Friday, March 24, 2006

Bahamas Ambassador Says Cuban Dentists Controversy Could Have Been Avoided

24th March
Bahamas Ambassador Says Cuban Dentists Controversy Could Have Been Avoided
By Quincy Parker

The nation’s top diplomat said Wednesday that in his opinion, the
problems plaguing the processing of the two Cuban dentists recently
released after 10 months at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre could
have been avoided.

Joshua Sears is the Bahamas’ Ambassador to the United States, and he
consulted on what turned into a seemingly contentious matter with
American officials in South Florida.

Congressman Connie Mack and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of South
Florida had vehemently called for economic sanctions against The Bahamas
over the detention of Drs. David Gonzalez and Marialys Darias-Mesa.

"I think clearly in this case, in terms of process, some things could
have happened differently which would have avoided this particular
problem," Mr. Sears said.

According to Mr. Sears, The Bahamas did consult with Cuba over the fate
of the two dentists, but did not ask Cuba’s permission.

"All I would say is that, as I have said, we have a treaty obligation
with Cuba and that treaty requires us to act in a particular way. So
clearly, if you want to honour the sanctity of that arrangement one
would clearly have to talk with them and that’s what we did," Mr. Sears

"I wouldn’t say (we asked their permission to send the two Cuban
dentists to Jamaica), no."

Mr. Sears would not say how long the consultation between the Bahamas
and Cuba took, but said he was sure the Cuban government was satisfied
with the outcome of the matter.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell, while explaining the matter
to the House of Assembly on March 15, thanked Cuba’s Foreign Minister
Felipe Roquez, and Cuba’s Ambassador to The Bahamas Felix Wilson, for
the Cuban government’s good will and harmony in the matter.

Mr. Sears assured that the ‘exception’ made in favour of the two Cuban
dentists who were released to Jamaica instead of shipped back to Cuba
will not affect The Bahamas’s future immigration policy.

After being escorted to Kingston by a pair of Bahamian immigration
officials, Drs. David Gonzalez and Marialys Darias-Mesa boarded a
Florida-bound jet, and were reunited with their families in Ft. Lauderdale.

"The minister was very clear in his communication to Parliament that
this is an exception. We don’t expect, nor do we anticipate that we will
be expected to do a similar thing," Mr. Sears said.

"This is a case where we think, certainly from our point of view, it’s
an exception, but governments always have to act prudently because we
have international obligations."

In Mr. Sears’ view, the question of the two dentists was a question of
maintaining the integrity of a treaty relationship while "respecting the
elements of humanitarian consideration."

While acknowledging the view that the matter ought to have been handled
more swiftly, Mr. Sears said that "sometimes due process requires that
kind of time."

He also noted that the government had to consider the question of
setting a precedent. He said that once a vehicle (for migration)
succeeds, it presents "a tremendous attraction for people to follow."

Regarding the vehemence of Congressman Mack and Congresswoman
Ros-Lehtinen, Mr. Sears pointed out that the two South Florida
representatives have significant numbers of Cuban-Americans in their

"And so what you saw being played out by them was (them) acting in
response to their constituents’ interests," he said, adding that the
American officials understood "without question" the difficulty The
Bahamas faced in releasing the two Cuban dentists.

U. S. Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice, the top American
diplomat, was in the Bahamas on Tuesday and Wednesday to meet with
foreign ministers from within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). In a
half-hour closed session with The Bahamas Cabinet, Dr. Rice reportedly
thanked The Bahamas for the manner in which the matter of the two
dentists was resolved.

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