Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell yesterday refuted claims from US legislators that The Bahamas acted inhumanely in deporting 24 Cubans to their hometown on Friday.
A South Florida newspaper reported on Saturday that US Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said that it’s “shameful that the Bahamian government would not even consider the humanitarian asylum offer made by the Government of Panama.”
Another US legislator Mario Diaz-Balart said he “will never forget the heartless betrayal of these freedom seeking refugees” and that The Bahamas would have to assume responsibility for the abuse the Cubans would inevitably suffer upon return to Cuba.”
But in a press conference yesterday, Mr. Mitchell appeared to brush the comments off.
“First of all, a legislator does not speak for the US government. So I won’t get into commenting on that at all,” he said.
“The US government has its representatives here. If the charge’ is unable to assist, then the secretary of state steps in and speaks for the US government on foreign policy.”
Mr. Mitchell also dismissed reports that the Government of Panama had offered asylum to 19 of the Cuban detainees and said his ministry has asked the Panamanian government for a formal explanation of what information was given to the press.
“There are 18 people in The Bahamas who have been adjudged to have asylum status,” he said.
“Ten of those appear to have been accepted by the United States and eight appear to be eligible to go to third countries. If Panama makes an offer for the eight then they are free to go to Panama.”
“There are 20 others who will be returned home shortly.”
When asked about reports of a Cuban being detained at Her Majesty’s Prison being stabbed and sent to hospital over the weekend, Mr. Mitchell said, “There are allegations that have been made and they are being investigated.”
He did however shut down another claim made by Ms. Ros-Lehtinen that The Bahamas had confirmed the authenticity of the video allegedly showing Cuban detainees being abused at the Carmichael Road Detention Center and that the guards had since been removed.
“The Bahamas has not admitted to the authenticity of the video, which protestors themselves have admitted is fake,” he said.
“I want to be very careful here and make again a distinction between the possible or alleged individual behavior of agents of the state and the state itself.”
“Each individual bears responsibility for their behaviour. All we have said is that the allegations are under investigation and the chips will fall where they may when the investigation concludes.”
Mr. Mitchell added that he hopes the deportation would be a sign to other Cubans seeking The Bahamas as a place to come and find asylum in a third country.
Aside from the 24 Cubans that were repatriated, 275 Haitian migrants were also sent home on Friday.