The sordid and dark chapters in Bahamian history linking Norman’s Cay, Exuma, to Nygard Cay, New Providence, are deeply woven into the political narrative and entrenched culture of corruption of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP).
It is a tragic story of how the party that was so instrumental in ushering in majority rule and independence, quickly turned the modern Bahamas into, “A Nation for Sale”.
It is also a story of how certain political leaders enabled and cavorted with drug traffickers and an alleged sex trafficking ringleader in the feverish pursuit of insatiable greed, lust for power and the seeming tolerance of depravity.
A February 1, 2021, story in The Nassau Guardian noted: “The Progressive Liberal Party’s (PLP) relationship with former Canadian fashion executive and Lyford Cay homeowner Peter Nygard is in the past, PLP Leader Philip Brave Davis said yesterday, adding that during his time in government no criminal complaint was ever made against Nygard in The Bahamas.”
While the PLP may not have a current relationship with Mr Nygard, the scarring effects of his actions on alleged victims, the party’s association with him, including the alleged millions he gave to the party, current investigations by Bahamian police and criminal prosecution by the United States federal authorities are not in the past.
Indeed, the investigations and prosecution are ongoing and may yet reveal additional information currently not in the public domain. Were there previous complaints by alleged Bahamian victims that were never fully investigated?
What is also not in the past is the failure of the PLP to reckon with its history, including a drug era that destroyed much of our social fabric, during which quite a number of Bahamians were poisoned by and succumbed to the crack epidemic.
There are still broken families, a culture of criminality and social decline because of the drug era. In the chronicle of history, the drug era is nowhere even near a distant past.
The PLP’s attempt to dismiss an inconvenient history and attempts at a false equivalence with the FNM speak to a mind-set alive and well within a PLP that continues to try to whitewash certain parts of its history.
Carlos Toro was a representative for the infamous Medellin Drug Cartel and was a friend of its co-founder Carlos Lehder, who turned Norman’s Cay into one of the most notorious drug transhipment outposts in the region.
Toro remembered: “Norman’s Cay was a playground. I have a vivid picture of being picked up in a Land Rover with the top down and naked women driving to come and welcome me from my airplane ... And there we partied. And it was a Sodom and Gomorrah ... drugs, sex, no police ... you made the rules ... and it was fun.”
A few decades later, that description of Norman’s Cay sounded eerily and sickeningly similar to Nygard Cay, which a number of senior politicians visited as guests. As sitting Prime Minister, Sir Lynden Pindling visited Norman’s Cay.
At Norman’s Cay and at Nygard Cay, two wealthy foreigners mocked and scoffed at the country’s sovereignty, ruling their enclaves like potentates, allegedly bribing politicians and law enforcement officials to turn a blind eye to their alleged criminal conduct.
The same PLP that stylises itself as a defender of all things Bahamian and as a champion of the masses, happily allowed certain foreign interests to run riot over the good of the country, trampling our laws and dismissing Bahamians as obsequious natives giddily and slavishly taking handouts at the expense of other Bahamians.
Norman’s Cay is about six and a quarter miles in length and approximately 800 acres. It sits at the northern end of the Exuma chain, approximately 33 miles southeast of New Providence. The small relatively remote island is a short trip of about 210 miles from the Florida coast.
Its relative isolation and geographic location in The Bahamas and the Americas has been exploited by pirates, rumrunners and drug barons. Today, it is a private retreat for wealthy Bahamians and foreigners, its reputation and environs restored through various recent investments.
Carlos Lehder was a drug trafficker who used a number of innovations to expand his nefarious trade. Like many others, he appreciated the value and strategic advantage of the archipelagic nature of The Bahamas and its proximity to the United States. Lehder helped to revolutionise how drugs were transported into the United States.
“The typical method of transporting small shipments, often carried by human drug mules, either through ingestion or in their luggage, onto commercial airlines, was surpassed by the use of small aircraft shipping entire loads of cocaine”, from a transhipment base in The Bahamas.
The PBS documentary series Frontline described Lehder’s control of the Cay: “For four years it was a drug smuggling hub and tropical hideaway for Medellin cartel kingpin Carlos Lehder and associates. Lehder arrived there in 1978 and started buying up large pieces of property, including a home for himself, a hotel and an airstrip. With his arrival, the locals noticed a marked increase in airplane traffic on the island’s tiny airstrip, as well as armed guards patrolling the beaches…
“Norman’s Cay became the stop-over and refuelling hub for these planes, carrying cocaine for Lehder and other members of the Medellin cartel from Colombia to the US. Lehder built a 3,300-foot runway protected by radar, bodyguards and Doberman attack dogs for the fleet of aircraft under his command …
“With the Bahamian authorities looking the other way and the local inhabitants scared off, the island became a haven of debauchery for Lehder and his associates.”
