THE HONOURABLE SENATE
BY SENATOR FRED MITCHELL
REQUEST FOR SELECT COMMITTEE ON
THE CONDUCT OF THE MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS
23 FEBRUARY 2000
BROKEN FNM PROMISES
This FNM promised certain things about the conduct of Foreign Affairs in its ‘Manifesto ‘92’, and as far as is material, I quote from their Manifesto: “An FNM Government will… Conduct a non-partisan foreign policy… Limit the number of political appointments in the Foreign Service and encourage the development of career diplomats… Institute regular reporting to … the public through Parliament of the development in the Foreign Affairs of the country.”
Now this same FNM would play partisan politics in the conduct of the Foreign Affairs of The Bahamas.
THE TERMS OF THE SELECT COMMITTEE
A Ministry of Foreign Affairs is normally the last place where there should be political division. But the conduct by the Minister of her Department and her responsibilities which include the Bureau of Women's Affairs leaves much to be desired. It is that issue which we seek to bring before this House. It is that issue which a Select Committee will have the responsibility to investigate and report to this House the conclusions of such an investigation. The Committee should call the staff of the Ministry and the Minister and cause them to explain to the public what their responsibilities are and how they discharge them.
How many times, Mr. President, has there been a debate in The Bahamas about Foreign Affairs? This, in fact, is probably the first such debate.
The FNM promised to be bi-partisan in its approach and they promised to professionalize the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in its diplomatic appointments, but instead the politicized them. A Select Committee ought to investigate what effect this is having on career officers at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and whether it stymies their growth and development.
We also need to know whether or not the Ministry has resources to allow it to do an adequate job, and if not why not, and if not what resources will it need to do an adequate job.
Further, the Opposition wishes the Committee to investigate the Ministry's relationship with the Opposition. Why the Leader of the Opposition is not provided with regular briefings from the Ministry on Foreign Affairs. Why the Opposition is not invited to participate in Foreign Affairs functions on a timely basis. Why is there a general atmosphere of contempt and indifference with regard to Opposition requests from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs?
In the process, this House should get a clear idea of the stewardship of the Minister. This side believes that her stewardship has been lacking, sorely lacking. I have described it as being asleep at the wheel. It is high time that the Government be made to account to Parliament for the conduct of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Now what I do not expect to come from this debate today, and I say this by way of warning to the public is any meaningful response from the Government. Secure as they are in the illusion of 35 seats in the House of Assembly, one expects them to be as fully arrogant and drunk with power as they always are. They have little regard for Parliament and so the public should not be surprised if we get no proper responses from the Government on these matters about which the Bahamian people have a right to know.
I also wish to state for the record in particular detail what this side sees as the role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and what it would do if this side were the Government in that Ministry. Further, I wish to take this opportunity to correct much misinformation, written out of gross ignorance, in one sector of the press about what happened in relation to the information about Bahamians who are and were imprisoned in Cuba and a trip which is still proposed to be made there by the Progressive Liberal Party.
Mister President, there is a saying that the devil is in the details. And that is the problem here with the matter on what I shall call for convenient shorthand: the Cuban Affair. Somehow, the Minister having not done her job, she and her propagandists are now trying to turn the tables on the Progressive Liberal Party and suggest that some grave error of state has been committed by the Progressive Liberal Party by meeting with the Cuban Ambassador. The fact is that we meet routinely with personnel from all embassies in this country. Since I have been in this place, and before I got here I met with embassy personnel from all embassies resident in The Bahamas. I was shocked by the Minister’ s novel position that each Ambassador had to get permission from The Bahamas Government in order to meet with the Opposition in this country.
NASSAU GUARDIAN GETS IT WRONG
I intend to relate, therefore, fully all of the documentation in my possession with regard to the Cuban Affair. I trust that The Nassau Guardian will in particular see fit as a public instrument to ensure that the PLP’s version of the story is carried.
I say that Mister President, because until this Cuban affair became a matter of national importance, I had no idea of the level of ignorance that resides in the Editor of that newspaper. I have now almost gotten to the point where one often gets: that there is no good sense in arguing with a fool. Again, I learned for the first time two novel propositions by the editor of The Nassau Guardian. And I say this because, Mister President, I put them in a different category from The Punch. We are talking about a newspaper that has a public responsibility to impart information that is the truth and impartially so, despite what their editorial position may be.
In a conversation with Oswald Brown, the editor of The Nassau Guardian, he said two novel things. One was that as far as he was concerned once the Minister of Foreign Affairs gave her version of the Cuban Affair, that was the end of the matter and I should not have answered. Secondly, he claimed that once the Cuban Ambassador had spoken, then “no one could refute that ”.
