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Repatriation of 24 Cubans said 'blight' on Bahamas' human right record

MIAMI, Aug. 17 (UPI) -- Cuban immigrant groups in the United States have sharply criticized a decision by Bahamian officials to send 24 Cuban immigrants back to Havana.

Eight of the immigrants had been offered asylum in Panama after alleging a guard at a Nassau detention center beat them, The Miami Herald reported Saturday. Authorities in the Bahamas have said they have an agreement with Cuba to repatriate undocumented Cubans who don't qualify for political asylum.

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Ramon Saul Sanchez, head of the Democracy Movement -- an organization of Cuban exiles based in Miami -- accused Bahamian Prime Minister Perry Christie of returning the immigrants to Cuba "to hide from public view those who were tortured in his country."

He said eight of the Cubans were involved in creating a cellphone video that allegedly showed a guard at the detention center kicking several detainees on the ground. Those detainees and 11 others had been offered political asylum by Panama.

Bahamian officials claimed in July the video was faked, but U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said Friday she had been told by U.S. State Department officials that Nassau had since confirmed the video was real and fired the offending guards.

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U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., called the repatriation -- despite Panama's asylum offer -- an "utter disgrace and blight" on the Bahamas' human rights record.

He said Nassau would have to "assume the responsibility for the abuses that they [the 24] will inevitably suffer."

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