St Lucia – St Lucia Government probing visa scandal
CASTRIES –– The St Lucia government today announced that it had launched an investigation into international media reports that a group of Cubans trying to sail to the United States had St Lucia tourist visas when they were intercepted at sea by the US Coast Guard.
A brief government statement said that an investigation has been launched into the matter “to determine how the alleged visas appeared in the passports of the Cuban nationals, since Cuban nationals do not require tourist visas to visit St Lucia”.
“The government of Saint Lucia is in touch with the Cuban and American authorities on this matter,” the statement said.
Over the weekend, the Associated Press reported that 38 Cuban migrants, who had been stuck in a legal limbo aboard a US Coast Guard ship after they were detained at sea, were being allowed to return to their homeland.
They were among nearly 100 detained by the Coast Guard in April and who would ordinarily have been quickly repatriated under an agreement between the United States and Cuba, intended to discourage risky sea journeys by people seeking to reach America.
But a US official said Cuban authorities had balked at accepting the 38 migrants, arguing they did not qualify as migrants who should be immediately repatriated because they had legally left their country and obtained tourist visas from St Lucia. The migrants were held on board the Coast Guard cutter Vigilant until the situation could be resolved.
A statement issued by the Cuban Interests Section in Washington said Cuba’s government had notified America it would allow the migrants to return even though they did not qualify for repatriation under the terms of the 1995 agreement.
Meanwhile, the main opposition United Workers Party (UWP) is calling on the St Lucia government to explain how the Cubans were in possession of the visas.
“The UWP would like to find out who issued those visas to the Cubans; for what purpose were they issued; and for what period of time.
‘It is vital that an urgent explanation is provided by government, so St Lucia, whose name was sullied by the ongoing Lambirds investigation involving allegations of human trafficking, can be cleared,” said UWP communications manager Lionell Ellis.
Police are investigating how a group of Nepalese students were left stranded here after allegedly paying thousands of dollars to secure their education at the Lambirds School at Gros Islet, north of here.