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2003-06-20 09:14:49

Ambassador Blankenship's Resignation

Many Bahamians, particularly those with an exaggerated opinion of the importance of The Bahamas in the global community, have strongly objected to his no-holds-barred penchant for being outspoken

Some supporters of the governing Progressive Liberal Party have greeted U.S. Ambassador Richard Blankenship's announcement that he will resign as America's chief envoy to The Bahamas effective July 18 with jubilation and, I am told, several leading members of the PLP's hierarchy also are finding it difficult to camouflage their glee.

Since his arrival in The Bahamas in December of 2001, Ambassador Blankenship has been a lightening rod for controversy because of his zeal in fighting the war on drugs. Many Bahamians, particularly those with an exaggerated opinion of the importance of The Bahamas in the global community, have strongly objected to his no-holds-barred penchant for being outspoken, sometimes on issues that generally are considered to be outside the realm of his diplomatic mission.

Following a commencement address at the College of The Bahamas in June of 2002, for example, he was accused of interfering in our judicial system when he obliquely suggested that our judges are not tough enough on drug traffickers.

Then, in a chillingly blunt address at a U.S. and Bahamas Joint Task Force meeting last December, he just stopped short of demanding that The Bahamas Government appoint a drug czar.

Yet, despite his obvious need for more training in the art of diplomacy, Mr. Blankenship's tenure here as ambassador has not been without some measure of success. Because of his unrelenting focus on the scourge of illegal drugs, those involved in the trafficking of this life-destroying commodity have found themselves under constant pressure to cease from engaging in this abhorrent trade. To be sure, he unquestionably has made life more difficult for them.

Fear is a powerful weapon in any war, and in the war on drugs, fear of being indicted and eventually extradited to the United States has caused some of the big players in this dangerous game to either scale back their operation or find more creative and expensive ways to move their product. Even if only to a small degree this has translated into safer neighbourhoods to raise our children, then this is a healthy thing, and Ambassador Blankenship deserves some measure of thanks in this regard.

Of course, his immediate predecessor as U.S. ambassador, the affable and likeable Arthur Schechter, was also tough on drug dealers; so was the ambassador before him, Sidney Williams, who was considered by many Bahamians to be the most effective U.S. ambassador to this country in many years.

This assessment, of course, has a lot to do with the fact that Mr. Williams, who is black, mixed well in all areas of Bahamian society and was considered one of us. Indeed, during his stay here, he and his politically powerful wife, U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, became close friends with Bahamian accountant and businessman Frankie Wilson and his wife, former Magistrate Sharon Wilson, and were guests of the Wilsons every year at the annual Banana Boat Reunion.

It goes without saying that the appearance of a U.S. ambassador at an event like the Banana Boat Reunion, an all-night party held during the festive Christmas season, would normally be a security nightmare for those responsible for protecting American diplomats. But Ambassador Williams and Ms. Waters blended in so well that their celebrity status was never an issue.

Beyond his racial affinity with the majority black population of The Bahamas, Ambassador Williams took a special interest in the welfare of the young people of this country, particularly those who are generally referred to as "youth at risk."

When a visiting U.S. group representing members of the Pan Hellenic Council and Alpha Phi Omega paid a courtesy call on him in 1994, he quickly seized the opportunity to encourage them to become "mentors" to the youths detained at the Boys and Girls Industrial School. The outgrowth of this was the establishment of PROJECT VOICE (Vocational Opportunity and Involvement for Commercial Education), whose stated objective was "to work with residents of the Boys and Girls Industrial Schools, in an effort to better equip them with the necessary skills for the job markets."

And Mr. Williams personally got actively involved in facilitating this effort by coordinating with the Pan Hellenic Council an initiative that led to the donation of tons of textbooks by the Los Angeles Unified School District to the Boys and Girls Industrial School.

So as Ambassador Blankenship prepares to bid adieu, U.S. President Bush, in making a decision as to who should replace him, could well use former Ambassador Sidney Williams as an example of who the next U.S. Ambassador to The Bahamas should be. Of course, President Bush is a Republican and Ambassador Williams is a Democrat, but there certainly must be some Republicans of Sidney Williams' ilk that Mr. Bush knows well. They need not be black, but it would sure be good to have another U.S. ambassador who would be comfortable at a Banana Boat Reunion. In the wake of the controversial storm stirred up by Ambassador Blankenship, such a U.S. envoy would be a welcomed relief.

Editorial, The Nassau Guardian
Oswald Brown has worked for newspapers in the United States and the Bahamas for some 40 years. He can be contacted at androsboy@hotmail.com.  

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