Tue | Dec 1, 2020

Caught in Cuba - Jamaican envoy issues warning to drug smugglers as jailed former cop begs for help

Published:Sunday | December 22, 2019 | 12:00 AMCorey Robinson - Staff Reporter

Jamaica’s Ambassador to Cuba has issued a warning to local drug traffickers looking to exploit that communist country, adding that there is very little local authorities can do to help Jamaicans who find themselves facing tough prison sentences for offences there.

Ambassador Kathryn Phipps made the caveat on Thursday, following a probe by The Sunday Gleaner into the case of Derrick Osmond Brooks, a 54-year-old former Jamaican policeman serving a life sentence in Cuba after being convicted on drug and forgery-related charges 17 years ago.

In a letter obtained by The Sunday Gleaner, Brooks alleges a long list of violations to his human rights at Cuban detention facilities, including the tough Combinado Del Este Prison, and issues continued threats of going on a hunger strike if Jamaican authorities do not come to his rescue.

Such calls are being echoed by Brooks’ relatives, including his brother, Phillip Lee, who said he has spent more than a decade trying to get Jamaican authorities to assist in getting his brother released or to better the inhumane conditions they say he is facing.

Last Thursday, however, Phipps said there is little Jamaican authorities can do as Cuba has its own laws, sanctions and justice system, which in some cases are far tougher than those enforced in Jamaica’s democracy.

“Don’t do it! Do not do it, because the last set that did, they (Cubans) actually allowed one of them to walk around and then arrested him right after,” said Phipps, noting that there are at least nine Jamaicans in custody in Cuba, and all of them were arrested for drug-trafficking violations.

Three of the convicts, she explained, were arrested last year and are to be sentenced. However, only Brooks has been serving a life sentence for his crimes.

Phipps explained that while she and other Jamaican authorities have been in contact with the inmates, Cuba’s laws limit the amount of support that can be offered by local agencies.

“People don’t know that Cuba’s intelligence service is up there. They figure it’s a communist country and that the people are backward and, therefore, they can go through the people’s country. Some of them have the gall to actually try and bring it into the country,” continued Phipps, adding that Cuban authorities employ a ‘no tolerance’ approach to such offences.

Some of the inmates were arrested upon entry to Cuban territorial waters, while in other cases Cuban authorities may have been alerted by United States Coast Guard vessels, which, despite differing political views, share a mutual interest against drug trafficking in the Caribbean, she said.

Phipps noted that Jamaican authorities are barred from attending court hearings involving Jamaican citizens in Cuba, and explained that Brooks has over the years written to both Jamaican and Cuban authorities, including former President Raul Castro and current President Miguel Diaz-Canel, about his predicament.

“What kind of assistance (can we offer)? He is a convicted felon, and not only was he convicted because he was carrying cocaine … but they alleged that he also tried to bribe officials and made use of false documents,” said Phipps.

“Each country has its own system of justice and, just like we don’t want other countries to come here and tell us how to run our show, we cannot tell the Cubans what they are to do,” explained the ambassador, who said she has met with Brooks personally.

Brooks’ letter, obtained by The Sunday Gleaner two weeks ago, was five pages long and explained that he was convicted for one pound of cocaine, “which was 38 per cent pure, falsification of a public document (a passport) and bribery”.

He said he flew into Cuba from Montego Bay, St James, on June 9, 2002, and was accosted by customs officers who suspected that he had ingested the drugs. He was later taken to hospital and the drugs discovered.

For days, he said, he was repeatedly denied the opportunity to make contact with a lawyer and a representative from Jamaica, and that all the time he was placed in dirty, unkempt cells, unfit for human habitation. He claimed there was no evidence to support the charges of bribery or forgery.

“There was no translator present in court, neither any representative from the Jamaican Embassy. The court proceeding was conducted in the Spanish language, which I do not speak or understand,” the letter stated.

I made a verbal request in the court to have a translator or representative from the Jamaican Embassy, which was denied by the judge who did not speak English.”

The letter continued: “The Cuban government has violated my fundamental rights as written in the Cuban law ... . They have also violated international laws signed by Cuba. I need the International Human Rights Committee or Council to look into my matter and help me to receive a review of my case so I can receive justice for all these 17 years in prison without having a fair and impartial trial.”

The letter, dated June this year, ended with a promise of hunger strike for ‘racial discrimination’ and human rights violations.

Last week, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade confirmed that it was aware of Brooks’ case, but said it could not immediately provide information regarding its assistance to him or other Jamaicans locked up overseas.

While the ministry and its ambassadors are obligated to represent incarcerated Jamaicans overseas, their power is limited in some jurisdictions.

In response to The Sunday Gleaner queries, the ministry said yesterday that it was aware of nine Jamaicans who are now serving sentences in Cuban prison facilities, all on charges related to illicit drug activities.

“We are also aware that there are hundreds of Jamaicans incarcerated in other countries. However, the details of specific cases are only shared confidentially between authorities and are subject to privacy and other legal restrictions, including those of the countries where the persons are imprisoned,” the ministry stated.

“Additionally, discretion must always be exercised in the management of the cases of inmates, in keeping with their rights under the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. In some instances, incarcerated nationals have explicitly asked that their family not be informed of their situation. The ministry and its overseas missions are obliged to respect such requests.”

Last Thursday, Brooks’ brother, Lee, who lives in The Bahamas, said his brother’s incarceration has severely affected his family. Both his wife and children have since migrated to the United States and have had limited contact with him over the years.

Lee blasted the foreign affairs ministry and other local agencies for doing nothing, despite several attempts to get assistance for his brother.

Some prison inmates in Cuba are allowed conjugal visits, and Brooks is reportedly the father of one child with a Cuban while in prison. Some inmates are also allowed incoming telephone calls from relatives.

“Since he has been in prison, this has severely affected our family. My sister spoke to him this morning and she called me crying that he is saying nobody cares about him, and that the Jamaican Government has abandoned him,” he said.

“I have visited Jamaica countless times trying to get some assistance and nobody is willing. Is this how Jamaica treats its citizens who find themselves in problems abroad?” asked Lee during a phone call with The Sunday Gleaner from Barbados.

Before his conviction, Brooks was reportedly assigned to a police station in Ocho Rios, St Ann, according to relatives, who could not say why he had left the force.

– Additional reporting by Rasbert Turner.