Bahamas issues rebuke over protests

As protests intensified in Miami against the alleged abuse of Cuban detainees in the Bahamas, that nation’s minister of foreign affairs issued a sharp rebuke Friday against the increased involvement of U.S. lawmakers in the controversy.

“It is reprehensible that the Bahamas is being attacked in this way, apparently with official sanction. It is simply outrageous,” Fred Mitchell said, in a written statement to El Nuevo Herald.

“If they want these detainees in the United States they should use their influence to have them returned to the United States,” Mitchell added. “Should the United States authorities approve, the detainees can be released to the authorities as early as tomorrow.”

Mitchell’s statement came the same day that three prominent Cuban-American members of Congress wrote a letter to the State Department to pressure the Bahamas to “ensure the safety and well-being” of the detainees, referring to them as “Cuban freedom-seekers.”

The letter was signed by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, both Republicans of Florida, and Albio Sires, a New Jersey Democrat.

The office of Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he was also reaching out to the Bahamian Embassy.

Mitchell accused the protesters in Miami of being concerned only about three specific detainees who are human smugglers and “are believed to be former U.S. permanent residents.”

The protesters “are trying to make it appear that they have a general interest in migrant welfare,” Mitchell said. “I am of the opinion that the protesters do not have any interest beyond these three detainees.”

Ramón Saúl Sánchez, president of the Cuban exile group Democracy Movement and leader of the ongoing protests, denied the accusation.

“I profoundly deplore human trafficking. I am and have always been its enemy,” Sánchez said. “The government of Bahamas is looking for any kind of artifice to avoid investigating” the alleged abuses.

“The people who have been beaten and mistreated — the majority of them are simple persons who are looking for freedom,” he added. “If there are one or two smugglers among them, then apply the law to them, but don’t torture them.”

Sánchez was on the eighth day of a hunger strike Friday, accompanied by fellow activist Jesús Alexis Gómez, who has not eaten for 14 days.

The protests have also received substantial support from local politicans, including Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera, vice mayor of Doral.

Rodriguez Aguilera brought the subject before a meeting of the Miami-Dade County League of Cities on Thursday, and said numerous municipalities promised to pass resolutions condemning the alleged abuses.

Meanwhile, Mitchell suggested in his statement that it was unwise for Floridians to pick a fight with the Bahamas.

“Bahamian nationals spend one billion dollars in Florida’s economy annually,” he said. “Many merchants in Florida owe their profits to Bahamian customers.”

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