by Emmanuel Joseph
Tonight, for the first time in almost a quarter of a century, Raul Garcia will sleep in a bed that is not owned by the state.
His 20 years of jail time for drug trafficking and more than three years of immigration detention, pending his deportation, came to an end just after 3 p.m. today, when the Cuban national, with hands raised, walked out of the Supreme Court, unescorted for the first time in seven months of hearings.
Garcia emerged from the Number 9 High Court Chambers with a broad smile, never before seen since proceedings began in front of Justice Margaret Reifer, hugging members of the Prison Ministries who had been supporting him in his quest to be freed from detention.
After spending “a few minutes” immediately outside the doors of the courtroom with his team of lawyers, the family with whom he will live and Prison Ministry officials, an emotional and visibly overwhelmed Garcia, spoke briefly with reporters on the steps of the judicial complex.
Struggling to fight back the tears, the Cuba-born man’s voice was heard in public for the first time since his “incarceration” for the past 23 years.
“I am overwhelmed, as everybody could see right now. I would like to give thanks to the thousands of people in Barbados, and who else supported me at this time,” he said, as he broke out crying and wiping away the tears that flowed from behind his glasses.
“When I feel calmer, I will come back and I will express my real feelings and everything that I would like to say; but right now, please, I am very overwhelmed,” he declared.
Minutes later, the former drug convict returned to reporters and asked to say a few more words — now that he was calmer.
After expressing his deep appreciation to his team of lawyers, led by David Comissiong, Garcia stated: “I’m sorry and I apologise for my tears at the beginning, but I was very overwhelmed. I feel a little better now, and I feel I have more time to acclimatise to this new environment, that it has taken me 19 years to come here.
“As soon as I feel better I will be willing to please any media that is present at this moment in any way they wish me to express myself. I think I have a lot of things to express and a lot of things to offer to Barbados and to the people of Barbados as well.”
The elderly husband and wife who Justice Reifer selected for Garcia to stay with, told Barbados TODAY they agreed to allow him to reside at their home in St. John because they believed everyone deserved a second chance.
“We decided to take Mr. Garcia because, we do prison ministry and we go in prison and visit the prisoners; sometimes they send us visits and so on.†We go to meet Mr. Garcia and we decided that everybody needs to have a chance,” said Bonita Belgrave.
“It wasn’t my one. There were about six of us that decided to take him in. The judge decided on us, so we will do our best and we will adhere to everything that the judge asked us to do, and we will pray for him and hope that one day soon, he would become a Seventh Day Adventist too,” Belgrave suggested as her husband James stood by her side.
Commenting on the outcome, Garcia’s legal counsel, David Comissiong exclaimed: “The day of freedom has finally come.”
Comissiong noted that there were certain conditions his client was required to honour, including having to report once per month to a particular police station and to the Immigration Department. He told reporters Garcia would be going back to the Garrison where he was detained only to collect his personal effects before moving to his new “home” in rural Barbados.
The lawyer also publicly thanked the three colleagues who had assisted him — Paula Jemmott, Ajamu Boardi and in the latter stages, Safia Moore, a young lawyer.
He also promised that a full length press conference would be held soon where Garcia would answer questions. [email protected]†