Eight Cubans seeking refugee status, yesterday pleaded not guilty to obstructing the pavement of Chancery Lane in Port of Spain when they stood before a city magistrate. They were denied bail and as such will spend Christmas Day and New Year’s Day behind bars as the next court hearing is January 8. Three children will remain in the care of the Child Protection Unit (CPU).
Yaneisy Santana Hurtado, 37; Ramon Arbolaez Abreu, 43; Allys Arbolaez Santana, 18; Yusnei Reyes Santana, 20; Gladys Lisandra Perez Molina, 22; Lisandra Farray Rodriguez, 29; Pedro Santana Madeo and Yuriet Pedrozo Gonzales, 31, appeared before Magistrate Rehanna Ali in the Third Court.
The eight are part of a larger group of almost two dozen Cubans who slept outside the United Nations (UN) Office off Chancery Lane as a way to seek refugee status in the United States. The eight entered court handcuffed in pairs under heavy police guard. They are charged for violating section 64(1)(n) of the Summary Offences Act which imposes a $200 fine and one month imprisonment to any person who in any way wilfully obstructs the free passage of any street.
The four women will stay at the Women’s Prison in Arouca while the four men will stay at either the Port of Spain prison or Golden Grove Prison in Arouca. Newsday learnt that one of the Cuban men is suffering from a kidney disease and also has a tumour. Attorneys Rajiv Persad and Christophe Rodriguez represented the Cubans, while complainants were PCs Brown and Allen.
Magistrate Ali said that because no institution is willing to accommodate the Cubans, she has no choice but to remand them into custody until their next hearing. The three Cuban children are at a Belmont house provided by the Children’s Authority, whose attorney Sharlene Jaggernauth, vowed to soon apply to the High Court for a care order and wardship order.
Present to support the Cubans were staff of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and a member of the Living Waters Community. An Immigration Department attorney told the court that his department is not taking any position on the matter involving the Cubans. The hearing took a while to get underway due to problems sourcing a translator.
The defence team supplied two translators but they later admitted to not being certified to serve in court. Ali said she had no choice but to reject them and seek certified translators. Persad pleaded that the magistrate could employ the doctrine of necessity to allow his two interpreters, but Magistrate Ali indicated she was bound by statute to use only certified translators in court matters.
Eventually, certified translator Pauline Diaz arrived at the court and Magistrate Ali asked if the defence was objecting to Diaz who had assisted police investigations in this very case. No objection was raised. As Diaz translated, one by one each defendant pleaded not guilty.
While Jaggernauth sought a care order under the Children’s Act, Magistrate Ali said she felt unable to do so as she viewed the Act’s reference to “children brought before the court”, as requiring that minors be physically brought to court. Jaggernauth countered by saying she thought the phrase did not mean any child had to come to court but merely it was an “application” on behalf of the child.
Again, Magistrate Ali said she felt restrained to make any such interpretation of the Act, leaving Jaggernauth to seek such an order, at a later date, from a High Court judge to apply for wardship. The children are aged one, three and nine years. Court prosecutor Colin Sandy said the complainants will contact Interpol to see if the Cubans have any criminal record.
There is the possibility that the children could be deemed wards of the State meaning they will be cared for by the State up until the age of 18, while the adult accused, if convicted, could possibly face deportation back to Cuba.