A meeting between high-level Cuban delegates and Cayman Islands government and immigration officials took place on 25 May in Grand Cayman, coincidentally in the wake of a recent report by an international human rights organisation chastising the Cuban government for massive abuses and widespread intimidation.
Cuban Ambassador to Jamaica Yuri Gala Lopez and Cuban Minister Counsellor of the Cuban Embassy in Jamaica Micaela Ramirez were in the Cayman Islands for a routine annual visit, said Chief Immigration Officer Linda Evans.
The meeting was met with concerns from one Cuban dissident and refugee now living in the Cayman Islands. Martin Diaz, who has been exiled in the Cayman Islands since September 1999 said, “I respect freedom of movement, as we are living in a free society. However, there is no transparency when this level of dignitary is coming and it is not announced. The media should be made aware.” He cited an example of what he thought to be transparency from 2008 when another Cuban Ambassador came to the Cayman Islands and that visit was announced.
“…..But this recent meeting was not announced and one has to wonder what the secret is. Theses people are obviously not coming as tourists,” he said.
In giving her reasons for the visit, Mrs. Evans did not say why the visit was not announced.
“It is a courtesy visit that we receive yearly from them,” she said. “They come to meet with Cuban nationals living and working in the Cayman Islands, as well as representatives from the Deputy Governor’s Office. It’s nothing specific.”
Mrs. Evans said the Cuban officials did not meet with any of more than 20 Cuban migrants now held in the Cayman Islands after the boat they were travelling in became disabled and running low on fuel near Cayman Brac. The migrants have been housed in government facilities since arriving in the Cayman Islands in April.
The ruling government in Cuba was recently the subject of a report released by Amnesty International accusing the country’s leadership and political infrastructure of massive abuses, including arresting, harassing and intimidating hundreds of peaceful dissidents.
The Cuban government has strongly denied the claims and has made representations in this regard to a United Nations panel on torture.
Steve Moore, the Head of Governor’s Office in the British Overseas Territory of the Cayman Islands, said: “Although we have concerns about human rights in Cuba, as outlined in the annual human rights report countries of concern section – [in a 2011 UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office Report] – the UK has full relations with Cuba. Our relationship is based on careful engagement, a robust stance on human rights, and recognition of where Cuba has made improvements (e.g. social freedoms, LGBT rights, and children’s rights).
“Our main concerns are on freedom of association, freedom of expression and freedom of information, and the lack of an independent judiciary. We urge the Cubans at every appropriate opportunity to make further steps on these areas. As the UK has full (and fairly cordial) diplomatic relations with Cuba, characterised by active engagement, it would be odd for the UK to object to the Cayman Islands having the same.”
Mr. Moore also pointed to the language of FCO documentation regarding the relationship between the UK and Cuba, which notes the countries “have full diplomatic relations, unbroken since they were established in 1902 following Cuba’s independence. Bilateral ties stretch even further. This long history of ties has allowed tourism, cultural links and educational exchanges between the two countries to flourish. The UK works closely with Cuba on areas such as climate change, child protection and counter-narcotics, cooperating bilaterally and in multilateral organisations.”
With regard to how the British government views immigration arrangements between Cuba and the Cayman Islands and the memorandum of understanding signed between the two governments concerning the processing of migrants, Mr. Moore said, “Immigration matters are a direct responsibility of the Cayman Islands government. The MoU with Cuba was agreed after consultation with relevant UK government departments at the time (1990s) and in accordance with international obligations and relevant UN and other conventions. After much resistance the Cuban government agreed to accept returnees under arranged/controlled repatriation procedures. The process now works fine, but could be quicker.”