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Diplomatic Blunders

The government’s scurrying this week to right a “diplomatic wrong” indicates that they blundered and are thoroughly embarrassed by the Elliston Rahming diplomatic fiasco. Frankly, both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the government—at large—appeared paralysed over the last few months, seemingly not knowing what to do to resolve Rahming’s apparent rejection by the United States’ government.

When one looks at the length of time that Rahming’s appointment as Bahamas Ambassador to the United States was allowed to languish, the government seemingly sought to cover up and find a solution, believing that the US would back down and accede to their request for Rahming to be appointed Ambassador. This week, it appears that they finally realised that the United States was simply “not on their run!”

Indeed, it is peculiar that the United States has also not appointed an Ambassador to the Bahamas. American President Barack Obama enjoys more popularity in this country than he probably has at home, yet no Ambassador has been named since Nicole Avant and it appears that our official position –relative to the Rahming appointment—may also have had something to do with the State Department’s refusal/delay in naming Avant’s replacement.

The handling of diplomatic appointments abroad has been disastrous. When controversy hasn’t arisen about the ages of the appointees, it’s the bungle with Rahming!

In a previous column, I wrote that I did not believe that the debacle surrounding Elliston Rahming was due to any inaction by Fred Mitchell, although he would be held accountable for it because of the Cabinet’s collective responsibility protocols and the fact that he is the Foreign Minister. At that time, reliable sources told me that Mr Mitchell was frustrated with the topsy-turvy state of Rahming’s appointment. Frankly, my sources asserted that Fred Mitchell was a bit too methodical and far too organised to have committed such a diplomatic boo-boo. And so, I questioned what Prime Minister Perry Christie’s role was in all of this? I also asked if Elliston Rahming was the PM’s choice for Bahamas Ambassador to Washington as opposed to Mitchell’s? To this day, high-ranking sources have informed me that Rahming was Christie’s choice and that Mitchell must now go to battle and carry the blame since he serves in the post as Foreign Minister. Moreover, these sources claim that it was Christie who apparently prohibited the recall of Elliston Rahming when it became clear that his appointment was insupportable by the Americans.

When I wrote that column in June, I stated then that my sources had told me that the United States may have an issue with the Bahamas’ appointment of Mr Rahming as its Ambassador to the US for reasons allegedly related to his most recent tenure as head of the prison. I further asked if an American had died in prison while Mr Rahming served as Superintendent? And, if so, whether a report done and, moreover, why were the Americans not satisfied with the report?

I also stated then that I was informed that, to save face, Mr Rahming would be appointed as the Bahamas’ Ambassador to the UN while Dr Eugene Newry would leave that post in New York and be appointed the Bahamas’ Ambassador to Washington. To use the governing party’s slogan, “so said, so done.”

Dr Duane Sands weighed in on the issue in an interview with me this week, saying:

“The comments made by (former US Ambassador to the Bahamas) John Rood in the leaked cables about Fred Mitchell’s arrogance, aloofness and manoeuvring at Caricom to use it as a platform for advancement has become evident with his handling of the diplomatic and Detention Centre debacles. Does Fred Mitchell have a hard-on for the US? And, why hasn’t Christie chosen to reel in Mitchell and to rectify the ongoing foreign affairs messes? Christie, unfortunately, has given far too much rope and once again this is another minister who will constitute his downfall.”

“It seems that Fred Mitchell just travels the globe, getting a course in diplomacy and international relations on the back of the Bahamian people, only to use it to flex against our closest allies. Even more, Fred Mitchell developed his craft and was spawned at US schools, yet he has decidedly taken a leftward bent. It was Fred Mitchell who established embassies in Havana and Beijing. But, what is the opportunity cost of us aligning ourselves so closely with Cuba in terms of their human rights record and from a strategic point of view since they can offer us nothing. There are Bahamians languishing in Cuba in inhumane conditions and when they open up their economy, they will screw us. This really speaks to someone whose personal ambition has been paramount whilst our national interest has been set aside. Mitchell easily conjures up the bogeyman of the Bahamas—that is, national pride—by choosing his words carefully. And, who are the enemies of the Bahamas? When a minister of government says someone is an enemy of the state, who does he mean—Cubans, the Americans, (Florida) Senator (Marco) Rubio, (Florida) Senator (Ben) Nelson, who?” Sands asked.

In his opinion, said Dr Sands, “Fred Mitchell is a clear and present danger to Christie. I am deeply offended by the belief that the only intellectual in the country is Fred Mitchell. No one denies that he is well-educated and well-travelled. But, he’s also subject and responsible to the people of the Bahamas and so he is not above questioning. When he gets defensive and threatens the press with legal action, I think it raises the question of his fitness to be in public office.”

