It has been a few weeks since South Florida’s media and social networks have been denouncing the systematic abuses to which refugees from Cuba and other nations are subjected in the Bahamas. The trigger was a series of clandestinely made cellphone videos that showed officers kicking people and subjecting them to different tortures. Those who made the videos public assure these were taken in the refugee detention camps in Nassau, and even when people have recognized their friends and relatives in the videos, the Bahamian Chancellery has denied that these are authentic.
These detention centers seem to be the scene of systematic human rights violations, but they are not a new phenomenon. The oldest data I know of refers to the New York Times of August, 1963, which discusses the intervention of Cuban air and naval forces in the former British island during which 19 refugees were kidnapped and taken back to Cuba. But even more astonishing is the reaction of the international community before a situation that has been taking place for years, and for which there are not many echoes beyond the modest ones from the voices of Cubans and Cuban Americans.
In the past 20 years, there is no trace of these events in two of the most important American newspapers, even when the Interamerican Human Rights Commission (IACHR) has issued reports thereon from allegations dating from 1998. For its part, the Spanish newspaper El País lists the names of the two Caribbean islands when it comes to hurricanes while other Iberian newspapers only mention them to highlight the progress of the oil drilling carried out in collaboration with Cuba.
The reaction is different when it comes to the equally unjust humiliations suffered by the prisoners at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantánamo. The acts of condemnation in this case reach high political dimensions including the Human Rights Commission of the Russian Chancellery, the Swiss President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations, the American Catholic Church, some leftist French party and thousands, perhaps millions of people from around the word who are in favor of the closing of this prison in the easternmost end of Cuba.
However, curiously enough, in that very end of my country the Provincial Prison of Guantánamo, run by Cuban authorities, is known for its inhumane treatment, the lack of hygiene, a poor diet and occasional beatings to which the people who are surviving there are subjected to. Most of the country’s prisons are run in similar conditions.
It would seem as if the men in orange uniforms held at the naval base belonged to a different category from that of the non-uniformed emigrants of the Caribbean. One hypothesis could be that the people of the Middle East evoke greater sympathy or compassion than the Caribbean people, but since it is precisely in that region where countless human rights violations have been committed in the past and continue to be committed to this day by the authorities of those countries, and the international condemnation has historically suffered its ups and downs, this argument doesn’t hold water. It would be scandalous if the level of the scandal was related to the category of the oppressors.
It is not the US Marines who are torturing Cubans and Haitians in the Bahamas; it is not “the Yankee empire” against “the oppressed people of the world.” Therefore, the perception is that the abuses committed by the authorities of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas are less attractive to the international community.
I cannot help questioning the motivations of the forces behind these reactions. If it is not compassion for those who are suffering, a sense of justice and respect for international treaties, could it be that the level of solidarity is determined by the unpopularity of the oppressor? Doesn’t the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaim that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights? A world in which lobbies have the last say and pressure groups have more interests than convictions is scary.
Who is lobbying for our brothers whose rights are violated with the same impunity in Havana and Nassau? Where are the documentaries about the Bahamian concentration camps where there are school-age children and women with their lips sewn shut? Where is the absolute condemnation for the humiliations that these people who emigrate suffer from, which are not subjected to any accusations? Why throughout the 20 years this situation has been taking place has it not become popular among youth to favor the closure of the prison camps in the Bahamas?
Apparently, the sense of impunity is contagious, and the Bahamian officials feel they can beat Cubans in the same way in which the repressive bodies of the State Security in the Largest of the Antilles have no mercy toward opposition members. Each of them should know that impunity is not sustainable over time, and that time is running out.
Rosa María Payá
Translated by Chabeli
6 July 2013