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Letter from Havana appeals to Taoiseach for help

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN — A London-Irish secretary who claims she is innocent of the drug-related charges that have left her facing a 15 years sentence in Cuba has made an impassioned plea for help in a personal letter to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

Rachel McGee, 24, was on holidays in Havana in November 1998 when she was arrested.

"I don’t know what you can do to help me but I am asking you to try," McGee says in the hand-written letter which was delivered to the Taoiseach this week.

The letter was brought from the Havana jail by McGee’s mother, Maureen, 47, who lives in Canning Town in London but was originally from Kilrush, Co Clare. Rachel’s father, who is dead, was from Belfast.

Confirming they had received the letter, a spokesman for the Taoiseach said they would be looking into the matter.

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The spokesman said the Taoiseach was on holiday, but added that the letter will be referred to the Department of Foreign Affairs. Ireland has no embassy in Havana but the Ambassador in Mexico deals with relations with Cuba.

McGee says in her letter that she has been the victim of a terrible injustice.

"I’ve been accused of coming here to Cuba with the intent to supply a controlled substance, so I’m told. Do you not find it strange when I was arrested with no drugs?

I had no intention of coming to Cuba to be involved in any drug related crime. I can prove this but have been refused point blank the chance to do so," she writes.

"I’m asking you to help me find out why. I believe that withholding justice from an innocent person is a crime in itself."

McGee writes that she approached the Irish government after British officials have refused to assist her. She accuses the British of being "cold, wicked and heartless."

McGee’s mother, a mother of five, recently spent a week in Havana and was able to visit her daughter every day while she was there.

"She was delighted to see me but she is not too good obviously. It’s terrible seeing her in jail when she is totally innocent," she said. "The British Foreign Office tried to stop me going to Cuba and said I would be arrested if I went. They seemed to be trying to block the visit. I can’t understand it."

McGee’s mother desribed the prison where she is being held as a military camp. Her daughter has lost a lot of weight. The commandant assisted in the visits and the prison staff also believe she is innocent, the mother said.

"They knew about the plea to the Taoiseach and said he must fight to get her home," the woman’s mother said.

McGee had been offered a cheap £200 holiday by acquaintances of friends who told her someone had booked it but was unable to go.

She was arrested when she stopped and inquired about a melee involving people who had flown from London with her. About a year later, a charge of association with drug smuggling was brought against her.

Her family understands that around the time of her arrest, four Jamaicans were arrested at Havana Airport trying to import cocaine. One of them appears to have given a name of a British man who was staying at the same hotel as McGee.

Her brother David, 28, said there had been a "terrible catalogue of mistakes" in Cuba and no one seemed to be able to help unravel it. "We’re at our wits end and hope Mr Ahern can help."

Clare TD Brendan Daly, who is based in Kilrush, also said he would be looking into the case. "I would be deeply concerned if there has been a miscarriage of justice," he said.

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