|The U.S. relationship, surveillance and independence|
Published: Jun 27, 2012
We publish today a letter from former Minister of National Security Tommy Turnquest defending his government’s sanctioning of an unmanned surveillance drone program by the United States government over Bahamian territory for 18 months.
Turnquest refers to the close ties between our countries on law enforcement, especially in the drug fight, and questions several questions we raised about the Predator drone flights, which were revealed over the weekend in a Los Angeles Times article.
America is our closest friend and the largest economy in the world. The Bahamas is the last stop off the Florida coast for smugglers seeking to bring drugs or people to the U.S. illegally. The U.S. has a keen interest in The Bahamas.
We think it useful that The Bahamas should partner with all governments of goodwill on matters of common interest – the key here being that a relationship of mutual respect and common oversight be developed for agreements and programs.
We do not know the full details of the drone program. We do not know if The Bahamas had shared oversight of the surveillance initiative or if the U.S. was spying on its own.
If the U.S. was given license to survey our territory without us being fully involved in the initiative, such a program would infringe on Bahamian sovereignty with the consent of the then administration.
The AUTEC submarine-testing base in Andros is an interesting example of a colonial relationship between a superpower and small island state. The superpower (the U.S.) is given authority to test military equipment in a secluded base on the territory of a foreign country for a price. The U.S. would not allow The Bahamas to do the same thing on its territory despite our friendship.
Turnquest argues that we are indeed fortunate that the U.S. government is interested enough to make sophisticated surveillance equipment available in The Bahamas as was done with the drone program.
“We are not so naive as to believe that the U.S. government does this only from the goodness of its heart. Bahamian governments recognize fully the considerable benefit gained by the U.S. government and its law enforcement agencies from the conduct of such exercises in a friendly country,” he said.
What all must remember is that while the U.S. is our friend and we have common interests, its interests trump all else when it acts. America would use those drones to look at whatever she thinks is necessary for the protection of her interests. This could be the Chinese Embassy in New Providence, the Cuban ambassador’s residence or the activities of Bahamian Cabinet ministers.
The U.S. is a more powerful and advanced nation than The Bahamas. If it wants to spy on us there is little we can do to stop it. However, we do not need to consent to foreign governments watching us without our full and complete involvement in the program to ensure that common goals are the target rather than mere U.S. interests.
Turnquest is right. The U.S. does help The Bahamas quite a bit when it comes to law enforcement aid and it also helps with logistics and rescue efforts. However, we should not sell the country and our complete sovereignty for aid. If so, we might as well become an American territory or fall back to the era of colonialism.
America is our friend, not our master. China is our friend, not our master. These islands should not be used for American or Chinese adventurism or experimentation. Large countries use their power to force and coerce the small to follow their leads. At times, deals are made under duress. This is not always the case, however. If our leaders maintain that consensual foreign activity on these islands has to be overseen by Bahamian officials and representatives of the foreign government involved, and that is a fundamental principle of our foreign policy, we benefit. If we just say to them they can do it and we do not have a clue as to what they are doing, we are made fools of and our sovereignty is eroded.
These comments are not intended to “whip up anti-foreign sentiments among our people” as Turnquest suggest. Our position is one based on the principle that The Bahamas is a sovereign country in a complex world. While we honor our friendships with our friends, there are certain things we should not consent to. One of them is to allow widespread spying by a foreign power, not knowing what it is spying on.
Because few details of the Predator drone program have been released we do not know what the then Bahamian administration knew about the full extent of the U.S. initiative. New Foreign Minister Fred Mitchell has said an investigation is being launched and the details will be made public. Turnquest has said the details on the program are available in government ministries. We will see if Mitchell lives up to his word to make known what was going on. We will also see if the details supposedly in the ministries, referred to by Turnquest, are details or mere notes that the U.S. has such a program.
Our leaders must be careful dancing with the U.S. and China. Not everything they want is in our best interest.