We have a bit of news and advice for the Prime Minister – publicly naming and shaming the United States of America on matters of foreign policy does not work. There is nothing to be gained, from a diplomatic perspective, from holding public court on any matters related to how the U.S. treats its allies. Some will disagree with this opinion and say that there is also nothing to lose, but we will have to disagree. We think that there is a lot to lose if the United States believes that they are being publicly shamed or questioned, and gets upset.
The reality is that our Big Brothers to the north have the big stick, and confronting them publicly usually results in experiencing the pain that the big stick inflicts, privately. Even though the current U.S. administration is not bashful in whipping out that big stick and using it quite publicly. Ask Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada about that.
The matter that we are speaking about relates to the recently announced visa renewal interview waiver programme by the United States. Our Prime Minister has openly questioned the (unknown) reasoning for leaving Antigua and Barbuda and two other members of the Organisation of the Eastern Caribbean (OECS) off of the list of countries that are to benefit from the programme. While a valid question, if no official and logical reason is given, the public manner in which our PM has questioned the United States is probably not being welcomed by the U.S. diplomats.
The PM attempted to soften the criticism by stating, “That’s their policy and I am not saying this out of any acrimony, but I want to know how does that type of behaviour help to foster stronger relations between the U.S.?” Again, a very valid question, but why is it asked in public rather than through the private diplomatic channels that exist between the allies? We believe that the best way of becoming part of the interview waiver programme would be to engage our diplomats to ask that and other pertinent questions through the proper diplomatic channels. That would allow for the establishment of stronger relations and the ability for the Americans to more easily reverse or modify their decision on the matter.
As it sits right now, there is less of a chance that the United States would reconsider or yield on the matter because their policies have been questioned in public and the U.S. has a penchant, or maybe call it a reputation, for being strong even when wrong. We can almost hear the “How dare they question our sovereign right to (fill in the blank)?” response.
The benefits of the visa renewal interview waiver programme are significant because it no longer makes it mandatory for applicants seeking to renew their visas to travel to Barbados to do an in-person interview; something that comes at significant cost and with a high level of inconvenience. The problem is that it only applies to citizens and passport holders of Barbados, Grenada, St. Lucia, and St. Kitts and Nevis. Although it does also apply to Antiguans and Barbudans who are under 13 and over 79 years old. The question as to why Antigua and Barbuda and others have been left out is valid, however there must be an acceptance that there is a reason. The mission of our diplomats should be to investigate that reason and argue our side; if the reason is forthcoming and can be effectively argued. It should not be the mission of our Prime Minister to try to circumvent the process by discussing it on public radio, especially alongside other contributors that characterise the reasoning as being punitive and perverse.
That gets us back to our point: why go public before you exhaust the diplomatic options? Why not delay public questioning or criticism until the reasoning is either explained or you are denied an explanation. At that point, we could understand if the PM addresses the public and informs us that all diplomatic efforts have been exhausted. We could understand if, at that point, he needs to vent some frustrations, but to run to radio without giving the diplomatic process a chance, seems to be a high-risk manoeuvre that will likely end with the decision being more settled in concrete than being reviewed and revised.
Many have pointed to our Citizenship by Investment Programme as the reason, but we cannot see a direct connection. Firstly, CIP citizens are not eligible for the programme as far as we know, plus, St. Kitts and Nevis is part of the interview waiver programme. That most likely leaves it to some other reason and we need to find out. So, while the PM’s questions are valid, the timing and manner in which they were delivered could have been more diplomatic. And please know, we are not saying this out of any acrimony.
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