By INIGO 'NAUGHTY' ZENICAZELAYA
The past few weeks, I’ve tried to focus on my personal life - my barber shop stories, and just everyday life as a father raising kids and tending to my family, which I value a lot.
As a Bahamian, I think it’s important to be be introspective and live a life outside of the usual political drama that features so prominently in so many headlines.
Alas, I see the country is once again caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place, so I have to address pressing issues. Shall we begin?
A Tale of Two Superpowers
Okay, so most people don’t refer to China as a superpower. Technically, they are a developing nation ... just like us. But now, our little ‘jewel of the Caribbean’ finds itself caught in a war of words between the two foremost economic powers in the world.
On the one hand, we have our old friends, the Americans, whose ‘larger than life’ leader, Donald Trump, has scheduled a meet and greet with our Prime Minister, Dr. Hubert Minnis, later today at his ‘winter White House’ Mar-A Lago.
Now, strictly based on our long-standing relationship and diplomatic ties with the US, such a meeting should be a standard, no-brainer. But what is simple in the Trump era?
The Americans have decided to stake a claim on what I’m sure they think is ‘their tings’ by labeling this meeting one in which our respective leaders will address the “predatory economic practices” of China.
On the other hand, China, the country that has gifted us with a sports stadium must have ingested a lot of conch and are ‘feeling themselves,’ responded by ‘blasting’ what they call as US ‘lies.’
Which leaves little old us between two ‘giants’ fighting for our affections.
Now, normally, people I would say this kind of ‘wife versus sweetheart’ conundrum would be easy for a Bahamian to navigate, but with a trade war looming between China and the US things are tricky even for a Bahamian to maneuver. And this is where diplomacy comes in.
What says our chief diplomat, Foreign Affairs Minister Darren Henfield on the matter? According to The Nassau Guardian, Mr. Henfield’s response was, “Only the White House can explain what it means by that statement.”
In other words, ‘We ain’t getting mixed up in y’all mix-up til we know fa sure what we ga get.”
Not a bad diplomatic move.
But with so much at stake, like our economic, security and strategic future, that will only hold for so long.
The United States sends millions of tourists our way every year, making them our bread and butter.
Still, by the year 2030, as well as receiving more visitors than any other country in the world, China will also have the largest number of outbound travellers, overtaking the US and Germany, with 260 million outbound tourist trips.
Many US investors have contributed to the growth of our country, and our Bahamian dollar is pegged one to one with the US Dollar.
China (more recently) has brought us Baha Mar, and a headache in the process in terms of all the drama that surrounded its eventual opening.
Bahamians share a common history (to an extent) and culture with Americans, and many of this nation’s children have been educated in American schools and colleges.
China, on the other hand, has nurtured its share of Sinophiles in this country who see opportunities unheard of in past generations.
In fact, according to The Tribune, the former Minster of a Foreign Affairs, Fred Mitchell ‘yesterday urged the Minnis administration to have the US government make clear its change in policy related to bilateral relations between countries like the Bahamas and China.’
No doubt Mr. Mitchell is still living in the ‘Obama years, ‘ when everything was a lot simpler.
But Mr. Trump is not simple. Chinese leader Xi Jingping is not simple. And these two world leaders are caught in a game of ‘cat and mouse.’ And yes, both probably view The Bahamas as the cheese.
Our PM, Doc Minnis, undoubtedly shares a kinship with Donald Trump and often criticised former prime minister Christie (and company) for basically sucking up to China.
What does this all mean? Only the Father knows.
What I do know, however, is I will watch as these diplomatic machinations play out, as I am sure many Bahamians will.
Will the ‘wife’ or the ‘sweetheart’ win? I hate to be so basic but in truth this is a battle Bahamians have been pondering longer than time.
Too bad our ‘friends across the pond’ are so caught up in their disastrous Brexit. We are, last time I checked still, remarkably, a constitutional monarchy after all. Still, we are on our own with this one.
“We have no lasting friends, no lasting enemies, only lasting interests”- Winston Churchill
Finally the topic of legalizing Marijuana has been sparked up (no pun intended) in the Bahamas, again.
Thanks to Fred Smith, lighting the controversial topic a blaze, once again with his comments regarding decriminalizing, small amounts of marijuana.
After years of secretive back room discussions, it appears the citizenry of the 242 want their voices to be heard loud and clear.
Both those who are pro, aswell as those con on the issue, eant their voices and contributions to the debate to be heard.