Frontline reported: “Eventually Lehder harassed the island’s residents and visitors until they fled, while Bahamian Prime Minister Lynden Pindling, who investigators believe had accepted Lehder’s bribes, did nothing to stop him. He in effect took over the entire island.”
It was during the Pindling era that Norman’s Cay became a drug transhipment centre run by the German-Columbian Lehder.
It was also under Sir Lynden that the Canadian-Finnish manufacturer of women’s apparel, Peter Nygard was given approval to purchase the land on which he created the notorious Nygard Cay, which became allegedly an international centre synonymous with sex trafficking and debauchery.
With both Lehder and Nygard, The Bahamas earned a dark reputation as a country for sale. In a series of special reports in The Miami Herald, titled, “A Nation for Sale: Corruption in The Bahamas” Carl Hiaasen and Jim McGee chronicled the devastating descent of The Bahamas into the corrosive drug era of the 1970s and 1980s.
The Miami Herald reported: “During the past 12 years, foreign investors in the Bahamas channeled nearly $17 million to Bahamas Prime Minister Lynden O Pindling or to companies in which he had a secret interest, records show.
“The money took various forms: gifts, unorthodox bank loans, direct payments to Pindling creditors, unusual stock deals or generous home mortgages.
“It came from businessmen who depended on the goodwill of the Pindling government, sought approval of government-regulated ventures or contemplated investments in The Bahamas.
“The largest chunk, $14 million, came from a Bahamian bank controlled by fugitive financier Robert Vesco. The bank financed companies in which Pindling had an undisclosed one-third interest.”
The Miami Herald special continued: “Since 1977 Pindling spent $4 million – eight times his reported total earnings during that time according to a Bahamas Commission of Inquiry…
“Hundreds of thousands of dollars contributed by foreign businessmen went for the construction of Pindling’s new house, a lavish lakefront home east of Nassau that his attorney says is worth $3 million.”
At the conclusion of the 1984 Commission of Inquiry, called to investigate rampant drug trafficking through The Bahamas and related issues during this period, former Anglican Bishop Drexel Gomez issued a minority statement.
In his minority report Bishop Gomez discussed various identified and unidentified deposits in the bank account of Sir Lynden. He stated: “It is certainly feasible that all of these payments could have been made from non-drug related sources. But in my opinion, the circumstances raise great suspicion and I find it impossible to say that the payments were all non-drug related.”
A recent news story noted: “Not since the release of the 1984 Royal Commission Report have there been so many resignations from Cabinet under one administration, according to a University of The Bahamas (UB) history professor…
“The last time we saw this much movement was in the 1980s,” the professor said.“ [Dr Chris] Curry was referring to the Royal Commission report on alleged government corruption that led to the resignation of three Cabinet ministers.”
Even the hint of a comparison between resignations from Prime Minister Minnis’ cabinet, which occurred at different times and for varied reasons, and the drug era resignations from Sir Lynden’s cabinet, are bizarre and unsustainable.
How can any serious historian or educator even begin to feebly attempt to draw a comparison between the massive fallout from the drug era, with corruption rife in the PLP and Sir Lynden battling allegations of aiding an international drug cartel, with cabinet departures in 2019, 2020 and 2021, over the span of three years?
The departures from Sir Lynden’s cabinet included: Arthur Hanna, who broke with Sir Lynden over allegations of corruption; Hubert Ingraham and Perry Christie who were fired; and George Smith and Kendall Nottage, who resigned amid various allegations.
The PLP departures were over an unprecedented and gigantic international scandal of monumental proportions in Bahamian history, a scandalous era that turned The Bahamas into a sort of narco-state, and which gained the attention of the White House, with plans to reportedly arrest a Bahamian cabinet minister in international waters.
Is this really the specious, intellectually disingenuous comparison Dr Curry is attempting to make!? A history conference of peers would find such a comparison odious and laughable.
Sadly, incoherent false analogies and equivalences are often reported with little historical or other context by some in the media who mindlessly report but who do not inform or educate their readers and viewers.
When young, uninformed journalists report certain matters with little insight and context it is truly unfortunate. But when certain others in the country make staggeringly false comparisons, the intellectual life of the country is not well served.