The Rights and Wrongs of The Cuban Detainee Debacle
Last week was settling into another stretch of bad news for the inept and faltering Christie administration. Suddenly, on Thursday, Opposition Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis handed a government in a defensive crouch a line of offense, an unexpected opening to attempt to switch the storyline from that of its gross incompetence to one of Dr. Minnis’ patriotism.
With the announcement of its trading places two-step, swapping the placements of ambassadors to the U.S. and the UN, the bungled appointment of Dr. Elliston Rahming neared a sort of climax, though leaving serious unanswered questions, the government on its heels, looking amateurish and incompetent.
Of alleged abuse of Cuban migrants at the detention center and the domestic and international fallout from what is now widely acknowledged as a fake video of the alleged abuse, the government seemed stuck in Goldilocks mode with Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell often too hot in his rhetoric and Prime Minister Perry Christie too cool when it came to taking charge of the matter.
The opposition was left with two prime opportunities to flex its policy and political muscles. First, continuing to hammer away at the ambassadorial appointment fiasco.
Secondly, in the vacuum left by the government’s too cool indecision and too hot impetuousness on the Cuban migrant issue, Dr. Minnis had a golden opportunity to get it just right on a contentious matter at the intersection of domestic and foreign policy.
Prudence and good judgment are synonyms for getting it just right. Gifted by events with the opportunity to demonstrate prudential judgment, Dr. Minnis proved to be foolhardy and tone-deaf.
Effective communication involves not just what one intends to says. More importantly, it concerns what others hear you to say and what they don’t feel they have heard.
There are multiple issues related to the current Cuban migrant affair. Dr. Minnis and the opposition are right in vigorously pressing for the full disclosure of any abuse at the detention center.
But what has been sorely lacking in the opposition’s response is a more comprehensive approach. That approach should have included a clearer message reaffirming the opposition’s support of basic immigration policy relative of migrants.
More so, the opposition needed to be more emphatic in demonstrating national unity in the face of those seeking to scuttle our immigration policy, run roughshod over Bahamian sovereignty and inflict damage to our tourist-based economy.
Dr. Minnis’ failure to ensure the proper sequencing and calibration of the FNM’s messaging left the opposition open to severe criticism. And it has been withering, from charges of recklessness to failing to stand up for the country.
While Dr. Minnis may not have shown the best judgment in handling the complex of issues at hand, attacks on his patriotism and that of the opposition are ridiculous and offensive.
Mitchell is no more of a patriot than Dr. Minnis. And vile and contemptuous are claims by some that various of Dr. Minnis’ remarks were treasonous; which is not to say that such attacks are ineffective.
In his handling of the Cuban migrant issue, Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell has often proven imperious, rattled, undiplomatic, bellicose and belligerent.
The Opposition and others are justified in criticizing various elements of his conduct of the matter at hand, as minister responsible for both foreign affairs and immigration. Mitchell himself has admitted that matters could have been handled better. Which of course is an extraordinary understatement.
By failing to act quicker and in a more forthright manner in addressing the abuse claims, the government helped provide fodder to the Florida-based interest group Democracy Movement, endlessly itching for any opening to attempt dictating Bahamian immigration policy to their liking.
As an aside, by interfering in domestic politics in calling for the resignation of Minister Mitchell, the interest group again demonstrated its unbridled arrogance. Imagine how out of bounds it would be for a Bahamian group to call for the resignation of a federal U.S. Cabinet member.
Now Prime Minister Perry Christie is hemming and hawing about whether information will be provided to the public on abuse at the detention center, abuse that is said to be quite gruesome and sickening.
When will politicians learn that covering up certain matters makes a bad situation even worse. The information should be released as soon as possible. Failure to do so will fuel more demonstrations and potential international fallout. Meanwhile the credibility of the Christie administration continues to dwindle.
Amidst its prevarication, ineptitude and bungling, the government has seized the politics of nationalism and the politics of empathy, something Dr. Minnis, thus far, has gotten wrong to the amazement and consternation of many, including many FNMs.
The FNM has often gotten wrong the politics of nationalism and the politics of empathy, despite its record of protecting the country’s national interests and better record than the PLP in areas ranging from social policy to economic empowerment to women’s rights.
And yet the FNM has consistently allowed the PLP to get away with pretending to be the more nationalist and empathetic party. A part of the PLP’s winning combination in 2012 was to appear as the feeling party that also put Bahamians first.
In politics, empathy typically beats arguments of competence and effectiveness. And nationalism is usually a trump card, something that many in the FNM seem unwilling to learn.
The PLP’s claim of being more nationalistic than the FNM is laughable and far from credible given its record of allowing drug barons to overrun the country in the 1980s, its dalliances with all manner of shady foreign interlopers, the massive giveaway of land at Mayaguana, clear conflicts of interest by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister with a foreign oil exploration company, and many other examples.
But when Dr. Minnis failed initially and more clearly to express common cause with the government in the face of certain attacks from abroad, it made the FNM seem less empathetic and nationalistic than the PLP on an issue necessitating a demonstration of national unity.
This is yet another blunder by Dr. Minnis, who has now demonstrated an entrenched pattern of misjudgement and shockingly poor judgment.
Increasingly more and more Bahamians and FNMs are concluding that Dr. Minnis is far from up to his current role, which is disheartening as the country desperately needs a more prudent and capable opposition leader who can mount a more effective opposition to a feckless and disaster of a government that is the Christie administration.
In the end, the Cuban migrant affair is not about the opposition’s response. It is about whatever abuse may have taken place at the detention center and the government’s response in getting the facts out and taking appropriate action in a timely manner.
Further, it is the prime minister and his Cabinet who are ultimately responsible for acting appropriately or with “gross stupidity”, negligence and arrogance in handling the domestic and foreign policy elements of this entire affair.
Author of the Front Porch column
The Nassau Guardian