By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE savage knife attack of a Bahamian at a Pembroke Pines eatery over the weekend, while “unfortunate,” does not warrant a formal advisory for Bahamians travelling to the United States, two Cabinet ministers have said.
In the aftermath of the vicious assault on Harold Williams, a Bahamasair manager reportedly in Florida for medical reasons, there was initial speculation that the incident was a hate crime and required some level of an advisory. US police have said they are not investigating the matter as a hate crime.
In separate interviews outside of Cabinet yesterday, both Foreign Affairs Minister Darren Henfield and Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar speculated the Bahamas would incur more harm than good if it responded with a travel advisory.
“It is extremely unfortunate,” Mr D’Aguilar told reporters. “It demonstrates (that) no matter where you travel, you have to be careful and that you can become a victim of crime.
“… One must be careful when one goes to the United States. And one might argue especially if you’re a black male, you have to be especially careful. But you know, every tourist destination has its issues and (America has) theirs; and I will leave it at that.”
When asked about public calls for a travel advisory, he added: “I think that we have to be very mindful that 74 percent of our foreign visitors come from the United States … it’s a heck of a lot more impactful when they issue a travel advisory as opposed to when we issue a travel advisory.”
Addressing the occurrence in line with the travel warnings issued by the US State Department in recent years, the Freetown MP said it would be in the Bahamas’ better interest to avoid a “tit-for-tat” with the United States, claiming it to be a battle the country “will never win”.
“Our economy is extremely reliant on foreign visitors from the United States, and so we must tread very cautiously in how we respond to their travel advisories,” Mr D’Aguilar contended.
Referring to the government’s recent “push back” stance for recurring advisories being issued against the Bahamas, Mr D’Aguilar added: “But also, we try to impress upon them that they must very mindful of how impactful their travel advisory can be on our economy. You know, that’s our job to sensitise them.”
Meanwhile, Mr Henfield called the attack a “non-sequitur” in the overall discussion on the safety of Bahamians in the United States and potential for hate crimes against them.
He said the attack, while “unfortunate,” was not common to the thousands of Bahamians who travel to the United States every year.
When asked directly if his ministry had considered issuing a travel advisory in the wake of the incident, Mr Henfield responded: “Absolutely not.”
“We just witnessed in New Zealand a real hate crime where 50 persons lost their lives. We sent to New Zealand a (diplomatic) note lamenting the fact that this instance took place in mosques in their country and that our thoughts and prayers are with them.
“How many moments do we know of that… Bahamians have been attacked in this fashion which will warrant us sending a warning to Bahamians travelling to Florida? For me, that’s a non-sequitur,” he said.
“I don’t want to speculate on conjecture. One is too much, if it is a hate crime, one is too much and it is intolerable and should not be tolerated by anyone or supported by any country, ok. But I am not going to speculate on conjecture,” he added.
He also said: “The government of the Bahamas will always act in the best interest of Bahamians, in their security and in their economy. If we feel that Bahamians are threatened to any country that they travel to, an advisory will come forward.”
“In this instance, we don’t feel we need to,” he said.
Mr Williams, in an interview with 7News Miami on Monday, said he was in Florida to pick up medication and was running errands on Saturday when he stopped at Pines Market - 9610 Pines Boulevard - a sandwich shop - to use the restroom.
He said a man behind the counter said he could use the restroom there. As he was walking to the restroom, the assailant attacked him, he said.
Pembroke Pines police subsequently arrested 24-year-old Fawaz Hassan, an employee of the business.
He has been charged with aggravated battery.