Barbados’ international reputation as the third freest country in the world is being put to the test with the Raul Garcia saga! And, just as importantly, Barbados’ reputation as a Christian country is also being put to the test: – do we Barbadians – as a whole – truly believe in the redemptive love of Jesus Christ, and have we genuinely taken to heart Christ’s injunction to extend assistance and relief to those who are suffering and to take in the stranger?
Raul Garcia is a 58 year-old man who committed the vile crime of attempting to use Barbados as a trans-shipment country for a shipment of drugs that was destined for North America. The drugs were intercepted in Barbados and confiscated by the Royal Barbados Police Force, and Garcia was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to serve 20 years in prison as punishment for his crime.
Garcia served his 20-year prison sentence, and during that time his punishment was magnified by the fact that his eldest son became addicted to the same type of drugs that Garcia had trafficked and died of a drug over-dose. This news shattered Garcia emotionally, and his prison counsellor has confirmed that it caused him to reflect deeply on the error of his ways and to make a commitment to transform himself.
Raul Garcia’s punishment was also intensified by the fact that he served his 20-year sentence in a foreign land, decisively separated from his elderly parents – particularly his now 88 year-old mother – and his three surviving children, one of whom became a soldier in the Canadian army and is now confined to a mental institution.
So there can be no doubt that Raul Garcia suffered immensely during his imprisonment! But what effect did those 20 years of punishment have on Garcia?
This is what Dodds then Head of Custody, De Carlo Payne, wrote about Raul Garcia in 2009 as he was nearing the end of his sentence – “he has gained a reputation for having a positive influence on the other inmates… he is courteous, polite and demonstrates a level of maturity which has been appreciated by inmates and staff alike … (he) is a true example of a person who has recognised his wrong and uses every occasion to talk to other inmates about the dangers of illegal drugs”.
Father Clement Paul, in his capacity as a Rehabilitation Officer at Dodds, has also written about Raul Garcia as follows:- “He accepted his punishment for his antecedents and responded positively to many of the correctional programmes put in place….. He is an accomplished artist and has won many awards at NIFCA …. He was among the reliable inmates in the rehabilitation group “Mission Rehabilitation” …(who)… committed themselves to helping and influencing other inmates…. Of equal importance, he was entrusted to assist and represent the institution at prestigious functions such as Holetown Festival, Bridgetown Market, and the art exhibitions of political conferences….. In 2008, having won a NIFCA gold award he achieved the privilege of selected invitee to the Prime Minister’s Award Ceremony…. I can attest to his reformed condition as a rehabilitated person”.
Does this sound like the type of man who, after serving a 20-year prison sentence, deserves to be incarcerated by our governmental authorities for an additional two and a half years (and counting) simply because he now has no country that he can call “home”.
And why is it necessary to subject to a daily 23 hour lock-down, a man who was so trusted by the prison authorities that he was permitted to leave the confines of the prison to rub shoulders with the Barbadian public at Ilaro Court, Holetown Festival, Bridgetown Market and the Barbados Labour Party’s annual conferences?
Is this the best that we can do as a supposedly Christian nation with a respect for human rights? Are we living up to the standards that Jesus Christ would expect of us? Is there really so little genuine compassion in our hearts that we are incapable of seeing in Raul Garcia a human being like ourselves, who is suffering and is deserving of a gesture of human solidarity and compassion?
*David Comissiong is the President of the Peoples’ Empowerment Party.