UNFORTUNATELY, as we wrote in August last year at the time of the beating of Cuban detainees at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre, our Foreign Affairs Minister is not a diplomat.
More than a year later, he is in the same position. However,, this time it is with the Haitian community as he attempts to solve the Haitian “problem”.
By the time the Cuban fiasco spun itself out to an unsatisfactory conclusion, Mr Mitchell admitted that things could have been handled differently.
However, in the intervening months, he is yet to learn how to diplomatically tell an opponent “to go to hell in such a way that they actually look forward to the trip”.
Another definition of diplomacy is that it is the art of saying “Nice doggie!“ till you can find a rock. Unfortunately, for our Foreign Affairs Minister he throws the rock before he says “nice doggie”.
As all Bahamians know, we have a “Haitian problem”. The Bahamas cannot accommodate any more illegal migrants, be they Haitian or of any other nationality. However, the Haitian problem, which got out of control during the Pindling administration – when Haitians were landed at the Coral Harbour base under the noses of the Defence Force — has reached crisis point. In the intervening years, hundreds of Haitians have produced Bahamian offspring, some now into the third generation. Many have good positions throughout our civil service and in our police force. They are Bahamians. There are others who have the same rights by birth, but do not have their papers, and in the time frame given them to get their positions regularised – knowing how slowly government’s wheels turn — the deadline given for regularisation they say is unreasonable.
However, there are hundreds of the newly arrived, many without jobs. The Bahamas cannot absorb them all. A line has to be drawn, and hard decisions have to be made. To discourage new arrivals coming to give birth here, it will have to be made known that in future having the birth of their baby here is not a passport to nationality. However, in making those decisions, Bahamians have to remember at all times that they are dealing with fellow human beings, who have to be treated humanely and with dignity.
Mr Mitchell cannot absolve the government by declaring that government has not sanctioned abuse. Although we agree that the government has not officially sanctioned abuse, there have been many incidents in which agents of the government have been guilty of abuse. And, as lawyer Mitchell knows, the employer is responsible for the actions of his employees while those employees are on the job.
Mr Mitchell made the same comments in connection with the Cuban beatings at the Detention Centre, which resulted in the hospitalisation of at least one of the inmates. On that occasion, Mr Mitchell said: “It remains to be said that the Bahamas government does not beat those in its custody.”
No one was accusing the Bahamas government of beating anyone, but some of its agents were guilty of the beatings and deserved punishment.
Mr Mitchell was in Singapore last year when the news broke in Nassau about a video of a beating of Cuban detainees at the centre. Speaking from Singapore Mr Mitchell said that he had had enough of these Cuban-American protestors “who need to give it a rest”.
Instead of assuring the protestors —Cuban-Americans in Miami who urged that tourists boycott the Bahamas — of his resolve to look into their complaints, he declared: “I’m trying to organise Bahamians in Miami and at home. If we don’t push back, then people will start to believe that it is true. All Bahamians have to speak out against this.“ Those Bahamians who didn’t speak out, especially after it was discovered that much of the accusations were true, were dismissed as traitors to their country.
Prime Minister Christie had reason to be concerned then, as he is now with the Haitian situation.
When the Haitian roundups started — Mr Mitchell objected to the use of the word “roundup” maintaining that only animals were rounded up — nevertheless when large numbers of Haitians were picked up there was a hue and cry from Haitians in Miami.
Florida state Democratic representative Daphne Campbell, who is of Haitian, Bahamian and Turks Island background, angrily called for a boycott of the Bahamas.
The Bahamas Consul cancelled a scheduled meeting with her unless she withdrew her boycott. She is critical of the new Immigration policies implemented by the Immigration Department on November 1. Ms Campbell then gave the Bahamas government one week to apologise and reverse the new policies. If not, she threatened to travel here to address them face to face. This was rather an alarming statement — a statement that was indeed out of order. It was a situation that had to be diplomatically defused.
Instead, Mr Mitchell displayed his lack of diplomacy. He called her “a fool”, adding that he “can’t have any time” for “anyone who talks about boycotting the Bahamas.”
He later denied that a meeting between herself and the Consul General in Miami was ever scheduled.
“She was told to apologise or no meeting would take place,” said Mr Mitchell, adding she can go “fly a kite”.
No matter what he thought of Ms Campbell, his words were not those of a diplomat. And as for calling her a “fool”, even the Speaker of the House would have demanded the words be withdrawn and an apology made.
Mr Christie has reason to be “worried” about the international criticism against his government. He said his government planned to start damage control by sending Mr Mitchell to Washington to explain the Bahamas’ position on Immigration. The question was would this situation have got so out of control if Mr Mitchell had known how to say “nice doggie” before throwing stones?
We understand that Ms Campbell spoke to an overflow crowd at 10 different Haitian churches in Miami yesterday, urging a Bahamas boycott. The comment was later made that “she is very popular and has a lot of support.”
We understand that Ms Gloria Louis, chairman of the National Congress of Black Women, also attended.
A boycott is being urged for outside the Bahamas Consulate, Carnival Cruise Lines and Bahamasair.
Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell certainly has a tiger by the tail. We question whether he is the best man to tame that tiger.
Prime Minister Christie has a major problem on his hands. We hope that, for the sake of this country, he can pour soothing oil on much troubled waters.