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Editorial: So, How Did We Get Here?

“I’m going to build a wall, a big one, and keep these people out.” So promised Donald Trump and in doing so pulled on the cord of white America’s deep seated fear of immigration and won himself a seat in the White House.

In the UK, British premier David Cameron also thought he’d hit on an electoral winner by promising the public a vote on whether the country should stay or leave the European Union. Forget what many claim - all Cameron was doing was trying to put a lid on internal battles within his Conservative Party which have haunted it since Britain joined its European neighbours.

Unfortunately for Cameron he’d let the genie out of the bottle - exactly as happened in the US. Having seen millions of East Europeans enter the country - legally - over the previous decade white, migrant-fearing Britons said “enough” and the result was Brexit. Exit Cameron leaving his successor Theresa May to cope with the fallout - to date, incredibly badly.

And so to our own Prime Minister.

On October 11 last year, Dr Minnis stood up in parliament and announced his government’s new priority. More jobs? Education? Crime? Power? Health? Fighting corruption? All those topics which had dominated the months leading up to May’s election and which had swept the FNM into power.

No, the issue which Dr Minnis now felt desperately needed to be tackled was illegal Haitian migrants.

Reporters covering the assembly that day scratched their heads. Where had this come from - not a mention of it in the FNM manifesto of just a few short months ago?

So what had changed? The migrants have pretty much always been there, doing the jobs Bahamians won’t do themselves, a large, silent underclass who - at some point in their own family’s history - made the desperate journey from Haiti in the hope of a better life here or, if they were lucky, further north in the US. Some still try to make the same journey but, thanks to the RBDF, most are picked up en route or after their sloop runs aground.

Cynics drew the conclusion that five months into government Dr Minnis had quickly realised he needed something to divert the public’s attention from his new government’s attempts to deliver what they’d promised. It clearly hadn’t taken them long to discover that with no money to spend, tens of millions more in debts uncovered, their hands were going to be pretty much tied - certainly in the early years in office when “quick wins” would be expected.

So, if it was good enough for Trump and for Cameron, find a scapegoat and turn the spotlight on them.

Stage One. A deadline of December 31 to leave the country. Harsh words from the PM and his ministers. Get regularised or get out - that was the message.

In the shanty towns of New Providence, Abaco and the Family Islands families’ first real concerns started to surface. They’d seen such initiatives before and come through them. How hard was this one going to be?

With his new near-absolute majority in the House, Dr Minnis could be excused for thinking he was going to get his way in all things in government and outside.

There were others who saw things differently, chief among them Fred Smith the extravagant - and for many - deeply unpopular human rights lawyer. Thing with Fred - who’d been among the loudest champions to help the FNM into office - is he loves a scrap, especially when he sees something is wrong and the law - as he understands it - is on his side.

He didn’t pick this fight. He had high hopes for Dr Minnis, his Attorney General Carl Bethel and Immigration Minister Brent Symonette.

The fight came to him when the first victims of Dr Minnis’ surprise offensive started knocking on his door.

First was the family of Jean Charles Jean Rony who had been pulled off the streets of the country where he was born, thrown in Carmichael detention centre and, when Fred started asking questions quoting constitution and the law, they quietly shipped Jean Rony off to Haiti. Problem was, with a little bit of help, Fred brought him back and, so far, the courts have consistently ruled Fred’s petitions are right and Mr Bethel and Co. in the wrong.

As we know the December 31 deadline came and went without much actually happening. The story died down until, on the back of fires in the Mud in Abaco, Haitian-descendant migrants came back in the government’s sights.

Round Two. If they couldn’t freely deport these people the government decided they’d knock down the houses where they lived. Again, no mention of this in the FNM manifesto. No letters demanding this in The Tribune or Nassau Guardian demanding action. Just an unprompted “pogrom” making the government look tough.

Why do they need to do it? Well, perhaps the scant progress on those other things which were supposed to change - jobs, health, education, crime, corruption - all those promises to deliver “the people’s time”.

So Fred had to put on his gloves again and get back in the ring. He’d done his homework again, read up on the law, building codes, certificates, permissions - all the things you’d have thought a caring government would have done first before knocking on someone’s door - anyone’s - and telling him “move, we’re demolishing your house”.

An unconcerned Carl Bethel tried to reassure us everything was in order and a class action brought by Fred would have little chance of success.

In went Fred’s claim and last weekend, just as he expected, a judge slapped an injunction on the government stopping them doing anything until the legality of the threatened demolitions could be proved.

To outsiders, Mr Bethel would appear to have looked less confident of his position when he announced in the Senate on Wednesday he had now brought in outside counsel to argue the government’s case. Wasn’t that exactly what happened in the ongoing corruption trials - outside lawyers parachuted in at the last minute when the government’s case appeared to be falling apart? Fred must be shaking in his boots.

So what does tomorrow bring? The story will play out in the courts over the coming months, Fred will have his victories and his setbacks as will the government.

We’ll continue to cover both sides - impartially - but driven by one thing this government seems to have forgotten: it’s humanity.

There was a glimpse it’s there this week, buried not too far beneath the surface just waiting to be revealed. It came in the story of Taranique Thurston, a teenager desperately ill who needs to travel to the US for surgery. Fred, of course, alerted us to the story because it was to him the family had turned for help. He kept out of the headlines because it was about Taranique, no-one else. We reported how she couldn’t get to the US because under current citizenship regulations she is effectively, stateless.

We put her story on the front page for the first time a fortnight ago. Surely, we thought, the government would forget the rules and jump in immediately - as it had the power to do - and help Taranique on to a plane. At first silence, so we did it again. Surely it must dawn on someone in this government to see this was an easy win. Pick up the phone, make the call, make it happen.

But another week went by until, finally, we heard moves were being made to help her.

Yesterday, the government seemed to be ending her ordeal signalling she will get there and in fact pay her airfare and the costs of her treatment.

Credit where credit is due - actions which deserve to be commended. Well done those few who took up the challenge. We won’t forget.

If only there were so much more we could applaud.

Comments

mandela 4 months, 1 week ago

The question at this time is not " How did we get here?" the question now is How do we get out of here?. The solution The government doing exactly what they are now trying to do.

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birdiestrachan 4 months ago

Points of interest Outside lawyers were parachuted in at the last moment in the corruption cases. The Bahamas Government will pay the airfare and for all the treatments for the young girl., Where is the TRUTH??

The finger prints of the outspoken QC is all over the place. The FNM Government seems to have sold their souls for zero.

There should be some Shanty Towns on the Eastern road and some next to the Drama King

property the theme song will change. why not shanty towns on the Eastern road and Smith point. Good for the goose good for all.

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birdiestrachan 4 months ago

It is written in your own newspaper the Government is not paying Taranique bills. but your Editorial page writes the Government is paying. the mother gave the impression that all she needed was the passports all other matters were all ready taken care off.

Something is not right about this story. a whole bunch of lies are being told. What is it deceivers do plant a wicked web.?? Mr. Smith knew where Charles or Jean or Roy was all along. he was playing games foolish games.

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