By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said he told US President Donald Trump that crime advisories should be used to raise awareness and not initiate fear, adding criminal attacks on American tourists in this country were “negligible”.
Dr Minnis said he also stressed there was a greater concern that information contained in some US crime advisories were recycled and out of date.
As a result, Dr Minnis said not only was President Trump concerned with how the issue was impacting The Bahamas, but he directed officials to look at how the advisories were handled moving forward.
Matters concerning Venezuela were also raised during the meeting at Mr Trump’s resort Mar-a-Lago in Florida.
According to Dr Minnis, The Bahamas’ position on Venezuela - where there is ongoing political unrest - has remained firm and in line with the Organisation of American States (OAS): that if the recent election in Venezuela was illegitimate then the government is illegitimate.
However, Dr Minnis’ participation in the meeting triggered criticism from Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Dr Ralph Gonsalves on Saturday.
Given the narrow grouping of regional leaders invited to discussions with Mr Trump, Mr Gonsalves said those in CARICOM must be aware of mischief from those who seek to divide countries in the region.
He said no one on CARICOM’s three-man committee on Venezuela - its chairman, Prime Minister of St Kitts and Nevis Dr Timothy Harris, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Dr Keith Rowley or Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley - were invited, so any discussion of Venezuela at Mar-a-Lago cut across the agreed mechanism put in place by CARICOM.
Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, also seemed to take a swipe at those who were invited to the meeting, posting a photo to his Facebook page showing Dr Minnis and Bahamian officials alongside Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness with the caption, “Oh no… were they treated to the servant’s entrance?”
Dr Minnis was one of five Caribbean leaders invited by President Trump to discuss matters of mutual interest between the region and the United States. Haitian President Jovenel Moise, Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina, Mr Holness and St Lucia’s Prime Minister Allen Chastanet also attended the meeting.
“It was a very interesting meeting and some of the things that I would have spoken about which I thought was very important within the Bahamas are security issues, border control especially our southern borders,” Dr Minnis told reporters on Saturday at Lynden Pindling International airport.
“I would have informed the President that our southern borders are essentially somewhat open and therefore we can be exposed to individuals engaged in human trafficking, criminal activities, drugs etc, but most importantly I pointed out that drugs passing through our territorial waters, those traffickers do not want to stop here in the Bahamas, they’re en route to the United States. That’s their final destination.
“However, it’s not unusual that some may stop and drugs may enter our shores and that causes criminal activities and disturbances within the society and we know that the US has a base here and the Bahamas also has members of the (Royal Bahamas) Defence Force there and therefore we will need some strengthening of our southern borders if it would be beneficial to both of us.
“It’ll be beneficial to us and it’ll be beneficial to them because what happens to us would have great impact on them and as the criminal element or drugs enters the society obviously one’s society changes and that has caused some degree of problems within our society and just recently we were issued a travel advisory. That is significant to us because we are a tourist destination.”
Dr Minnis continued: “Eighty percent of our GDP comes from tourism so we are doing very well with tourism at this particular time and the travel advisory - which we interpret as being one to inform one’s citizens to be aware of problems as opposed to initiate fear - we brought that point across. The President was very concerned as to how that’s impacting us and whatever.
“I would have also pointed out that when one looks at the amount of criminal attacks or involvement of the American tourists versus our population, it’s very negligible. We’re talking about .004 percent of Americans that may have been affected, which is negligible and of greater concern is that it appears as if the travel advisories are being recycled in that some of the information that was on the travel advisory is not pertinent today. Buildings or restaurants that they may have referred to no longer exist. Those buildings may have been destroyed two, three years ago and therefore we appreciate if these are looked at to have a greater more up to date analysis.
“The President directed the individuals who are responsible for that aspect to have a look at it and deal with it as appropriately as possible. That was an issue of concern to all of the Caribbean leaders. We all spoke to that and we were quite happy that issue was brought up.
“Then we pointed out to him that it’s essential that we have a great relationship because not only are we their neighbours but we spend the bulk of our money within the US jurisdiction. In other words, the better we do, the better they do.
“If we are negatively impacted, they are negatively impacted. Eighty percent of our tourist are Americans and for every tourist that enter our shores, 80 cents of every dollar goes back to the United States and therefore as our tourist product grows the Florida market will likewise grow. If we deteriorate the Florida market likewise deteriorates.”
Dr Minnis said the handling of hurricane devastation in the Caribbean region was also raised with Mr Trump.
“We’re in a hurricane belt area and therefore I would have spoken about how important it is for us to build resistance. But we are a small nation and we might not have the necessary funds. I think a formula needs to be developed where individual Caribbean nations can borrow money, but that money is not placed on their balance sheet.
“You pay the money back at the appropriate interest rate but it’s not placed on the balance sheet so as not to disturb the debt to GDP (ratio) because if you disturb the debt to GDP then it has a direct impact on our social service, direct impact on monies that we would relegate for national security, education, health etc and those were important issues that we would look at and see whether they can offer any assistance there.
“It’s not money that we are asking for. We want to pay but just not attached to our balance sheet.”
Regarding Venezuela, Dr Minnis said: “The issue with Venezuela came up. The Bahamas’ position is firm with Venezuela. The Bahamas’ position has not changed and the position is similar to that of the OAS. The OAS had categorically stated that the election in Venezuela was an illegitimate election. Our argument was if the election was illegitimate, then the government is illegitimate. If the government is illegitimate, then the democratic society who believes in democracy—both us and America—which means that you must have new elections and that must be done as quickly as possible.”
“That has been our position and America issued a statement that they were recognising that position. We likewise agreed because the election and the government was illegitimate and the assembly has appointed (Juan) Guaidó as the president of Venezuela. That position has not changed,” Dr Minnis said on Saturday.
The meeting further raises concerns for the Progressive Liberal Party.
In a statement yesterday from PLP Chairman Fred Mitchell, he said the PLP was satisfied that the party took the correct and principled stand by opposing the FNM’s decision for the Bahamas to side with those who chose the route of seeking the ouster of the government of Venezuela.
“The PLP stands with the CARICOM consensus on this matter that is the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of another country,” Mr Mitchell said.
“Having examined the outturn reports of the recent meeting in West Palm Beach, we are concerned that there was no new ground which was of any immediate benefit to the Bahamas. The prime minister’s combative and evasive answers to the press upon his return did not inspire confidence that there was any substantive benefit to the Bahamas.
“Our country should always stand on the foundations upon which our state was created and chief amongst these is the non-interference in the affairs of another state,” Mr Mitchell said.