourism Ministry was spending mega dollars advertising.
Bahamians were alarmed that their tourist industry — their main livelihood — was being torpedoed by a desperate opposition hungry for power. Today that opposition is the Christie government.
On the billboards, crime figures were posted in startlingly large figures — real figures, not those being released today, which are configured by a different yardstick to try to make a trusting public believe that crime is decreasing.
This type of propaganda with the potential of damaging our economy was self-inflicted. We heard no clarion call at that time from such persons as Fred Mitchell encouraging all Bahamians to stand together to defend our good name and our bread-and-butter industry.
When Bahamians – referred to at the time as “FNM goon” squads by no less a person than our present Deputy Prime Minister “Brave” Davis – started tearing down the signs, Mr Davis accused then Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham of being a dictator, desperate for power and intent on concealing the truth.
“I do not know why they would take down the signs with the murder count on them. That’s a fact,” declared Mr Davis.
“The fact,” said Mr Davis, “is that there were more than 400 murders in the country. We cannot run away from that and it’s not just that poster, they also took down posters with the unemployment statistics and others, it was not just the murders.”
When asked if he thought the posters would scare potential tourists from visiting the country, Mr Davis replied: “We cannot hide the truth and we cannot suppress the facts. We have to address the issues of crime.”
So one year later we are now addressing the issue of brutality — inhumane brutality — and, believe it or not, Bahamians who will not tolerate such behaviour at the Detention Centre are being accused of treason, by no less a person than Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell. In an off-the-cuff remark at his most recent press conference, Mr Mitchell remarked: “I think we have won the middle ground in this matter.”
We hope he enjoys his lonely thoughts, because serious thinking Bahamians can see that his undiplomatic bombast has painted this country into a corner that it is going to be difficult to get out of.
So far, Deputy Prime Minister “Brave” Davis is keeping close to his chest his belief that “we cannot suppress the facts. We have to address the issue…” Obviously, such thoughts – it he ever truly believed them– are inconvenient at this time.
All of a sudden, Cuban-Americans — politically a very strong voting bloc in the United States — have become the enemies of the Bahamas.
These Cubans are not the enemies of Bahamians nor are they enemies of the Bahamas, they are enemies of the inhumane treatment suffered by their fellow Cubans in the Bahamas.
These migrants have risked their lives on the high seas in the search for freedom — only to have the misfortune of landing in our Detention Centre. No one should pretend that wrongs are not committed there. We only have to pull our Tribune files to quote chapter and verse.
“Bahamians are quite fed up with this attack on our country, which in our view is unfair,” Foreign Minister Fred Mitchell complained. “We spend $1 billion in the Florida economy every year. What’s the point in trying to damage our economy?”
What has this got to do with the dignity and rights of a human being? To balance in justification the abuse one of God’s greatest creations against the almighty dollar is the height of vulgarity.
Obviously, the protesting Cuban-Americans were trying to get the Bahamas’ attention as to how fellow Cubans were being treated. It was only when they had a noisy boycott outside the Bahamas’ consulate in Miami that the Bahamas government took note. What they got was a belligerent Fred Mitchell who declared that he was tired of their protest.
It was only when the Bahamas government released a statement that it would investigate all of the complaints and take whatever action was deemed necessary that tempers eased.
Immediately, the boycott was cancelled, and a hand of friendship was extended.
But then what does our clumsy Ministry do? According to Republican Congress woman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Bahamian officials — not the Bahamian people — conducted themselves in “a manner not conducive to a free society”.
She outlined admissions she claimed Bahamian government officials had made to the State Department about the truth of the accusations made by the Cuban detainees. “Yet today,” she said, “the Foreign Minister denies all of these words.”
“Furthermore,” she said, “US officials had set up the meeting with the Foreign Minister at the airport to discuss these issues and to request that the Cubans not be sent back to the Castro dictatorship, but the Minister did not inform our officials that the plane carrying the Cuban detainees was on the tarmac ready for takeoff as the conversation was taking place.”
The hand of friendship was withdrawn and the protest renewed.
Mr Mitchell must have known that the Panamanian Consul General in Nassau was trying to make an appointment with him to discuss Panama’s offer of asylum for some of the migrants when an aircraft was about to fly 24 of the refugees back to Cuba. Why the rush at such a crucial point in the friendly negotiations? It was an invitation for further trouble. The Cuban-Americans felt betrayed.
The first question being asked: Was the evidence being hurried back to Cuba to be buried forever?
Despite all of this, Mr Mitchell is berating Bahamians for not standing together to “defend the good name of the country.”
How could any honest man defend such a mockery? No, Mr Mitchell, as your Deputy Prime Minister can tell you, “we cannot hide the truth and we cannot suppress the facts. We have to address the issues”.
And almost like a voice from the grave – Ramon Sanchez Vaquez, one of those repatriated to Cuba, in a call to a Spanish-speaking radio station in Miami yesterday returned to address those issues. He told of a brutal assault on him at the Detention Centre, sending him to hospital with two broken ribs and a punctured lung. He also told of the desperate attempt to hide the evidence.
But don’t worry – in the end the truth will out.