Bahamas repatriates 24 Cubans

Cuban-Americans in South Florida criticized the Bahamian government harshly Friday after it repatriated 24 Cuban migrants, including about eight offered asylum in Panama after accusing a guard of beating them at a Nassau detention center.

The 24 were bused to the airport and put aboard a plane bound for Cuba despite last-minute entreaties by U.S. government and other officials to delay the returns, said Ramón Saúl Sánchez, head of the Miami-based Democracy Movement.

Authorities in the Bahamas had could not be reached for comment but previously said that their country has an immigration agreement with Havana to repatriate any undocumented Cubans who do not qualify for political asylum.

The alleged abuses and plans for repatriations have heightened tension in South Florida, where Cuban groups called for tourist boycotts of the Bahamas, held hunger strikes and staged horn-honking protests around the Bahamian consulate.

Sánchez said the Democracy Movement would seek to accuse Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie in international fora of sending the migrants back to Cuba in order “to hide from public view those who were tortured in his country.”

It will also ask that the 24 Cubans repatriated be given protection and visas by Panama and other countries to resolve a humanitarian issue, he added.

Those repatriated Friday included eight involved in filming a cell-phone video showing an alleged guard at the Immigration Detention Center in Nassau kicking several detainees on the ground, he added. Panama had offered asylum to them and 11 others allegedly beaten.

Bahamas authorities claimed in July that the video was a fake. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said Friday that U.S. State Department officials had told her that Nassau has now confirmed its veracity and removed the guilty guards.

“It is shameful that the Bahamian government would not even consider the humanitarian asylum offer made by the government of Panama,” added the Cuban-American Republican from Miami.

In much tougher language, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart branded the repatriation despite Panama’s offer of asylum as an “unconscionable” and “outrageous” act and an “utter disgrace and blight” on the Bahamas’ human rights record.

“I, and many in my community, will never forget the heartless betrayal of these freedom-seeking refugees,” he added. Nassau will have to “assume the responsibility for the abuses that they (the 24) will inevitably suffer.”

Sanchez, whose group has been in contact with the Cuban detainees by cell phone, said about 50 Cubans had been held in Nassau, most of them intercepted while trying to sneak into the United States. Three apparently lived in the United States and were suspected of people smuggling.

Bahamian officials have told another eight Cubans they will be repatriated within days, he added, likely including a group of seven that was intercepted recently and seemed willing to be returned home quickly, according to Sánchez. There has been no word on the fate of the rest.

Panama last week offered “territorial asylum” to 19 Cubans in Nassau, described by Sanchez was those most abused at the detention center and the Fox Hill prison. One was stabbed at the prison, according to a Panamanian list of the names obtained by El Nuevo Herald.

Foreign Minister Fernando Núñez Fábrega said the decision was made quickly due “to the dangers to the people,” and Guillermo Cochez former ambassador to the Organization of American States, was named as a special envoy to handle the case.

Christie initially agreed to allow the 19 to go to Panama, but changed tacks after Cuban government officials insisted that his government fulfill the bilateral agreement on repatriations, according to Cuban activists in Miami.

Nuñez said Friday in Panama that the Bahamian government could have waited on the repatriations because the 24 had the promise of asylum, but added the decision was up to Nassau.

The Cuban detainees’ status was to have been discussed Monday at a meeting of Cochez, Bahamas Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell, Miami lawyer Lorenzo Palomares and Miami banker Raymond Molina. It is not clear whether the meeting will go ahead as planned.

Detainees at the immigration detention center in Nassau — Cubans but also Haitians, Brazilians, Colombians, Chinese and others trying to reach the United States — have long complained about guard abuses, health conditions and the food there.

“The callous, brutal and inhumane treatment that Cuban freedom seekers receive at the hands of Bahamian prison guards has been known for some time. I have brought up this abuse with Bahamian and U.S. authorities on prior occasions and the Bahamians always denied it,” Ros-Lehtinen said.

“I will continue to press the Bahamian government that it must cease the deplorable detainment conditions under which Cubans are not fed adequately nor treated humanely (and) it must honor the generous asylum protections offered by third countries, such as Panama,” she added.

Read more Cuba stories from the Miami Herald

Sixteen migrants are found crammed in this tiny boat around Alligator Lighthouse, which is about four miles offshore of Islamorada in the FLorida Keys.


    More than a dozen Cuban migrants rescued at sea in Keys; several taken to hospital

    A small blue homemade boat with a blue-and-white sail was discovered floating near Alligator Reef Lighthouse, about four miles offshore of Islamorada, on Wednesday. Crammed inside the motorless vessel were 16 Cuban migrants lying down, suffering from dehydration, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Elsa Lopez looks at her clothes and shoes she wore when she left Cuba with her parents at the age of two at the time. Her items are among several donated by Exiles on display at the VIP opening and presentation of the The Exile Experience: Journey to Freedom, at the Freedom Tower. The exhibit is a pictorial account of the struggles that the Cuban exile community has endured since Fidel Castro's rise to power, and the successes they have achieved in the United States, organized and curated by the Miami Dade College and The Miami Herald, on Wednesday September 10, 2014.


    Exhibition chronicles Cuban exiles story

    More than 1,000 people crammed into the Freedom Tower Wednesday night for a peek at an exhibition that honors one of the city’s oldest buildings – and captures the tales of hundreds of thousands of Cubans who fled the island and made Miami their new home.

This is the raft on which 16 Cubans sailed from Cuba to Alligator Reef Light off Upper Matecumbe Key this week.


    Cuban migrants found suffering from dehydration off the Keys

    Sixteen Cuban migrants were intercepted off the Upper Keys on Wednesday afternoon, and seven of them needed medical attention after suffering from extreme dehydration.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category