Unlike Dr Sands, I have supported the establishment of an embassy in both Beijing and Cuba as I view both countries—whether geopolitically or economically—as being strategic posts.

No one knows for certain why Dr Rahming’s appointment was rejected by the US. Sadly, the government is allowing the rumour mill to take hold, with the public coming to their own conclusions and conjuring up many stories. For the first time, a Bahamian nominee for an ambassadorship has been found unacceptable and thereby rejected by the United States. The categorical refusal of Rahming suggests that the American government believes him to have done more than two standards deviation from what they believe to be acceptable.

The replacement of Dr Rahming by already posted UN Ambassador Dr Eugene Newry is not unreasonable, but still leaves one with a number of questions. Firstly, a question arises as to his age (elderly) and, moreover, does he bring any special skill to the table that does not exist within the skillset of younger individuals? Does the governing party have young people at heart? Frankly, the position of Bahamas Ambassador to the US is symbolically the most significant to the Bahamas—so is Dr Eugene Newry the best we could offer?

Why wasn’t Rahming recalled altogether? Or, did the government not have the brass to do so and admit that the appointment essentially amounted to a screw-up, a miscalculation, a gross misstep!

When one thinks about the situation Rahming now finds himself in, as the newly appointed Ambassador to the United Nations in New York (as of this week) and the Bahamas Permanent Representative to the Organisation of the American States (situated in Washington, DC), I wonder how he would pull it off.  Rahming will most certainly become the shuttle diplomat, jumping on planes and trains and shuttling back and forth between New York and Washington, DC. What’s more, the government (and taxpayers) will also have to account for housing accommodations in two cities, duplications on the costs in Washington, DC, due to the appointment of Newry, transportation costs, subsistence costs and a per diem. The subsistent problem for Rahming will be his inability to be in two places at the same time—that is, what if the OAS and the UN are having meetings at the same time? Would the Bahamas’ interest not be represented at one of them? Does the fact that the government appointed Rahming to both of these posts—in different states—mean that we don’t find these posts important and therefore we could easily miss being represented whenever a meeting simultaneously occurs (or meeting times are hours or a night apart)? Is this an attempt by the government to try to rationalize their original blunder?

Turning my attention to the debacle at the Detention Centre, all I could think is “again!” The video dramatisation re-enacting the beating of Cuban detainees by Royal Bahamas Defence Force officers gives rise to numerous questions and concerns that demand that the government acknowledge the local and international significance of the event and the impact on the Bahamas. We must stop playing possum about such issues!

Given the strategic importance of the Cuban voting bloc in the United States, those elected and wannabe elected officials will likely ratchet up the rhetoric as the controversy surrounding the beatings balloons. Indeed, Florida has proven—just as recently as the last Presidential election—that it is an important battleground state.

What’s more, the Republican party (GOP) realizes that the Hispanic vote is critical to their survival and so, for anyone to think that those are merely a bunch of fringe Cubans blockading our consulate and berating the treatment of these immigrants, would be another foolish blunder on our part. Indeed, the political establishment’s recognition of the impact of Hispanic voters could be seen in the passage of a slew of recent immigration reform legislation. For US politicians, the balance of power rests with the Hispanic population’s perception of elected officials’ treatment of their voting bloc, their causes and concerns. Quite honestly, they are now, as Dr Sands said, “the Cinderella of the ball, who also hold the glass slipper and made it possible for the Obama re-election.”

“If we are truly students of foreign affairs, we need to acknowledge the impact of the Hispanic voting bloc and be sensitive to the consequences of our actions whilst not needlessly squandering good will. If (Senator) Rubio believes that this will improve his chances of being president, he would view the Bahamas as a little backwater state and take it up as a personal cause,” Dr Sands said.

Indeed, the officers who carried out the alleged beating should—if an investigation proves it to be true—be demoted, reprimanded and/or dismissed. However, the likelihood of a dismissal or a court martial is pretty slim. I could hear some folks justifying letting these individuals get away with some acts, making utterances such as “man they didn’t die right, so we don’t need to fire the officers.”

Over time, I have heard that the Detention Centre is a den of corruption, with officers selling uniforms, cell phones and contraband. I have even heard that if a Cuban wants to get to the US, all they have to do is arrange payment of certain officers who would then walk them to their personal cars, give them food and water and assist them in escaping custody. It led me to wonder “how else do Cubans disappear into thin air?”

And, while we’re at it, whatever happened to the investigation into those Defence Force officers involved in the beating in Inagua a few years ago? Where are those officers today?  Were they found guilty and discharged or cleared of all charges?  To this day, no one knows.

By:  Adrian Gibson

Posted in Opinions

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