The first Cubans to arrive in Miami from a notorious migrant detention center in Bahamas this month alleged Friday that guards regularly beat some of the male inmates and sexually abused some of the women.
One of the women repatriated from the center to Cuba earlier this month arrived pregnant by a guard, according to the Democracy Movement, a Miami group that has been helping the undocumented migrants detained in Nassau.
The movement led a string of protests against the Bahamas government this summer after detainees at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre smuggled out cell phone images of inmates sewing their lips together in protest and an alleged guard kicking prisoners.
Randy Rodriguez, 31, his wife Misleidy Olivera, 30, and their two children were the first detainees to speak in person to journalists about conditions at the center after they arrived in Miami on a flight from Nassau.
“That video is real, and after the video came the beatings” by guards as punishment for the negative publicity, said Rodriguez.
Bahamas Foreign Minister Fred Mitchell has said the video is a fake, though Bahamas news media reports this week indicate it is real. He said recently that the allegations are under investigation.
“I wish to say that no one from the Bahamas government has admitted that there was any abuse of detainees by the Bahamas government,” he said in an Aug. 18 statement.
Detainee Alexander Vásquez said he suffered a punctured lung from two broken ribs and his brother suffered a cut on his head that required 17 stitches in a hospital. Rodriguez said he still has a lump on his forehead, from a kick, that refuses to go away.
One night the guards tear gassed the wards to force everyone outside despite a heavy rain and then kept them, face down on the ground and lined up should-to-shoulder, from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m., he said.
One hefty guard then counted the inmates, twice, by walking on their backs, each step counting one prisoner, he added.
Rodriguez said he took part in a 17-day hunger strike that never became public, and after the video incident was taken to Fox Hill maximum security prison and imprisoned put in a cell with a cop killer, a rapist and an apparently deranged man.
Food was delivered to the Carmichael Road center only once every three days, he added, and the Cuban men usually saved their meager rations of bottled water for their female relatives and children in a separate ward.
He weighted about 232 pounds when he was sent to the detention center and now weighs 183 pounds, he said.
His wife said she was not sexually abused by guards during their stay because she stayed with their children, but added in a low voice that, “It is true that the women, to get water or food, have to sell their bodies.”
Democracy Movement chief Ramón Saúl Sánchez, who greeted the family on their arrival, said a 24-year-old woman repatriated from Nassau to Havana last week had reported that she was six months pregnant by a guard at the detention center.
Rodriguez’s son Landy, 12, speaking briefly at a news conference just hours after the family’s arrival in Miami, said that conditions at the detention center had been “very bad” while his 4-year-old brother Leandy dozed on his father’s lap.
“I don’t know what the guards had against us,” the father said. “We were treated barbarically, and I don’t know why.”
Rodriguez said his group of 10 relatives and friends from the north central town of Caibarien set off of in a 19-foot boat hand-made with bits of lumber and metal sheeting and headed for Florida but were intercepted Aug. 12, 2012 by the U.S. Coast Guard. They were taken to Nassau, apparently because they were in Bahamian waters.
He was later approved for U.S. asylum, he said, because he could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for taking his children out of the island without permission and because of help from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican.
Bahamas repatriated 24 Cubans to Havana on Aug. 16 and another eight on the 21st, including several of the alleged victims of beatings and sexual abuse in what Sánchez has complained is an attempt to silence their reports of abuses.
Another 18 undocumented Cubans detained in the Bahamas will be allowed to fly to Panama, which has agreed to issue them “territorial asylum” while they try to arrange onward trips to the United States.
Joining Sánchez in a news conference was MarleineBastien, executive director for Haitian Women of Miami, who said that Haitians also have been complaining about the treatment at the Carmichael Road center “for many years.”