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Thursday, August 22, 2013
The brisk, rude utterances by Fred Mitchell, Minister of Foreign Affairs, on the recent allegations of abuse of Cuban nationals detained at Carmichael Road Detention Centre in The Bahamas ...suggests that he does not have ...or is ignoring the advice on the matter from professional diplomats
Opinion: The Cowboy Diplomat
Tribune 242 Guest Commentary by Kirkland Turner
Nassau, The Bahamas
is a humorous catchphrase about diplomacy – it’s the “art of telling
someone to go to hell and having them look forward to the journey”. In a
nutshell, diplomacy is not about who carries the biggest stick, who
shouts the loudest or who proves to be the rudest in international
exchanges. The international landscape is not a school yard where poorly
behaved boys scrimmage to prove “who’s the man”.
dictionary describes diplomacy as the art and practice of conducting
negotiations between representatives of groups or nations. Successful
diplomacy is polite, well-mannered, respectful and gracious even when it
requires the delivery of difficult messages and positions.
reference to international diplomacy, it describes the conduct of
relations between two or more countries through the mediation or
negotiation of professional diplomats with regard to issues of
peace-making, culture, economics, and trade. International agreements
are typically negotiated by professional diplomats prior to endorsement
by national politicians.
Bahamas-US Relationship is the singularly most important relationship
for our country. So, our self-interest dictates that this relationship
is tendered by seasoned, experienced individuals with a good
understanding of the myriad issues that make-up our relationship.
Regrettably, today, it appears that those now in charge of Bahamian
diplomacy, particularly as regards our relationship with the United
States, have not got a clue.
The Consequences of Cowboy Diplomacy
important area of discussion between The Bahamas and the United States
of America, and on a larger plain with the international human rights
establishment, has been the treatment of undocumented persons detected,
arrested and detained by Bahamian authorities.
brisk, rude utterances by Fred Mitchell, Minister of Foreign Affairs,
on the recent allegations of abuse of Cuban nationals detained in The
Bahamas suggests that he does not have or is ignoring the advice on the
matter from professional diplomats.
begs the question of who is advising the Minister. It seems that this
Christie-led administration has removed or sidelined its professional
diplomatic corps in favour of a cadre of political friends and
associates to the detriment of the interests of our country.
more than a year, we were alone in the Caribbean having no resident
Ambassador in the US capital, Washington, DC. Today, 20th August, on the
eve of Mr Christie’s 70th birthday and following months of agitation
for comment on the matter from the Opposition, the Government sheepishly
announced what has long been rumoured – that the Bahamian Permanent
Representative to the United Nations (UN), septuagenarian Dr Eugene
Newry, is to switch positions with Elliston Rahming, becoming the
Bahamian Ambassador E&P to Washington. The terse announcement from
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that Mr Rahming will continue
to serve as Permanent Representative to the Organization of American
States (OAS) in Washington, DC, and assume the Permanent Representative
Post at the UN in New York. This compromise is an expensive undertaking.
If Mr Rahming is to properly fulfil his obligations before both the
United Nations and the OAS, it will require weekly travel between the
two cities and often enough require overnight stays.
The Bahamas also continues to be alone in the English-speaking Caribbean in having no American Ambassador resident in Nassau.
This state of affairs cannot be good for our relationship.
Obie Wilchcombe, the Minister of Tourism, and not the Minister of
Foreign Affairs, Fred Mitchell, met with US Government representatives
in Florida to discuss the most recent allegations about the treatment of
Cuban nationals in The Bahamas.
recently still, we have had the most startlingly irresponsible verbal
insults thrown at US Congressional Representatives by the Minister of
Foreign Affairs. Mr Mitchell has opined that US Congressional
Representatives do not reflect the views or opinions of the US
Administration. In his view, presumably what these individuals had to
say on US-Bahamas relations is irrelevant. Mr Mitchell is
American-educated; he either knows better or ought to know better. If he
is not listening to the concerns of Senators Bill Nelson and Marco
Rubio and US Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, he should know that the
US Administration – the same Obama-led Administration that refused to
recognise Mr Elliston Rahming as Bahamas Ambassador to the US and who
has not bothered to appoint a US Ambassador to The Bahamas – listens to
the views and opinions of American Senators and Congressmen! And, Mrs
Ros-Lehtinen is the Chairperson of the powerful US House Foreign Affairs
Mitchell has similarly been rudely dismissive of overtures from the
Government of Panama regarding the possible interests of that country to
offer residence to certain Cuban nationals detained in New Providence.
