by Emmanuel Joseph
After more than two and a half years in detention, Cuba-born drug convict Raul Thomas Garcia will finally get his day in court.
This afternoon, the Barbados Supreme Court ordered that a writ of habeas corpus be issued, commanding the minister responsible for Immigration and the Chief Immigration Officer to present Garcia in court on Wednesday, October 24 at 9:30 a.m., to justify why they continue to detain him, despite the fact he has served his 20 year jail sentence for the drug trafficking crime.
Madam Justice Margaret Reifer made the ruling in the Number 6 Court, after hearing an application for the writ, submitted by the ex-convict’s lead attorney-at-law, David Comissiong, who headed a four-member team that included Leslie Haynes, Paula Jemmott and Ajamu Boardi.
Justice Reifer told the court, she was satisfied that Comissiong had made out a prima facie case on behalf of his client and therefore made the order. The presiding judge ruled that the draft writ, to be prepared by Garcia’s legal team, be submitted to the Registrar of the Supreme Court, who would in turn issue it to the Minister responsible for Immigration at Government Headquarters, Bay Street and the Chief Immigration Officer on Wharf Road, Bridgetown.
Comissiong told Barbados TODAY afterwards, that he would submit the writ to the Registrar immediately.
In a submission, lasting about two hours, he argued a series of grounds to try to convince the court why, first, it ought to approve his application for the writ and, secondly, why Garcia must be released from detention.
However, early in Comissiong’s submission, the judge informed him she could not make a finding regarding the matter of detention, unless and until she heard from the relevent government officials. He cited the Section 31 of the Constitution of Barbados and a variety of legal precedents from England and the US to support what he said was his main submission — that Garcia was being deprived of his personal liberty and was being detained “unreasonably” long.
Comissiong referred to a 1984 decision by an English court which he insisted, reinforced the principles that a person shall be held for a “reasonable” time pending arrangements to deport or expel him, and where the authorities recognise that the machinery for such deportation may not be effected within a “reasonable” period, that power to continually keep the person “incarcerated”, should not be exercised.
In fact, he read the English court’s ruling that such detention would be wrong. He also told the local court of a recent foreign case where a person who had been in detention for 10 months was ordered released, adding that his client had been detained much, much longer — two years and seven months.
Comissiong suggested to the court as well that the convicted drug trafficker fitted the definition of a stateless person. In that, Cuba, his country of birth has refused to accept him and the US where he had residency status, also did not want him. And as a result, he argued, that the Constitution of Barbados provided that such individuals were entitled to all the rights and protection afforded a stateless person.
The legal counsel noted, too, that if the court found Garcia to in fact, be a stateless person, he would also be constitutionally entitled
to choose his place of residence in Barbados, to be able to move freely about the island and to leave Barbados for any country, when he so desired.
The court also heard that the Cuban government had issued a passport to Garcia to facilitate his travel to any country, except to Cuba itself.
Referring to his client’s affidavit filed in the high court on September 25, 2012, Comissiong noted that it had described Garcia’s confinement when he was moved from Dodds Prison on September 9 by the minister responsible for Immigration and the Chief Immigration Officer and placed at a Barbados Defence Force house surrounded by razor sharp barb wire.
The court also heard that Garcia has complained of being placed in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, ever since being relocated to the BDF house and was only let out at 7 a.m. to see his legal counsel.
The ex-drug offender also said in his affidavit that he was constantly guarded by armed police and soliders and was handed his food through a window of his room.
Garcia, the court has been told, is being psychologically affected by the presence of armed soldiers who entered his room every night to turn off the lights. His affidavit, Comissiong pointed out, described how he was being denied visitors.
The court heard, too, that Garcia came to Barbados in 1994 from Colombia and was arrested and charged in September of the same year for drug trafficking and sentenced to life. He later appealed the sentence and was given 20 years, which ended on March 11, 2010.
He was released to immigration officers, it emerged in court, and immediately detained at the Grantley Adams International Airport for nine months, after which Garcia was returned to Dodds Prison on December 17, 2010.
Garcia’s affidavit also revealed that he was served with a deportation order, dated March 24, 2010, to be expelled to Cuba.