These are novel propositions not only because they are untrue, but also because they betray a shameful ignorance on the part of an editor of a powerful newspaper of what the role of an editor is. We in the PLP have heard of stories by reporters at the Nassau Guardian being suppressed for purely political reasons; stories about the Leader of the Opposition being placed on the back pages. But out of the editor’s own mouth was the proposition that he determines for the PLP what its foreign policy is, and that he determines what is appropriate for the PLP to say and not say.
And of course, he goes further in that he apparently wants to determine who is and who is not a Senator for and on behalf of the Progressive Liberal Party. The truth is that up to this moment, Perry Christie is the Leader of the Opposition, not Oswald Brown. Further, up to this moment, I am the Opposition's Spokesman on Foreign Affairs, not Oswald Brown. And I work subject to the directions of the PLP’s Leadership Council, the National General Council, the Convention and Perry Christie, not Oswald Brown. The fact is that the Progressive Liberal Party is the Opposition in this country, not Oswald Brown. The fact is that neither the Minister of Foreign Affairs nor Oswald Brown can decide what the foreign policy of the PLP is. We speak for ourselves. We determine that for ourselves. We act for ourselves. We do not work for the Nassau Guardian or the Free National Movement.
All we ask is that our views are properly represented. The Bahamian public will make a judgement whether we are correct or not.
And that is a good place to start Mister President about why we are in this debate. It is because the Bahamian people reacted with favour to what we in the PLP were able to accomplish with regard to the Cuban affair. The fact is that five Bahamians previously imprisoned in Cuba landed in this country on 1 January 2000. That is an unalterable fact. The PLP never claimed credit for their release. Our press statement said that the families thanked the PLP for its public efforts on their behalf. That means Mister President coming to this place and speaking about it again and again and again. We reminded the public that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not doing its job.
MITCHELL AS OPPOSITION SPOKESMAN: HOW &
Before, I get into those bedevilling details Mister President about this Cuban affair there are some other matters by way of housekeeping that I would wish to address with regard to my personal role in these matters. One is my position as Opposition spokesman on Foreign Affairs. Permit me to state the history of this appointment.
You will remember Mister President that I resigned from this place as an independent Senator on 8 January 1997, when it became clear that I no longer had the confidence of the Prime Minister. Some time later, I accepted an invitation from Sir Lynden Pindling, the then Leader of the Progressive Liberal Party to rejoin the Progressive Liberal Party.
I did so with an understanding on two philosophical points amongst others. The two are relevant here today: one is that Sir Lynden would announce his intention within a year to step down as Leader of the PLP in the manner of Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore. I do not say that this was a condition of my joining. I say that this was an understanding on my part. Secondly, I was asked whether my personal views on capital punishment could co-exist with the views of the Progressive Liberal Party. The PLP’s position Sir Lynden said was that capital punishment was to be used in extreme cases. I said that I agreed that my personal views remained but the PLP’s policy was the PLP’s policy and while I would work to change it, I accepted the policy.
That concluded, Sir Lynden said that he expected that I would bring my talents to bear within the PLP to ensuring that it remained (my words) in the news and greater focus brought on its policies and programmes through public action. I readily agreed.
Following my reappointment to the Senate, the now Leader of the Opposition appointed me the first member of the Shadow Cabinet as the Opposition's spokesman on Foreign Affairs, Labour and Immigration.
It is a term borrowed from the British and it is my responsibility along with other Shadow Ministers to watch over the Ministry of the Government and report to the nation on its performance, criticize that performance, say what the PLP’s position is, and conduct matters with regard to the areas of the Shadow Ministry to the good of the PLP. I have done my job to a fault. And through it all, I have never forgotten what I promised to do when I rejoined the PLP. And further, I have never forgotten who the boss is in the PLP. That man is Perry Gladstone Christie.
And I must say a word in his defence. That is that the Bahamian people are used to the idea of a maximum leader. The Present Prime Minister has created himself in the image of the one before him as a maximum leader. He has taken that to a fine art and become Minister of Everything. The present Leader of the PLP does not see himself in messianic terms but rather as a facilitator, a collegial form of governance that is inclusive. Bahamians are perhaps not used to it but that is the way it is and it is in contradistinction to the maximum leader on the other side. My political life has flourished under this dispensation, and it is infinitely to be preferred to that kind of choking experience under a maximum leader.
It is therefore a novel proposition, and a gross distortion of the truth for this unremitting and ignorant public campaign being waged by the Government and its surrogates that somehow there is this maverick character out there making policy on his own. Does the FNM think the Bahamian people are stupid? The PLP does not think so. I do not decide policy on my own. I say this for the record. I never have and never will. I could not succeed to where I am on my own. It is counterintuitive to suggest that this is so. And yet it continues, unremittingly. When I speak, I speak with authority, both actual and ostensible in matters of foreign affairs, labour and immigration for an on behalf of the PLP. This is always subject of course to the directions of the party's organs and the Leader of the Opposition.