While the Panamanian offer may not be practical given agreements in
place between The Bahamas and the Republic of Cuba, there is no reason
for the boorish behaviour of the Minister in discussing a proposal
commented upon by the Panamanian Honorary Consul in The Bahamas, Mr
David McGrath. Mr McGrath is a long time resident of The Bahamas and
the McGrath family has long been considered “true friends” of The
said, The Bahamas has been challenged by the inflow of undocumented
persons or illegal immigrants for more than half a century. While people
of many nationalities have been arrested, detained and repatriated from
The Bahamas over many decades, people from Haiti and Cuba have posed
the most difficult to deal with.
Challenges Presented by Undocumented Economic Migrants
the first FNM Government came to office in 1992, illegal immigrants
found in The Bahamas were detained at Her Majesty’s Prison at Fox Hill
together with persons detained for numerous other offences, some
violent. This ran contrary to all international agreements and treaties
concerned with the treatment of refugees or undocumented persons.
Notwithstanding that only a small number of persons entering The Bahamas
illegally actually meet the standard of an internationally recognised
“political refugee”, the first FNM Government of The Bahamas took early
steps to remove immigration violators from the prison and relocated them
to more humane accommodation at an Immigration Detention Centre it
created at Carmichael Road.
Detention Centre has had a difficult history not least of all because
of the added financial burden its creation, staffing, maintenance and
upkeep have created for The Bahamas.
Cuban nationals ending up in The Bahamas have come because their
intended travel to the United States has been interrupted – by bad
weather, shoddy sailing vessels, etc. During the early 1990s, most of
those with relatives in the United States were quickly able to arrange a
transfer to Florida which kept their numbers in The Bahamas down.
with the adoption of the “US wet foot, dry foot” policy during the
Clinton Administration, Cuban nationals leaving their home island and
being stranded in The Bahamas discovered that they were no longer
welcomed in the United States.
new US policy admitted that most Cubans seeking to depart their home
country were economic and not political refugees. The US also agreed
that it would accept such Cuban economic immigrants who were successful
in landing on US territory; eg “dry foot”. Those immigrants detained at
sea “wet foot” would be returned to Cuba. The US Government also agreed
to cooperate with The Bahamas in intercepting “refugee-laden vessels” –
whether from Haiti or Cuba – when detected in international waters or in
Bahamian waters so that the immigrants could be expeditiously and
safely returned to their countries of origin.
to return to their home island, Cuban nationals successfully landing In
The Bahamas and aware of the new US policy which would not permit their
easy transfer to that country have sought refugee status in The
Bahamas. Most among this group continue to harbour hopes of eventually
relocating to the United States.
Enter the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
small Bahamian economy cannot absorb large numbers of economic
immigrants. Moreover, were we to agree to extend economic refugee status
to Cuban migrants, we would be forced to adopt a similar position
toward requests from large numbers of economic refugees from many other
countries, notably Haiti and other near-neighbour Caribbean countries.
with the dilemma, The Bahamas, during the 1990s, engaged the assistance
of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees in
dealing with the growing numbers of undocumented persons arriving in The
Bahamas and seeking to remain here. With the assistance of the UNHCR,
The Bahamas was able to develop a protocol for interviewing new
arrivals, separating out political from economic migrants and arranging
for the timely, humane repatriation of economic migrants to their
country of origin.
success of this programme of repatriation has been dependent on The
Bahamas also reaching agreement with the Governments of the Republic of
Haiti and the Republic of Cuba, to accept their undocumented nationals
being repatriated from The Bahamas. It should be recognised that having
entered into such agreements with Cuba and Haiti The Bahamas cannot
arbitrarily renege on the terms of the agreements and approve select
number of economic migrants who may arbitrarily be facilitated in
relocating to a third country if and when such offers might materialise.
