On Friday, September 4, 2009, approximately a dozen Brooklyn, New York tourists aboard Carnival Cruises docked at the twin-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda. According to six of the tourists from the twelve in the original traveling group, what should have been a simple taxi ride to sight-see turned into a dispute over the fare.
We were initially told the ride was $50, which we were fine with, the
group said in a statement. Instead, they continue, The driver hiked the fare to $100 at the conclusion of the ride, and when we refused to pay that amount, he drove us to the police station. The six say that the mostly young and female group was beaten by plainclothes men and women and uniformed police officers, who then turned around and arrested half the group for assaulting said officers, among other charges. Three weeks later the Antigua 6, as theyve come to be known, remain holed up in a foreign country as a trial that is hugely slanted against them drags, with no conclusion in sight.
The six detainees are four young women and two young men and all are of either American or Caribbean heritage. And they are not thugs as has been reported on blogs and in various news accounts. They are the best we have to offer in America: Rachel Henry, age 27, certified chef, fashion and runway model; Shoshannah Henry, age 24, singer-songwriter, law school student; Dolores Lalanne, age 25, social worker; Nancy Lalanne, age 22, licensed practical nurse; Joshua Jackson, age 25, crew chief for international airline, customer service representative for utilities company; and Mike Pierre-Paul, age 25, licensed practical nurse.
tourists: One, why hasnt the Obama administration stepped in, at a higher level, to settle a dispute that should have been over in a matter of days? Second, what, precisely, are the politicians in these Americans home districts doing to help? I am especially referring to the two New York state Senators and those Congressional members in whose communities these young people reside? I cannot imagine the late Senator Ted Kennedy having this happen to taxpayers in his beloved Massachusetts and him not putting his staffers all over this. Finally, what does it say about our nation if our citizens can save their money for a vacation, as these folks did, make that journey, and the moment they are in international terrain with unsavory cab drivers (the cab driver in question was not even registered with the local taxi association) they are subjected to extortion, and worse, if they dare resist the profit-before-people mindset of a tiny nation that needs tourism dollars to survive and thrive? Is there any protection for American travelers, or are we simply on our own?
Unsettling, too, is the relative silence of Carnival Cruises. To date, the
Americans loved ones have not so much as received a phone call or a letter of support from this cruise giant. Never mind that Micky Arison and his family have built a massive fortune off the backs of working Americans who save their pennies for these once in a lifetime jaunts from island to island. (Arison also happens to be the owner of the Miami Heat basketball team.) While I certainly commend Nicole Theriot, Consul General to the U.S. Embassy in Barbados for spending a good deal of time in Antigua trying to help these Americans, she is now gone, and the young people remain detained.
Nearly a year ago, we implored young Americans like the Antigua 6 to get out and vote, and they did, in record numbers. A year later it seems no one wants to hear their voices, nor aid them in their time of need, as they miss school, work, and their families back home. Be it the General Assembly, the G-20, the Congressional Black Caucus, or President Obama himself, someone must step up and demand justice and an immediate end to this sad debacle.