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'We can't help you' - Jamaica denied US request to house Cuban migrants

Published:Tuesday | May 31, 2011 | 12:00 AM
In this image reviewed by the United States military, a guard stands at a gate at the Camp Delta detention compound, which has housed foreign prisoners since 2002, at Guantánamo Bay US Naval Base in Cuba, Friday, June 6, 2008. - AP

In a defiant display, the Bruce Golding administration rejected a request from the United States for Jamaica to house Cuban migrants who are being held in protective custody in Guantánamo Bay.

The US, through a diplomatic note sent shortly after the Golding Government won the 2007 general election, first raised the issue with an official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade.

At that time, the foreign affairs official reportedly said, "As long as the US would pay for transportation, treatment and return of the protected migrants, he could see no reason that the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) would object to their coming to Kingston.

"He asked that the embassy provide the (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) with a written note or letter outlining the proposed understanding between the USG (United States Government) and the GOJ," the cable said, as the embassy requested information from Washington as to the content of such a letter or diplomatic note.

By February 2008, the US officially asked Jamaica to accept the Cuban migrants, arguing that they could face torture if they returned home.

"The Department of State in Washington, DC, has asked that embassy approach Government of Jamaica on an emergency basis concerning the previous discussions ...," said an unclassified, sensitive US diplomatic cable dated February 11, 2008.

"The USG provides protection at the naval base in Guantánamo Bay for a number of migrants who have been determined in need of protection because of a well-founded fear of persecution, or because they would more likely than not face torture in their country of origin. The US seeks third countries to resettle these migrants," the note said.

However, when Jamaica responded nearly a month later - March 4, 2008 - the Government said it could not accept the migrants.

"The Ministry (of Foreign Affairs) wishes to advise the embassy that it has given careful consideration, particularly in light of the humanitarian issues raised, to the request for assistance. However, the Government of Jamaica regrets that due to international obligations, it is not in a position to accommodate this request," the cable quoted from the Jamaican Government.

America's request for Jamaica's help was made amid a hunger strike by migrants who were protesting conditions on the US naval base and Washington's refusal to let them settle in the US. The migrants, who were destined for the US, were held at sea by the US Coast Guard, but could not be returned to Cuba because authorities determined they had a credible fear of persecution.

'As a matter of policy, the US government does not comment on the contents of these alleged cables that purport to include classified information.

The US Embassy condemns, in the strongest terms, the deliberate and unauthorised disclosure of information represented as classified materials by individuals and organisations which puts lives at risks and jeopardises our national interests.'

United States Embassy to Gleaner