This would not augur well for orderly relations between The Bahamas and
the governments of Haiti or Cuba.
detention and repatriation exercises of primarily Haitian and Cuban
nationals have been continuous over the past 15 to 20 years. They have
been costly for The Bahamas, a small developing country with limited
financial resources. No foreign country and no international agency,
that we are aware of, has ever made financial assistance available to
The Bahamas Government to defray these costs. Further, no country has
ever agreed to offer undocumented economic migrants arriving in The
Bahamas safe passage and residence in their country.
costs of detaining, housing and repatriating undocumented nationals
have been aggravated by the sometimes violent protests against
confinement by immigration detainees. Apart from damage to furniture and
supplies, these protests have resulted in serious damage to portions of
the Detention Centre, including destruction of a dormitory by fire.
Protesting Cuban Detainees
at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre have been almost exclusively
carried out by Cuban nationals, sometimes with the vociferous support
and financial backing of some Cuban nationals’ resident in either The
Bahamas or in the United States of America.
the most recent staged protest against their confinement in The
Bahamas, Cuban nationals have released a staged video in which it is
alleged that Cuban detainees at the Carmichael Detention Centre are
subject to abuse by their Bahamian minders. The video is universally
believed to be a fake by Bahamians of all political persuasions.
However, there is a growing unease among some Bahamians that
notwithstanding the bogus video, some allegations of abuse made against
some Bahamian Immigration or Defence Force Officers posted at the
Carmichael Road Immigration Detention Centre may have elements of truth.
vehemently denying the authenticity of the staged video, the Government
maintained a period of silence on any allegation of abuse at the
Detention Centre. As leaks of reports of Cuban nationals being treated
at the Princess Margaret Hospital for wounds possibly sustained during a
break-out from the Detention Centre, the Minister of Foreign Affairs
confirmed that investigations of allegations of abuse or use of
excessive force in the recapture of escapees from the Detention Centre
human rights activists have long campaigned against allegations of
abuse against police and prison officers. And reports of human rights
abuse have long been attached to tactics employed by immigration
officers conducting immigration raids at the residences or in
neighbourhoods frequented by undocumented migrants. It is not too
far-fetched then for some to believe that some Immigration Officers
might, in their exercise of their duties, exceed acceptable and
sanctioned “use of force” when dealing with escaping immigration
Mitchell has said that it is not Bahamian Government policy to abuse
detainees. Of course, he is correct on that score. But that does not
mean that abuse does not happen. Allegations of abuse must be
investigated, vigorously and expeditiously. It is not good enough to say
that allegations are being looked into and then carry on with “business
Minister has also engaged in juvenile bully diplomacy suggesting that
Bahamian nationals adopt a “my country right or wrong” attitude in the
face of allegations of abuse from Cuban Americans and threaten a
Bahamian boycott of South Florida businesses.
Mitchell’s suggestion of a Bahamian boycott is so immature and childish
as to provoke laughter. Mr Mitchell must have some new secret market
for Bahamian tourism and a more convenient source for the importation of
so many of the essentials to life in The Bahamas now obtained from and
through South Florida.
the Minister has forgotten that tourism is the mainstay of our economy;
that 90 plus per cent of our tourists come from the United States and
that fully half of those originate from or transit South Florida on
their way to our shores! Mr Mitchell has clearly forgotten that the
money which Bahamians spend in South Florida is money made from American
investments and American visitors to our country.
is not child’s play. It is now urgent for the Minister of Foreign
Affairs who also holds responsibility for Immigration, to bring the
investigation into the alleged abuse of Cuban nationals to a speedy
results of that investigation should be made public and if it is
determined that any officers or group of officers inflicted unnecessary
harm on escaping detainees, they should be disciplined up to and
including having criminal charges laid where warranted.
casual attitude toward physical violence in law enforcement circles
cannot be tolerated by a democratic government which maintains its
respect for the human rights of all individuals living or resident in
our country and which, as a member of the United Nations, has affirmed
its commitment to respect and observe the international human rights
The Bahamas Government must do the necessary to restore Bahamian-US
Relations to the warm and mutually advantageous footing. This can only
bode well for the progress of both our peoples. That requires Prime
Minister Christie placing responsibility for the conduct of the foreign
affairs of our country in the hands of a new foreign minister, one
capable of making appropriate recommendations for senior diplomatic and
consular posts that would not cause embarrassment to the country, one
not given to wasting scarce dollars pretending to open a Consulate
General in Washington, DC, where a full Bahamas Embassy exists, one who
will not needlessly rent extravagant accommodation for the high
commissioner in London and one who will not undertake at public expense
questionable travel around the globe unaccompanied by professional