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Navigating diplomacy with sensitivity

Published: Aug 26, 2013

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The Bahamas government, including the Opposition, has yet to comprehend the finesse of handling diplomatic relations. To be sure, there is no political winner over the plight of the repatriated Cubans and those awaiting extradition. Both the Progressive Liberal Party and the Free National Movement squandered an opportunity to rise above political shenanigans to deliver the truth to a very confused Bahamian public.

Diplomacy is not child’s play. Bahamians expect more from our politicians than emotionally charged squabbles between one another. The plight of illegal immigrants on the international media radar cannot degenerate into sinister political rhetoric. And for what do we owe this opportunity to highlight our gross incompetence of diplomatic matters: a yet to be substantiated video documenting physical abuse on Cuban detainees.

On Wednesday last week, Mitchell vehemently responded to Minnis’ allegation that the “video” was in fact a recreation of physical altercations at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre. “I have never met a more unpatriotic, un-Bahamian group than the FNM. They opposed independence and now they are siding with enemies of The Bahamas against Bahamians. When will they stand up for The Bahamas?”

Then, on Wednesday night Minnis retaliated with a request to the prime minister to relieve Mitchell of his responsibilities. “His recent rude utterances in the media suggest that he is permitting his emotions to get the better of him. This is not appropriate for a senior member of the government. We again call on the prime minister to relieve Mr. Mitchell of his portfolio responsibilities.”

The video, real or fake, has not only played on the emotions of Bahamian officials, but has also prompted heated comments from U.S. lawmakers. To be fair to Mitchell, the announcement by U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, in the Miami Herald stating that U.S. Department of State officials verified the authenticity of the video, was completely inappropriate.

But Mitchell, instead of substantiating or refuting this claim, continues to rely on the tagline that an investigation is ongoing. Complicating matters is Minnis’ allegation that the video is a recreation. So what is it? Is it real, according to a U.S. representative; a recreation, as alleged by Minnis, or fake? Or will we ever know?

With 100,000 square miles of poorly monitored waters on the doorstep of the United States, The Bahamas lends itself too well to trafficking — human or drugs. Immigration policies for undocumented migrants residing in The Bahamas are largely unenforced and that creates myriad problems for Bahamians. A constant influx of migrants through The Bahamas is bound to generate diplomatic strains.

But we find it most interesting, given the intensity of protests to delay repatriations for Cuban asylum seekers, that no public announcement has been given by the Cuban ambassador. Comments from the United States come from politicians catering to the Cuban voting bloc, but not directly from the State Department. And when will The Bahamas once again have an official U.S. ambassador?

We find that The Bahamas has placed itself in a bit of a diplomatic quagmire, complicated by internal dueling. The Panamanians feel marginalized, Cuba is quiet, U.S. politicians are catering to voters and Haitian President Michel Martelly is once again fueling Haitian pride in The Bahamas. If there was ever an important time to embrace diplomatic aplomb, now would be an excellent opportunity.


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