EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the July 18, 2005, issue of National Review.
It’s a wretched story, like so many out of Cuba, but it has a twist: the wretchedness of the government of the Bahamas. These islands are located in an awkward position, just northeast of Cuba, just southeast of Florida. When Cubans flee on rafts and other pathetic craft, they sometimes drift into Bahamian waters, and are picked up by that country’s coast guard. From this point, a horrible drama begins (even beyond the drama of a perilous departure from Cuba): The rafters are kept in a detention camp, under savage conditions. And they face the nightmare threat of being repatriated to Cuba. The Bahamian government, despite being a democracy, and an ally of the United States, has a very cozy relationship with Castro. They fear him, work with him, submit to him. And this puts the lives of some remarkably brave people at risk.
Seven of those lives belong to members of a Cuban opposition party: the Frank País November 30th Democratic party. A little explanation: País was a revolutionary, a democratic fighter against the Batista dictatorship. On November 30, 1956, he led an uprising in Santiago de Cuba, later to be celebrated. País was gunned down the next summer. Today, the Frank País/November 30th party is banned, like all parties in Cuba except Castro’s. And from it come some of the most admirable people you will ever encounter.
The seven now in the Bahamas were long persecuted in Cuba, for their peaceful activities: the placement of posters in parks, the holding of prayer vigils, and so on. In August 2004, their situation intensified, and the State Security was closing in. They went underground, hiding in various homes. And at 1 in the morning on August 31, they made a run for it, on a raft — in the face of a brewing hurricane. Ordinary readers might ask how people in their right minds could attempt to reach the United States from Cuba on a raft, while a hurricane develops. These readers will have no idea of the danger that besets oppositionists in Castro’s Cuba.
On September 3, the seven were picked up by the Bahamian coast guard, and sent to a place notorious among Cubans, Haitians, Jamaicans, and others who might land on the Bahamas: the Carmichael Road Detention Centre . . .
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