We wondered if the obvious would have been overlooked when it came to the exclusion of Antigua and Barbuda to the recently-announced United States visa waiver programme. The first reaction by many was to point to the Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) as the culprit, with the insinuation that the United States government was not satisfied with our vetting process. However, as we pointed out when we first tackled this subject, the CIP is an unlikely reason for the snub. One need only look at the facts that CIP citizens are not eligible for the programme and St. Kitts and Nevis is part of the interview waiver programme, and you can quickly deduce that it is something else.
That leads to the obvious question: what other joint ‘political’ action by Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines could possible have upset our ‘Big Brother’ to the north? If you have a good memory for recent world politics or a decent internet connection, it would have pointed you directly to the June vote by members of the Organisation of American States (OAS) relating to the expulsion of Venezuela. Scratching your head to remember? Well, we can assist with that.
Earlier this year, the United States of America proposed a resolution to expel Venezuela from the OAS in the wake of the May 20 elections that declared President Nicolás Maduro the winner. In a vote held in June, 19 members of the 34 member states voted to approve the resolution while 11 abstained and four voted against. Included in that four were Venezuela, Bolivia, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Antigua and Barbuda abstained along with St Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, Belize, Suriname, Uruguay, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti and Nicaragua. Guyana and St. Lucia were part of the group of countries that supported the U.S. proposal to expel Venezuela.
Now, at this point, you may be asking yourself, “How did St. Kitts and Nevis get a pass and Antigua and Barbuda didn’t?” A good question. We both abstained from the voting but Antigua and Barbuda went a bit further. While we did not vote against the resolution, we were extremely critical of the OAS and the U.S. resolution.
We complained of the process, the language and the deliberations that led up to the vote. As well, we objected to the apparent intervention of the OAS in the internal affairs of Member States, and we rejected the declaration and all references in the resolution to the Permanent Council Meeting which we stated was illegally held on April 3, 2017. Basically, we said and did everything that a ‘no’ voter would say and do, except vote ‘no.’ We used strong words, and regardless of their legal standing or intent, they obviously created some acrimony with the Americans. There is that word again.
Today, that apparent acrimony manifests itself in the omission of Antigua and Barbuda from the interview waiver programme. The Cabinet met and came to the conclusion that the obvious was the likely reason, but stuck to its position. The Cabinet notes states, “It cannot be that Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica and St. Vincent can be persuaded to abandon principle and a solid friendship, in exchange for a compelled trip by their citizens to renew visas.” The post Cabinet notes on Wednesday recall the benefits of friendship with Venezuela, including the recent forgiveness of US$250 million in PDV Caribe debt along with the social benefits of the programme, the first response to our plight following the passage of Hurricane Irma, and past financial assistance by President Carlos Andres Perez and President Hugo Chavez.
This whole situation is like a marriage, or rather a divorce. The United States is upset with Venezuela, so it is putting pressure on mutual friends to take sides. And just like in those messy divorce situations, there are a lot of friends who have no problem with either side and just want to remain friendly with everyone. That is where we find ourselves. The United States is a longtime friend, as is Venezuela, but we are being pressured to choose. That is a difficult position to be in, and one that takes a good amount of skillful diplomacy to keep both sides happy and friendly.
Right now, we bet you are feeling some sympathy for the foreign affairs people because this task will not be easy.The PM is trying to walk a fine line by complimenting the United States while schooling them on our sovereign rights not to act in a manner “inimical to Antigua and Barbuda’s interests,” and in accordance with “good international law.” However, when it comes to the United States, that is a near-impossible task, as it is usually their way or the highway. So, at some point, we will most likely have to choose a road to follow. The big question left unanswered is: which one?