So when on 4th February, I appeared before the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to answer Janet Bostwick. That was the PLP represented there, not just Fred Mitchell alone. When I answered Janet Bostwick, I did not imagine for one moment that I was answering Janet Bostwick alone. That was the PLP answering the FNM Government and a wicked one at that. I wish therefore to put that baby to rest.
TO KEEP DIPLOMATS AWAY FROM PLP
I read the last paragraph of the Minister's statement as follows: “On the occasion of this visit, Ambassador Cabezas and I have had the opportunity to reaffirm the principles of international law concerning respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of states, and of non-interference by Cuba in the internal affairs of The Bahamas, and vice versa. He assured me that he will keep these principles foremost in his mind, in determining those persons with whom he will discuss and negotiate relations between his Government and the Government of the Bahamas.”
Translation, the Minister of Foreign Affairs is telling the Cuban Ambassador that before he talks to any one in The Bahamas he must first check with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Of course the broader message is to try and frighten every other diplomat in the country away from talking to me or the PLP for fear that they will get in trouble with the Government for interfering in the internal affairs of The Bahamas. This is utter rot from the same people who openly met and courted the American embassy officials in this country in order to overthrow the Pindling Government.
And of course, we know what is happening inside her Ministry. It is demoralized. Staff are resigning. The Prime Minister dismissed two senior civil servants or purported to without cause last year, crippling the Ministry's ability to develop sensible public policy. The building is falling apart. There are so many political Ambassadors that the payroll is bloated with pork. We also know that the highest levels of the Ministry recommended the recall of the Cuban Ambassador but the Prime Minister did not agree. We can look at the state of the Ministry by looking at the artwork outside given by the Mexican Government to us to mark the quincentennial of Columbus's visit to the New World. It is rusting and is badly in need of painting. The building is a disgrace.
We know what she is up to. This is pure politics, designed to destabilize PLP supporters, and give the impression of some grave political crisis when in fact there is none. The only crisis is the one inside her mind.
Now Mister President, what is the real issue here. Not the guilt or innocence of those Bahamians imprisoned in Cuba. No, it is not about guilt or innocence. So what is the real issue here? Not the red herring thrown up by the Minister about who said what or did not say what at lunch. What is the real issue? This is not about breach of protocol, and there was no breach of protocol. The real issue is; was the Minister of Foreign Affairs doing her job as the Minister to get the Bahamians imprisoned in Cuba free or back home in The Bahamas?
The answer is no. And you do not have to take my word for it. All you had to do last week was listen to the radio and hear the words of a parent of one of the men imprisoned in Cuba about the total lack of effective intervention on behalf of the Bahamians imprisoned in Cuba.
DETAINEES & PARENTS THANK PLP
I draw your attention, Mister President to a report in the Freeport news under the headline ‘MYSTERY OF FIVE BAHAMIANS IMPRISONED IN CUBA’. The article was published on 18 February and on 21 January in The Nassau Guardian. I now lay it on the table of this House. The report quotes from an interview with Kathy Rolle, a parent of one of the former detainees who contacted the Freeport News. I quote from the article in extenso as follows: “Mrs. Rolle added that while in Mr. Smith's office discussing the matter, Mrs. Bostwick came in and it was through this accidental meeting that they were able to speak to her. She told us: ‘It’s drug related and Bahamas Government does not touch anything that has to do with drugs. We can help you, but we have an agreement and when that agreement is signed, whoever is exchanged from Cuba and comes to The Bahamas, they are going to be imprisoned in The Bahamas.’
“Mrs. Rolle stated that, because she got no assistance, she went to Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham’s house who, after she explained her ordeal, said the Government is presently working on it and to notify him the next time she visited Cuba.
“ ‘At one point,’ she stated, ‘our lawyers there were wondering ‘Why isn't your Government negotiating?’ These men have spent their time, she stated, The Bahamas Government did not bring them back. They didn't even travel on Bahamian passports; they had to get British passports to come home.
“I was appalled when I saw this [Mrs. Bostwick’s statement]. Mrs. Bostwick is claiming that she brought these men home.
“Mrs. Rolle presented her son's temporary United Kingdom of great Britain and Northern Ireland passport listing him as a Commonwealth Citizen, dated 31 December 1999, issued at the British Embassy in Havana, Cuba, as proof of her claims.
“The Freeport News contacted the British Embassy in Havana to learn of how the Embassy was able to act on behalf of the Bahamian men.
“Speaking to Assistant Councillor Alfredo Pineiro, he explained, that Cuban Foreign Affairs notified his office that the men would be released in the New Year because of good behaviour and were all without travel documents. His office used information from Cuban immigration to prepare travel documents for the men.
