Jamaica’s High Commissioner to Trinidad Sharon Saunders—-
By Gary Spaulding—
Horace McFarlane, a national cycling representative, spent Christmas in jail in Trinidad after his bail was rescinded following his arrest on a fresh drug charge.
McFarlane, who is slated to appear in court early next month on the first charge, had also claimed that he was abandoned by the Jamaican Government and left “to rot” when he was first arrested.
In confirming news of the latest arrest of the cyclist who represented Jamaica at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, among other meets, Jamaica’s High Commissioner to Trinidad Sharon Saunders said McFarlane was held by T&T authorities after he allegedly attempted to export cocaine.
“It has been reported that Mr McFarlane, two weeks ago, was caught trying to export cocaine in a package at a Fedex office, He was rearrested and is now back in jail,” said Saunders.
“Mr McFarlane got bail on the basis that he was in there a long time. A number of Jamaicans, out of the goodness of their hearts, collected money and gave him household materials to assist him,” said.
She admitted that she was still upset by claims that McFarlane was ignored by the Jamaican authorities.
“Sometimes people scream and rush to the media to create a sensational scene … it is because he is a national cyclist, he was trying to use that to get sympathy.
“Mr McFarlane has made all these claims that we were not assisting, that we were not doing enough for him when this was not so … this is so far from the truth,” said Saunders.
After his initial arrest, McFarlane claimed that no Jamaican representatives visited the prison to check on their nationals who are locked up in the twin-island republic, allowing Trinidadian prison officials to believe that they could have a free hand in abusing Jamaicans.
He was initially arrested after police raided a house where he was staying in Trinidad and found a quantity of cocaine and marijuana.
McFarlane claimed that although he was not the owner of the property and the drugs were not found in the room that he was occupying, he was jointly charged with the persons he was visiting.
He further alleged that he was treated badly while in custody because he was a Jamaican.
But Saunders contended that she did all in her power to ensure that McFarlane’s human rights were not breached after he was first arrested.
She also rejected the claim that there was no visits to the prison where he was held.
“When the prison visit was held, we understood that he was being cared for like every other inmate and he had legal representation,” said Saunders.
She told The Sunday Gleaner that when her office heard of McFarlane’s plight by way of the news media, sympathetic Jamaicans rallied to assist by collecting money and providing other forms of material aid to make him comfortable as he fought his case.
“They were even trying to get his cycle from Jamaica, so that he could exercise while on bail,” she disclosed.
Saunders explained that Mc-Farlane’s situation was not helped by the heavy backlog of cases weighing down the judicial processes in T&T.
“Because there is such a backlog of cases, particularly those that need forensic evidence to be put before the court, the forensic laboratories cannot process these samples in time, so what you find is that they go to court and are rolled over every three weeks because a magistrate has to extend their custody.”
According to Saunders, persons like McFarlane, who are incarcerated in a foreign state on criminal charges, tend to harbour unrealistic expectations of the Jamaican Government.
“We (in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Foreign Affairs Services) need to manage expectations more properly,” Saunders declared.
“It is a process of education and, unfortunately, even after all these years, the role of a diplomatic mission is not widely understood or appreciated. ”
Saunders said the difficulty in explaining the mandate lies in the fact that many aspects are intangible.
“In respect of individuals who are arrested in a foreign country, the Vienna Convention behoves the authorities to advise the consular representative that they have an individual in custody,” she explained.
However, she said not all countries do this systematically, possibly because out of ignorance or lack of capacity to do so.
“Even though the consular representation is here, we are not necessarily aware of that, and we are not made aware until long after the fact,” she stressed.
“Our role is basically to talk to the authorities to intercede if this person has a particular need … our role is not to provide legal representation, or attend court on your behalf. We don’t have that capacity. What we can do is to give a list of lawyers that you can contract privately,” she stressed.
The veteran diplomat said once the consular office is made aware that a Jamaican is in custody in a foreign prison, it is required to pay a visit to that facility to ensure that the person is in good health and that all physical and welfare needs are being taken care off.
But there is a catch. “A lot of individuals (in custody) don’t want their families to know … sometimes they are here in prison for years and they say don’t tell … they are ashamed.”
Saunders said when McFarlane was first arrested, the Jamaican High Commission in Trinidad was not contacted.
“It was in the news that we learnt of his arrest,” she disclosed. “We became aware through the news, not through any official channel initially … it was after a newspaper report that Kingston got involved and asked us to check it out.”
According to Saunders, her office regularly telephones the prison to speak to prisoners in order to find out about their welfare.
She said this was the case when her office heard that McFarlane was in custody.
“My consular officer spoke to Mr McFarlane several times, asking about his health, what was happening to him, and whether he had legal representation.
“I spoke to him, asked him about the circumstances of his arrest, and he told me that he legal representation and he was going through process, so he was ‘okay’,” said Saunders.
“So it was very surprising when it came out in the news again, sometime later, that somehow he was left to rot by the Jamaican Government.”