Yes, it was right to put out the advisory.
No, it was not.
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By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE United States Embassy released a security message yesterday urging its citizens and US visitors in Nassau and Paradise Island to exercise heightened personal security awareness, pointing out that armed robberies and violent crime remain primary criminal threats.
The security message is the second advisory issued by the local mission this year and notes that the embassy has received reports of a significant increase in armed robberies throughout New Providence over the past six months.
It comes days after the Bahamas government issued its own travel advisory warning Bahamians, particularly young men, to be compliant and exercise extreme caution when interacting with American police due to escalating tensions over recent fatal police shootings in the US.
Yesterday, embassy spokesperson David Allen insisted that there was no link to the July 8 advisory sent out by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Mr Allen explained that the embassy recently put its staff and their families on alert due to increasing reports of armed robberies, and as such was legally required to issue a similar message to its citizens.
“The protection of US citizens is US Embassy Nassau’s top priority,” he said.
“In carrying out this responsibility, we periodically send messages to ensure that US citizens are aware of ongoing issues and trends that may affect their safety and security while traveling abroad.
“The embassy recently warned its staff and their families to exercise additional caution due to increasing reports over the past six months of armed robberies on New Providence and Paradise Island targeting patrons of ATM machines, parking venues at retail locations, and armed carjackings. The embassy is legally required to issue a similar message to US citizens.”
Mr Allen added: “Our July 12 message to US citizens was not linked in any way to the July 8 travel advisory issued by the Bahamas Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“Just as the United States has a responsibility to inform its citizens when traveling abroad, the Bahamian government has the same right and responsibility to inform its citizens traveling to the United States.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ warning went viral after it was issued and has come under fire from American commentators who argue that the notice was political - a claim Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell has denied.
Mr Mitchell said yesterday that he believed the timing of the US advisory was not politically motivated but coincidental, and declined further comment.
The US Embassy’s message read: “This message is to remind US citizens resident and visiting New Providence Island (Nassau) and Paradise Island to be mindful of their surroundings at all times and employ practical personal security awareness when in public and at home to avoid being a victim of crime.
“Over the course of the past six months,” it continued, “the US Embassy has received reports of a significant increase in armed robberies throughout New Providence, specifically targeting patrons of ATM machines, parking venues at various retail locations, and armed carjackings.”
Five police officers were killed and seven wounded last Thursday during a protest in Dallas, Texas, over the fatal shootings of two black men by police, Alton Sterling in Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Minnesota.
Two other countries, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, have also warned their citizens travelling to the US to be careful in view of the incidents last week, according to international reports.
The US Embassy’s security message is the second warning of its kind this year. The first was sent out in January after an American woman was allegedly raped by a man riding a jet ski at Cabbage Beach.
Days after that incident, the local mission warned American citizens and visitors to “be aware of their surroundings and remain on heightened alert to avoid being victims of crime” and to not patronise jet ski operators in this country.
It further noted that US Embassy personnel were “prohibited” from using jet ski rentals in Nassau, saying the industry is “minimally regulated”.
Yesterday’s advisory urged US citizens to avoid using ATM machines in isolated areas or when alone, and to keep car doors locked and windows rolled up when driving. Other tips included how to act in a violent or threatening situation, if followed or confronted by armed criminals.
“Do not display or wear expensive jewelry that may make you a target for criminals,” the advisory read. “Avoid wearing gold necklaces, bracelets, expensive watches, or other flashy jewelry.”
It continued: “In traffic or in a stopped line of cars, leave at least a half a car length between your vehicle and the car in front of you to provide an escape path. This also prevents a chain reaction accident in the event that you get hit from behind and pushed into the car in front of you.”
Last month, Minister of National Security Dr Bernard Nottage said that overall crime in the Bahamas had dropped by 29 per cent from January 1 to June 14 compared to the same period in 2015.
In 2015, the US Embassy issued just one security message to its citizens living and travelling to the Bahamas appealing for heightened security awareness during the holiday season.
The embassy sent out four security messages in 2014.