on Cuban detainees
By Tamara Mckenzie, Assistant
News Editor. The
Nassau Guardian, August 28, 2007.
Ask any immigration official at the Carmichael
Road Detention Centre about their most watched
or problematic inmates and "the Cubans"
would most likely be the response. These
inmates, fluent speakers of Spanish in a
country dominated by English, are tagged
as detainees who cause harm and destruction.
Moreover, they are considered to be the
craftiest of all detainees, according to
Chief Immigration Officer Alexander Burns.
The Cubans will sit and watch every movement
on the compound said Burns, and they will
do whatever it takes to escape, even if
it means scaling a 10-foot wall or cutting
through a heavily barbed wire fence in an
effort to taste freedom and hopefully smuggle
themselves to the land of the free and the
home of the brave: The United States of
As of yesterday, there were 66 Cubans detained
at the Carmichael Road facility. The number
is down from the 71 not two weeks ago. The
decline is the result of five Cubans who
remain at large after escaping a week ago
today by cutting a hole through the chain
link fence behind their dormitory and scaling
the perimeter wall of the detention center
by using a homemade grappling hook.
A sixth Cuban, having been injured, returned
to the center after the escape. Raysi Herrera
Puente, Rene Medina Martinez, Barbaro R.
Martinez Valdes, Mariobel Consuegra Rodriguez,
and Edgar Cardet still remain at large.
Their flawless escape in broad daylight
went unnoticed by what was reportedly a
small complement of Royal Bahamas Defence
Force officers who were posted at the facility
during its visiting hours.
And while a full-scale search and investigation
is still underway, Cuban nationals, who
are often detained longer than any other
group, are pegged more than any other at
the Centre as those who have been entangled
in various foiled and successful escape
attempts in recent years.
"We try to keep a closer eye on the
Cubans, but if a person is detained for
24 hours they have more time to look for
all the loopholes and the inconsistencies,"
said Burns. "We try to do our best,
but they [the Cubans] are watching us as
well," he said, adding that the Cubans
who are housed separately from other detainees
are not allowed to move beyond the perimeter
wall of their building in an effort to thwart
any bid to escape.
"I think it is because of their upbringing
and training," Burns said about the
efforts of the Cubans to plan well-thought-out
escapes. "Some Cubans are required
to serve in the military and some of them
would have that basic military training
The Long Haul
Haitians who are held at the detention
center are repatriated to their hometowns
within one to two weeks. But a strict protocol
guideline must be followed before any Cuban
is sent back to Cuba, officials say.
"We have to interview them and this
information goes to the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs," said Immigration Deputy Director,
William Nottage. "Foreign Affairs contacts
the Cuban Embassy and they send diplomatic
notes back and forth between the government
of Cuba and The Bahamas. Because Cuba is
a socialist society, before Cuba accepts
any of its nationals back, they have to
secure housing, etc., and then they allow
them to come."
The average stay for a Cuban national at
the detention center is eight to nine months,
but there are some who remain there for
up to one year and sometimes longer, Burns
Bursting at the seams
The Carmichael Road Detention Centre, located
on Golden Isles Road, can house 600 detainees,
but according to Burns, an "ideal"
capacity would be 200 detainees. Any number
that exceeds 400 is really "stretching
the situation," he said, adding that
more buildings are needed to comfortably
house detainees. "There were four buildings
but one was damaged in October 2004 by the
Cubans and they [the government] never did
anything to repair it," he said.
As of yesterday, there were 451 detainees,
of which the latest group of individuals
- 143 Haitian migrants - arrived over the
weekend after they were apprehended in Bahamian
This latest addition to the detention center
also led National Security Minister Tommy
Turnquest to concede that the center is
not built to house such a large number of
There are presently 338 Haitians at the
facility, 66 Cubans, 33 Jamaicans, two Nigerians,
two Guyanese, one national of St. Kitts,
one Turks &Caicos Islander, one British,
one American, one Honduran, one Ukrainian,
one Congolese, one Peruvian and an individual
whose nationality cannot be determined.
Head counts at the centre are conducted
three times a day.
According to Burns, it costs the government
between $18 and $20 a day to feed each detainee.
Because of the large number of detainees,
immigration officials say they will soon
conduct a costly repatriation exercise -
mainly of Haitian nationals - to the tune
of $28,000 for a Bahamasair flight. A charter
would cost about $45,000, depending on the
size of the aircraft. The costs will be
debited from the $214,000 set aside for
the detention center in the government's
2007/08 fiscal budget.
A history of uprising
Last week's escape was not the first involving
Many in the past have been successful in
bypassing the 8-foot chain link fence surrounding
the center by snipping the wire and using
a mattress to avoid injury. Earlier this
year, a 10-foot perimeter wall was built,
but it did little to deter the recent escapees.
Officials say that many Cubans who escape
do so to unite with their families in Florida,
but the bilateral agreement with The Bahamas
and Cuba states that all detainees must
be returned to Cuba, even though several
demonstrations have been staged on U.S.
soil to have the Cubans sent to the United
In 2004, several Cubans rioted and set
fire to a dorm at the detention center while
attempting to escape. The uprising happened
less than 24 hours after a report by police
investigating allegations of torture and
abuse was made public. Police and Defence
Force officers were forced to fire rubber
rounds to subdue the rioting detainees.
As a result of the disturbance, 11 Defence
Force officers and nine detainees were injured.
Two detainees were treated in the hospital
with injuries caused by the rubber rounds.
In Dec. 2004, Cuban-Americans demonstrated
against The Bahamas in front of the Bahamas
Consulate General in Miami, calling for
the detainees to be sent to Miami. Demonstrators
alleged that The Bahamas had been abusing
Cuban detainees at the detention center,
placing a negative spotlight on The Bahamas.
Also in 2005, the detention of two Cuban
dentists, David Gonzalez Mejias and Maralis
Darias Mesa, drew international attention
to The Bahamas. While in Cuba in 2002, the
two won a U.S. immigration lottery but were
not allowed to leave Cuba. They left the
country anyway by boat and were picked up
by the U.S. Coast Guard in April 2005, but
the boat's engine stalled near Elbow Cay
in the Cay Sal Bank, some 90 miles from
The Americans turned the men over to Bahamian
authorities as required, but they were imprisoned
in the Carmichael Road Detention Center
for 11 months. The men applied to the Ministry
of Foreign Affairs for asylum, but relatives
said no reply was ever received and despite
numerous attempts by American interlocutors
to free the men, the Bahamian government
simply stonewalled the matter, leaving the
family of the men to go public with the
matter via the U.S. press.
The men were eventually freed in March
2006 and were flown to Jamaica and onwards
to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., to be united with
Almost a decade ago in March 1998, the
Detention Center grabbed international headlines
when nine Cubans, including four baseball
players and a coach, drifted into a Bahamian
fishing boat and were dropped off at a tiny
fishing outpost on Ragged Island, about
80 miles north of Cuba. Just months earlier,
Cuban baseball star Orlando Hernandez who
had also been detained at the Centre, won
freedom with the help of Miami sport agent,
Meanwhile, as officials at the center keep
a watchful eye on Cuban detainees, the facility
is still fraught with other challenges,
according to Burns, noting that a full-time
doctor is needed on the compound to regularly
treat detainees, there is a shortage of
staff, and more buildings are "desperately"
needed to prevent overcrowding.
"We also need a holding cell for troublemakers
because fights will break out from time
to time and we have nowhere to place them,"
Copyright © 2006 The Nassau
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