Police defend Cuban response

Dozens of Cuban migrants were allowed to block the streets of George Town during a late morning protest 14 April after escaping from a minimum security detention centre.

The detainees, who numbered about 30, had also not notified the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service or requested a permit for the demonstration.

None have been charged with any crimes. They also agreed to return to the detention centre that day only after being allowed to speak to the media.

Several Cuban migrants, during interviews with the Caymanian Compass, said they did not intend any disruption or harm to residents and visitors of Cayman. They simply wished to get their message out.

Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan said he spoke with Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson and RCIPS Chief Superintendent John Jones about the situation shortly after the escape.

‘We were all in agreement that a softly, softly approach to these individuals was the best way to go,’ Mr. Kernohan said. ‘We do not use force lightly…and we use it in a proportionate way.’

Mr. Jones also noted that there were cruise ship visitors and other tourists along Harbour Dr. that morning who witnessed the event.

‘It wasn’t the case that we were worried about the image, but needless to say, there were a lot of visitors…in the vicinity,’ Mr. Jones said. ‘Even if there hadn’t been any visitors in there, our view is that we could resolve it peacefully without anybody being injured.’

‘If we wanted, we could have taken a firm hand…locked them all up in a great show of force,’ he said. ‘We live in a democratic society; there is freedom of speech; and whilst we prefer that anybody protesting would give us early notice…I think were talking about in the region of 20 to 30 people.’

Mr. Jones was asked during a media briefing last week whether a group of migrants who escaped from a detention facility are considered ‘free.’

‘I think you’d better pose that question to Mr. Manderson,’ he said.

Mr. Manderson has previously said the detention facility in George Town is not a prison, and that Cayman Islands Immigration officials would prefer to keep it that way.

After three escapes within the space of ten days, he said security had been increased at the centre.

‘Obviously, if they keep escaping, we’ll have to rethink our way of dealing with things,’ Mr. Manderson said shortly after Saturday’s breakout-turned-rally.

While the Cuban migrants gave a spirited demonstration in the streets of George Town 14 April, it was a peaceful protest. Mr. Jones said there were no incidents involving the police, other than the closure of some streets to vehicle traffic.

‘There was some delay in the traffic, but probably no more delay than people encounter when there’s a lot of cruise ships in the bay,’ Mr. Jones said.

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