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Miami group says Bahamas planned to return detainees to Cuba

Posted on Friday, 08.16.13

Miami group says Bahamas planned to return detainees to Cuba

The Bahamas government Thursday started — then stopped — the
repatriation of 24 undocumented Cuban migrants, including eight who have
been offered asylum in Panama, according to a Miami group that has been
supporting the Cubans.

The 24 were told early Thursday that they were being returned to Cuba,
handcuffed and put on buses at the Migrant Detention Center in Nassau,
said Democracy Movement chief Ramón Saúl Sanchez, who on Monday called
off a hunger strike in favor of the migrants.

“We immediately contacted the U.S. and Panamanian government and others
and just 15 minutes ago we learned the repatriation had been stopped and
that the people are back in the center’s dining room,” he told El Nuevo
Herald Thursday afternoon.

“At least we stopped the repatriation for now, although we retain the
option of renewing the hunger strike,” Sánchez said.

But Sanchez said late Thursday that his group has been told the
detainees will be repatriated on Friday.

The Cubans’ status was scheduled be discussed Monday at a meeting of
Bahamas Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell,
Guillermo Cochez, former Panama ambassador to the Organization of
American States, Miami lawyer Lorenzo Palomares and Miami banker Raymond

Bahamian authorities are holding 50 undocumented Cubans at the migration
center, some for as long as 11 months. Most were intercepted as they
tried to make their way to the United States. At least three already
lived in the United States and were suspected of people smuggling.

Several have staged strident protests against conditions at the
detention center and the possibility of repatriations. At least four
sewed their lips together and several filmed a cell-phone video last
month allegedly showing a center guard kicking at the detainees.
Mitchell has said the video is fake.

Eight of the Cubans involved in the video were among the 24 put on the
buses, and Democracy Movement activists said they suspected that the
attempted repatriation to Cuba was “an action deceitful and intended to
hide the torture of human beings.”

The 19 offered asylum by Panama were “the most abused” at the center,
Sanchez said.

Panama announced Monday that it had agreed to offer “territorial asylum”
to the 19 as a humanitarian gesture to spare them from a return to Cuba.
Bahamas at the same time announced that it would investigate the
presumed abuses and improve conditions at the detention center.

Detainees at the center — Haitians, Brazilians, Colombians, Chinese and
others as well as Cubans — have long complained about conditions there.
But the Democracy Movement had called for a tourist boycott of the
Bahamas and staged several high-visibility protests.

Sánchez and Jesús Alexis Gómez ended their hunger strikes on Monday,
after 17 and 24 days respectively, at the monument to the dead at the
Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, in the heart of Little Havana.

Sanchez said that as soon as he heard about the planned repatriations
Thursday — some of the detainees have smuggled cell phones — the
Democracy Movement issued a public complaint and requested a permit to
set up a protest tent in front of the Bahamian consulate in Miami.

A statement issued later Thursday by the Bahamas’ Foreign Ministry said
the U.S. Diplomatic Protection Service had informed the consulate of “a
specific threat by a specific individual … which has necessitated
additional layers of security at the consulate.”

“Bahamians in Miami are further advised to exercise reasonable caution
during this period in Miami,” the statement added.

Source: “Miami group says Bahamas planned to return detainees to Cuba –
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