A fresh start
by Emmanuel Joseph
He wants to forget his dreadful past.
And today, 59-year-old Raul Garcia, who fled the land of his birth, Cuba, at age 10 with his parents, exposed himself to reporters during a press conference at the Clement Payne Cultural Centre on Crumpton Street, St. Michael, so he could talk about his future in Barbados and warn others about the dire consequences of emulating his past experience as a drug mule.
Garcia, flanked by his lead attorney-at-law, David Comissiong and assistant Paula Jemmott, was not desirous of “wallowing” in the “painful mistake” he made, when he left Colombia in 1994 and landed in Barbados with a large amount of cocaine, intended to be transhipped to North America.
Instead, the former drug convict, who spent 20 years in a local jail and more than three in immigration detention, has a vision to help young people in Barbados avoid his pitfalls and a life of crime, generally.
Garcia, who lived in the United States most of his life after leaving Cuba as an infant, said he wanted to subject himself to whatever questions reporters “threw” at him, since he had nothing to hide.
“I am here today in order to let the public of Barbados know as much as they would like to about me, basically more about my future and my new commitments that I have made in the last few years since I have been in prison about my new life,” explained the father of three children and a fourth who died from a drug overdose.
“My wish,” he assured, “is to calm those people who could have certain fears for me being in Barbados in the society and also to thank hundreds of people who have congratulated me or received me into their society or their lives.”
This family man, who was married twice, once in the US and again in Colombia, repeated how the response by Barbadians has been overwhelming.
“Even my family tell me the Bajan people have to have a very good heart in order to accept you the way they have,” boasted the 2010 NIFCA silver awardee in fine art.
He gave the assurance that there was no way he would ever return to a life of crime or do anything in this country which would justify the apprehension of those who feel he might get involved in drugs again.
“I never really was a member of any drug cartel that could claim my return to them. I never was before nor never been in the time that I participated in this activity,” declared the former restaurant operator in the US.
“I don’t belong to no drug mafia or no cartel,” he argued. “I never wanted, to belong to any such organisations. I am an independent person, and as an independent person I have no obligations to nobody.
“What happened in 1994, was 19 years ago, and I am sure the people in those times who remain in the business are all incarcerated with long terms imprisonment and that’s their problem,” insisted the former Cuban-American businessman.
When he went to prison, Garcia insisted that no one from the drug world, or anybody else, offered to pay his lawyers or the one million dollar fine imposed on him by the high court when he was sentenced. It was his failure to pay in 60 days, in whole or part, the two half-million dollar fines for trafficking and possession, that resulted in his 20-year imprisonment.
He noted that he was on his own then and up to this day, was still on his own.
“So there is no such attachment nor obligations to nobody that any fear should come from that source (drug cartels) whatsoever, nor any retribution that anybody would take against any institution in this country,” he pointed out in an effort to comfort Barbadians.
“The fact remains I did the crime,” he conceded, “and I accepted my mistake, and as such, I respected all the years that I have been in prison to do my best for the sentence that I accomplished.”
Seeking to allay fears that he would try to contact criminals for drug money or any other reason, the freed man said: “I feel that first of all, the public of Barbados has given me their heart. It would be very disloyal to this country that I would try to do such a heinous crime as I see it today to the public of Barbados; I would say to the world in general.”
The ex-drug mule also reasoned that he would not want to put his family through the same pain and suffering he had done over nearly a quarter of a century.
“So I made a commitment and a vow, that I would never ever again be involved in drugs,” stated the former prison trustee here. “My only participation in the drug world will be to advise young people or any person in general, the consequences that these activities could bring not only to themselves, but also to the people in general.
“It is my commitment to offer myself to any institutions of drug rehabilitation, even schools and churches; anyone who is willing to open the doors, I am willing to go and explain and offer the bad experiences I had before and after being in prison.”
He said everyone in Barbados already knew his face and he would feel very bad and “down” to return to drugs after recognising the bad about it. He reasoned that he met many inmates in prison and got to find out what drugs were all about.
As far as his future in Barbados was concerned, Garcia, who reported being raised on strong principles from his parents, said he preferred to make this country his permanent home, if none other would accept him. In fact, his lawyer David Comissiong revealed that if within the next year, it became clear no other country would take his client, he would make the appropriate application to the High Court for residency.
However, both he and Garcia said efforts were still being made to deport him to a third country, considering that a deportation order was still pending.
Garcia lamented that while he had been speaking to his mother and father daily by telephone, it was unlikely he would see his dad in person ever again. He explained that his father was unable to travel because he was virtually on his death bed.
The only comfort, for what it was worth, was that he saw and spoke to him via Skype. His mother on the other hand, along with his cousins and other relatives from his large Spanish-speaking family, were expected to visit him in Barbados in due course.
Garcia is also planning to write a book detailing his experiences in prison here as well as making arrangements to stage an art exhibition.
Cuba has already said it would not take Garcia and the US, he suggested, would probably never accept him either. Garcia also has a conviction in the US.
But while he awaits the outcome of initiatives to deport him, should a third country be found to receive him, this former inmate at Glendairy when it was destroyed by fire and later the temporary prison in St. Lucy and finally Dodds, St. Philip, said he was satisfied and comfortable living in Barbados. firstname.lastname@example.org