By ADRIAN GIBSON
Over the last few days, many Bahamians have pulled up a chair to observe the war of the travel advisories between The Bahamas and the United States.
On July 8, the beginning of the Independence holiday weekend, The Bahamas’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a 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.
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. The warning garnered much conversation on social media - locally and internationally - stirring feelings of pride in some Bahamians whilst off-putting others. It caused a real furore and launched the Bahamas/US cold war of the advisories.
I read the travel advisory. I believe that Fred Mitchell was right to send out such an advisory. Interestingly, the Kingdom of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates also warned their citizens travelling to the US to be careful in view of the incidents last week, according to international reports. What’s more, New Zealand issued a travel advisory warning its citizens to “avoid all protests and demonstrations as on occasion civil disorder can result”. Given the heightened racial tensions and civil unrest in the US, these countries were all concerned about the welfare of their citizens.
Of course, the United States - not being one to “take last” - released a security message, via its embassy, around 9.30am on Tuesday. The travel advisory urged US citizens and visitors in Nassau and Paradise Island to exercise heightened personal security awareness, pointing out that armed robberies and violent crime remain primary criminal threats.
That lengthy advisory must have been prepared beforehand!
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.
On Tuesday, 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.
I’m not inclined to believe that explanation. Like many, I too believe that the embassy’s warning, issued four days after the Mitchell advisory and on the morning of the first business day after the holiday, showed up the Americans as thin-skinned. Their travel advisory was a mealy-mouthed effort, an example of the US being petty. The timing was simply ridiculous. In the eyes of many Bahamians, it appears that the US can dish but cannot take in return. The US embassy’s travel advisory was exhaustive, over-the-top and clearly responsive. It was an attempt to “kill the joy” of Mitchell and spank its little, dependent neighbour.
Frankly, outside the obvious tit-for-tat approach, I think that both The Bahamas and the US issued common sense advisories to their citizens given the state of affairs in both countries. The government of the Bahamas was entitled to issue its travel advisory.
And so, the question that has arisen in some quarters is whether the advisory issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was genuinely about the interest and safety of Bahamian travellers?
Given that Fred Mitchell’s track record is such that there are those who are cynical, who say he doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt, who say that all he does is driven by political motives, one cannot be surprised at the mixed reactions. Indeed, he does not have the political capital to spend to get the people to believe that even if the advisory was issued out of genuine concern, that that is the only reason why he did it. There are many who say that Mitchell took advantage of an opportunity and took a perfectly timed political jab, playing a game of political one-upmanship with a superpower.
Many Bahamians see Fred Mitchell as a jaded, controversial self-absorbed fella with chips falling from his shoulders, head and mouth. While some might see him as competent and capable, he is easily dismissed as being one of the most insincere members of the Christie Cabinet. It is for these reasons why people question his true motivations.
I was angered and saddened by the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile at the hands of what appears to be overzealous, overaggressive police officers. I was also troubled and saddened by the murder of five Dallas police officers at the hands of a sadistic killer. Both incidents are unacceptable.
The US is seemingly facing racial tensions and conflict that threatens to tear the very fabric of that country apart. There is a concern that the very strength of their perfect union is once again being brought into question. It has been a sad few weeks to see the social fabric of that great nation strained by underlying racism, criminality, fear and a lack of dialogue that many thought was addressed and had quelled since the 1960s and 1970s.
Whilst I see nothing wrong with the warning that The Bahamas issued, I also need the Minister of Foreign Affairs to immediately address the issues faced at the Passport Office. Why should Bahamians have to wait months for a passport? What kind of Third World concept is that? Why do Bahamians have to pay an additional $200 for a rushed passport? How do they rush the passport anyhow and where do the $200 go?
I have heard the utterances of all the Doomsday prophesiers who say that, as a result of the shots fired by travel advisories, the United States and the Bahamas will no longer have the relationship they has cultivated over the years. I have heard persons claim that the US will pull out of the agreement for the Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC) base in Andros; that we will see a cessation of the pre-clearance facilities; a restriction on education and travel visas; new taxes on exports to The Bahamas; limitations on transactions using US banks; increased attention, economic aid and other favourable conditions for Cuba; and so on.
To use Fred Mitchell’s words, I think such assertions are nothing short of “hogwash.”
The relationship between The Bahamas and the United States should be able to withstand a couple travel advisories. After all, the US embassy issues travel advisories on The Bahamas often. Tuesday’s was their second for the year!
Like many Bahamians - of all hues - I am also concerned about travelling to the US, driving and being pulled over by an aggressive, unprofessional or racist police officer. However, I am no more concerned than I am about being pulled over by a belligerent, unethical and abusive police officer here in The Bahamas.
There is a matter that has been on my mind for months. I take great umbrage to the disrespectful manner with which certain US border patrol/customs agents treat Bahamians who are travelling to the United States from the Lynden Pindling International Airport. In some instances, the behaviour displayed by some of the officers is downright uncouth, boorish and disrespectful. And some of them behave this way while you are in your home country, before you even board the plane!
Are we dependent upon the US? Yes, we are. Do we have a right to exert our sovereignty? We sure do! Do we have a right to be concerned and protective of our citizens? Without question!
Did Christie or his Cabinet approve the advisory before it was issued or did Fred Mitchell draft and issue the advisory himself?
Whilst I am supportive of the issuance of such an advisory, I share the view that if the warning had come from someone seen as more credible by the public, many more persons would be inclined to see it in a different light.
Given our propensity for travelling during holidays, the advisory was the right approach to take!
• Comments and responses to firstname.lastname@example.org