It's only protocol - nothing sinister in the visit

HOPEFULLY, it has by now been established that Haitian President Martelly's brief stop-over in Nassau last week on his way to Mexico was neither at the invitation of the FNM government, nor was it an official visit.

Opposition Leader Perry Christie and Mr Fred Mitchell can now stop "looking to the Prime Minister for a clarification" of what Mr Martelly said to his people when he met with them on his arrival.

"The PLP is looking to the Prime Minister for a clarification," said a PLP statement. "The Bahamas government must explain what was meant because it was under their invitation that he came and made his address."

In fact, Mr Christie should have been in a better position to get an explanation because he met with Mr Martelly in a social setting in the privacy of his own home later that day. In fact, when Mr Ingraham met formally with Mr Martelly in his office that morning, he said he did not know what the President had advised his people about voting the night before. However, Mr Christie should have known when he hosted him later that day. What is curious is that if Mr Christie were indeed concerned, why didn't he take that opportunity to get an explanation from the President himself rather than waiting for several days to use inaccurate information as a political football to throw into Mr Ingraham's court?

Another baseless rumour making the rounds is that Prime Minister Ingraham did not inform the Opposition of the President's intended stopover - the suggestion being that it was a secret conspiracy between the country's two leaders. We hope that by now that falsehood has also been put to rest. We have been told that in the House of Assembly's Smoker's Room, Mr Ingraham was overheard telling Mr Christie that Foreign Affairs had been contacted about a stop-over visit being planned for Mr Martelly. However, neither the day nor time had been finalised. He told Mr Christie that when he had more information he would let him know. If a member of Mr Christie's party was not informed, then it is to Mr Christie that he should look, not Mr Ingraham.

In a press conference, Mr Martelly said he had not urged Haitians living here to protest. Instead, he had urged them to use this country's democratic system to work in their favour.

"I could not ask my people to riot for their right; this is not what I want," he said. He made it clear that he wanted to work with the Bahamas government to stop illegal immigrants from his country coming here and taking jobs from Bahamians.

This is a quantum leap from 1992 when the FNM won the government and the relationship between Haiti and the Bahamas was such that the Bahamas had to lock up illegal Haitians in Fox Hill prison. Haiti refused to take their own people back. Since then, protocols have been established, and Haiti has only to be notified of the arrival of the aircraft from Nassau to receive their returning nationals.

Another question being asked is why did Mr Martelly have to go through all the formalities of Foreign Affairs to pass through Nassau on his way to Mexico.

We are not suggesting that this is a question being asked by Mr Christie or his colleagues, but Mr Christie would be the best person to give the answer.

Mr Christie will recall an uncomfortable experience he had when in June 2004 he attempted, as a head of state, to make an unofficial trip to the United States. Treated as Mr John Q. Public he had to take off his shoes at the airport.

There are protocols to be followed when heads of state travel -- either officially or unofficially -- from one country to another.

In Mr Christie's case, his office was late in notifying Foreign Affairs of his travel plans. As a consequence, through no fault of its own, Foreign Affairs was late in notifying the Bahamas Embassy in Washington, and, as a consequence the Bahamas Embassy was late in co-cordinating special cover for him with the US Secret Service. What made matters worse was that all US internal security -- with the 9/11 jitters of the destruction of New York's Twin Towers still uppermost in their minds -- was trying to coordinate the arrival of heads of state from around the world for the funeral of the late President Ronald Reagan. Their resources were stretched.

Despite this, it is understood that the US would have tried to have accommodated Mr Christie, but Mr Christie declined to use the Secret Service because his visit was private.

As a result, he was treated as an ordinary Joe Blow. Consequently, he could have no cause for complaint.

And so there are reasons for these protocols. Mr Martelly followed them by notifying Foreign Affairs so that he would have security protection and that doors would be opened for him while he was here.

This is just part of the system. Only the uninitiated would suggest otherwise.


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