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Right to dignity

It is often said that among Caribbean people Barbadians are the most passive. Our colleagues from the other islands often appear shocked at what we tolerate from our leaders and various sectors in our community — doing so without so much as a whisper.

On the other hand, there are some emotional issues, which though being national in context, we take as personal and can wax warm on the radio call-in programmes and among our colleagues.

The latest of these must be the matter of Cuban-American Raul Garcia, who spent more than 20 years in prison here, first at Glendairy in St. Michael and then at Dodds, St. Philip, after he was found guilty of importing a huge amount of illegal drugs into the country.

It would appear that Garcia’s incarceration, like that of countless other Barbadians and foreigners, was of no concern to John Public until he went on a hunger strike earlier this year to protest his continued detention once the sentence imposed on him by the court had expired.

In a sense, Garcia’s case is as simple as it is complex. He entered Barbados illegally for the purpose of committing a crime. He was arrested, charged and imprisoned for that crime. He served his time. Since, however, serving a 20-year prison term does not entitle one to Barbadian citizenship, and since he entered the island illegally, like any other illegal entrant/prisoner, release from incarceration resulted in him becoming the responsibility of the Chief Immigration Officer for the purpose of deportation.

As far as the emotional side of Barbadians is concerned, when Garcia protested with a hunger strike as a means of representing himself at the expiration of his sentence, it would appear that many did not believe he deserved support.

Hence, we ended with some rather strong, even heartless, suggestions, including that authorities should just let him starve to death, thus solving the real post-incarceration problems — that he can’t return to Cuba, where he was born, he is not welcome back to the United States where he grew up, and he has no legal status in Barbados.

Today, Garcia is in a specially prepared detention centre, where he falls under the jurisdiction of the Immigration Department, but is being watched by police officers and soldiers. And as far as his attorney is concerned, the conditions in the detention centre are even more harsh than those of the prison from which he agitated for so long to have him released.

We do not believe that Garcia should be subjected to unreasonably harsh detention conditions, but we do not believe he should be released into the public domain — not even to a private Barbadian family. He is in Barbados illegally, even if it is his wish to be elsewhere, and there is always a danger when it comes to the administration of the law when a country takes an action that can be seen as precedent setting. What would be the justification for treating Garcia different from any other immigration detainee?

From all indications, Garcia was a model prisoner at Dodds, but what would be the state’s liability if a citizen suffered some injury at his hands while he was in Barbados, with the freedom to move about as he pleases.

Perhaps, even more importantly, would he have the right to bring an action against the state if he suffered some injury while he is provided with limited freedom as his supporters recommend?

However this matter is approached it will bring consternation from some quarter. Give him citizenship and some will howl; keep him detained and others will cry out; keep him in the detention centre for too long and some international body will come calling; do like the Americans and put him on a plane and drop him off on the tarmac of the Havana or Miami airports and run the risk of some international incident…

We say, since he is a detainee, he has to accept that there are constraints in such a status. However, given the level of security at the facility that now houses him, there is enough leeway for him to be treated in a manner that does not remove from him the sense of dignity that ought to accompany each human being. That is within our power to do.

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