A not to distant in the past, Tribune poll showed that 77.78% of Bahamians agreed that Marijuana should be decriminalized, while 22.28% believe it should not.
Previous town hall meetings organized by CARICOM’s Regional Commission on Marijuana drew strong positions from those attending.
Those in attendance were lively and passionately in favour of the decriminalisation and legalisation of marijuana.
However it remains to be seen how accurately the audience represented all Bahamians’ views.
Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis will devoted a day of Cabinet meetings to discuss marijuana and marital rape with his ministers, according to Press Secretary (Is he or isn’t he ?) Anthony Newbold.
I also remember Newbold saying previously :
“Cabinet will spend a day discussing that and will have that discussion before any other movement is made with respect to that. The prime minister has said and continues to emphasise that whatever happens, the Bahamian people must have a say in whatever that final decision is determined to be. That decision will be made after the Bahamian people have had an opportunity to weigh in extensively on that issue just like any other.”
Wow! They say, they dedicated a whole day to disscusing the matter.
We have many pertinent issues nationally that need to be adressed, so to see a whole day devouted by the government to one matter, tells me said matter is one of importance.
And may hold alot more weight than people think.
I applaud Dr. Minnis’ bravado in saying he’s be putting such a sensative issue to the citizens of the Bahamas, for their input on the matter.
I’m still waiting for it to officially be put to the citizenry, for a final decision. Lots of discussion, and more discussions, but still nothing tangible.
Now, hopefully,he will take heavily in to consideration the wishes of the people, like he has stated, before making any final decision on the topic.
The reviews are mixed among the Minnis cabinet.
Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest told reporters “ I do not subscribe to this train of thought, the Bahamas must chart the way for itself. Whatever steps the country takes should align with its own traditions, culture and values.”
State Minister for Legal Affairs Elsworth Johnson also emphasised that to ensure the conversation about legalising or decriminalising marijuana persists, activists and agents of change must organise and prepare themselves properly and efficiently in presenting their views, inorder to make an impact on government.
Minister of National Security Mr Dames said:
“I have some thoughts on it but when we discuss it as a Cabinet, most certainly we’ll come back with our position. But I said before we have to come to this point in this country where we begin to debate issues like that. There’s no hidden agenda or no secret. This is what democracy is all about.
“But at the end of the day whatever direction we go we as a government will have to ensure that we are fully prepared.
We have been monitoring what has been taking place throughout the United States. Canada is a little ahead of us but at that point as well where they are contemplating it and certainly the Caribbean as well. So this is a global discussion that is currently being had.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Darren Henfield said “No reasonable person can deny the country must examine laws that criminalise people caught with small amounts of the substance.”
Based on these various responses from learned individuals in the present administration, as well as the citizenry,
“Dis ga be long.”
Might I suggest, as we do with almost everything else, pull a page out of our neighbors to the North books. (The PLP did it with their “Spy Bill” the FNM with “Fake News” so why not? )
It seems the Americans are onto something both financially and socially. Portugal and Urugay are two other models that can also be drawn upon for critical analysis, but since we like to ‘follow fashion’ of the good ole USA, we can note there are 7 states that have legalized recreational marijuana, and 27 states that have legalized marijuana for medicinal use.
The information and statistics from those states would be start.
Of the many concerns when discussing decriminalization, Bahamian youth no longer facing travel bans, lingering police records, unemployment etc. for being caught with minor amount of marijuana ranks at the top.
Decriminalization on small recreational ammounts is long over due.
A good model of this is the District of Columbia, which decriminalized recreational marijuana, making it legal for residents to carry up to two ounces of cannabis and own six plants. However, it’s still illegal to purchase pot in the District, or to be found in possession of amounts over the legal limits.
The legalization of recreational marijuana gives rise to a whole new economy surrounding the production of cannabis, oils, lotions, edibles and paraphernalia.
(I bet Rastafarians in the Bahamas would love this...’Irie nuts...Irie erryting!’)
Medicinally, marijuana is legal in more than half the states in America, and just as there is a market there, we have one here. Countless Bahamians suffer from many debilitating illnesses who may benefit immensely from medicinal marijuana.
We must objectively look at the pros and cons of the entire matter, the benificial effect it could have on so many levels locally, if we decriminalized or introduced medical and recreational Marijuana and come to a decision.
I have no idea where the national conversation on cannabis is going but I’m impressed we now feel mature enough as a nation to even have the conversation.
Until next week, be safe, I’m off to catch “Half Baked” on Netflix, how ironic this is on, all things considered.