WE HAD hoped that Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell would have faded into the shadows when the Cuban abuse allegations were transferred to National Security Minister Dr Bernard Nottage. On Tuesday, Dr Nottage announced that “imminent” proceedings would start into the Detention Centre accusations to be followed by a full report.
But not Mr Mitchell. Emboldened by PLP chairman Bradley Robert’s praise of his handling of the dispute with the Cuban American protestors in Miami, he was determined to fire the last shot. In an open letter sent to Mr Roberts to be read at the monthly meeting of the PLP’s general council, Mr Mitchell regretted that he could not report on the matter in person, but explained that he was “on assignment in New York at the United Nations”. We hope that on his return he will divulge the importance of that assignment and what he has accomplished.
For once, Prime Minister Perry Christie took his rightful place as leader of this country to address the UN’s 68th regular session of the General Assembly. He made important points that not only concerned the Bahamas, but the entire Caribbean region.
We agree with St Anne’s MP Hubert Chipman (FNM) who commended Mr Christie for at last assuming the leadership role – “Coming,” said Mr Chipman, “as it does at a time when the challenges in foreign affairs here at home demand a leader with a greater appreciation of the complexities of international relations, a soft touch when appropriate and a modicum of diplomatic dexterity when seeking to resolve difficult problems.”
Mr Chipman trusted that “the Prime Minister would take advantage of this valuable opportunity to once again reaffirm The Bahamas’s commitments to the fundamental principles of human rights”.
In his open letter to the Council, Mr Mitchell dismissed the Democracy Movement in Florida as a “small group of misdirected, professional protestors whose stock in trade is fighting an ideological war with an enemy that they have been fighting since 1959. The world has moved on since then. They have not. Their actions are not rational and there is no appeal to logic with them. They are best kept at a safe distance and not engaged.
“That is my view and that is the advice which I have given the government and executed on its behalf,” he wrote with an air of triumph.
What Mr Mitchell has to understand is that the present dispute with the Bahamas has nothing to do with the protestors’ 54-year-old dispute with Cuba, their original homeland. Their dispute with the Bahamas involves allegations of human rights abuses against about eight of their countrymen held in our Detention Centre. Mr Mitchell is convinced that their aim is “to harm the economic interest of the Bahamas”.
As we have watched this matter unfold, their only object seems to have been to get justice for their countrymen. When that failed, their only recourse was to threaten our economy – trade union tactics.
However, around August 12, when the Bahamas government announced it would conduct a formal investigation into the brutal beating of the Cuban detainees, and Panama offered asylum for them, the South Florida activists immediately called off their hunger strike and boycott. “This is a victory for human dignity,” their leader declared.
However, while these negotiations were in progress, the Bahamas government bused 24 of the detainees— among them those who had complained of abuse — to the airport and flew them back to Cuba.
Obviously, if the Bahamas government had been serious about an impartial investigation it would not have shipped the complainants and the evidence back to Cuba. Naturally, the protestors felt betrayed. The Bahamas boycott was immediately resumed.
However, with Dr Nottage’s announcement on Tuesday that there would be an investigation, the protestors have “suspended” further demonstrations. Obviously any feeling of trust has disappeared. Nothing has been called off as it was on the Bahamas’ first promise of action. This time it is only a holding pattern – a wait-and-see position.
We hope that Mr Mitchell will now have the good sense to step aside and leave the matter to Dr Nottage, who we trust will not stumble.