“He was asked if at any time did The Bahamas Government make contact with the Embassy relating to the men or their release. After claiming to have checked his record, he said, that The Bahamas Government did not contact his office and his office acted on information received by Cuban Foreign Affairs.
“Mrs. Rolle added that it was a parent of one of the former Cuban prisoners who expressed her concern to Senator Mitchell and feels that Minister Bostwick is only saying that to get at Mr. Mitchell for bringing it to the public.”
That's it Mister President, the only sin of this spokesman on Foreign Affairs is speaking out on behalf of Bahamians in prison in Cuba and I plead guilty to that. None of this other nonsense about who said what at lunch and who breached what protocol has anything to do with it.
The fact is that Mrs. Rolle’s assertions to the Freeport News are backed up by the Bahamians in prison in Cuba. They are backed up by the parents of those in Cuban jails. The Minister of Foreign Affairs is not doing her job. Plain, period and simple. A Select Committee should investigate this Ministry and this Minister and report these sad findings to the Bahamian people. The parents and former detainees ought to have a chance to speak under oath before a Committee of the Senate and the Minister made to account to Parliament.
I now lay that report from the Freeport News on the table.
Further Mister President, I wish to read into the record, letters received by me from Bahamians in prison in Cuba.
COUSIN WRITES PRESS BEFORE RELEASE
First I wish to read into the record a letter from Chaino Clive Cornish, who is one of the five former detainees, now he is in Freeport. It is a copy of a letter to the editor, which was sent to me, but I do not remember any newspaper publishing this letter.
I do not intend to read the entire letter, but I will lay the whole letter over. I will quote from the bits which I consider relevant:
“Dated 28 October 1999. I am writing this letter from a prison in Cuba, where myself along with four others are currently being detained for illegal entry to Cuba only. We have also been sentenced to three years; we have served almost two years now and have been eligible for release under the Cuban law since 15 July 1999. I am also a second cousin of the Prime Minister of The Bahamas. My name is Chaino Clive Cornish of Treasure Cay, Abaco. Myself along with the others have been held illegally from the start and now that we have completed our time, we are now again being illegally detained by the Cuban authorities and denied our freedom, without The Bahamas Government having any interest in our case. We were visited by Foreign Affairs for the First time on the 30 April 1998 and it took one and a half years for the Foreign Affairs to check back on us again. They visited us here on 25 October 1999, but as usual they could not give us any answers to our questions as to when would we be released from this hell hole... In my personal opinion, the only reason, I think that Foreign Affairs came here is because the Opposition Spokesman on Foreign Affairs Senator Frederick Mitchell made an inquiry as to what The Bahamas Foreign Affairs and the FNM Government was doing about the Bahamians who were suffering in Cuba's hell hole Prisons. ”
I wish now to lay on the table a copy of the temporary British Passport issued to one of the Bahamian detainees.
MRS. BOSTWICK NOT DOING HER JOB
Again, Mister President, it is clear that the Bahamians in prison believed that Mrs. Bostwick and her Ministry were not doing their job.
I will come to what that job is in a minute but I wish to observe here that the visit on 28 October to Cuba, came just after I raised the issue at the behest of the PLP’s Leadership Council in this place on 21 October.
Shortly after that there was a release printed only in The Tribune that the Ministry would be visiting Cuba with a view to investigating the matters raised by us. They promised to report. Nothing happened. The press can tell you that they tried to call Mrs. Bostwick or her Permanent Secretary to no avail. They only reported to the Bahamian people when they were embarrassed by the PLP by reason of our press release on 27 January 2000, a full 26 days after the men arrived back in The Bahamas on their own.
This is a convenient time to also refer to the report from the Freeport News. They too complained that even with the controversy raging in the public, Mrs. Bostwick and her staff were unavailable to the press to speak to them about this matter of vital national importance. Mister President, the Minister of Foreign Affairs is not doing her job and there must be a public investigation into her conduct.
I wish also at this point to mention that we in the PLP wish to express our thanks to the Government of the United Kingdom for their assistance to the Bahamians in Cuba. It should be known that sometimes where a country does not have a resident Ambassador, other countries by agreement will provide consular assistance for the country's nationals. It is a fact that The Bahamas and Britain have had such an agreement in place since 1973. It may be that this is how the matter was resolved by the British, but notwithstanding that fact, the former detainees make the point that The Bahamas Government did not do its job to assist its citizens. The Minister must account for the faults of her department. And it should be now clear that it was only the Minister's guilty conscience that caused her up upbraid and embarrass the Cuban Ambassador like she did. I will come later to examining her statement in extenso.
I wish now, Mister President to lay on the table two more letters from Bahamians who are in Cuba. One is dated 25 October 1999. One letter is signed by 12 Bahamians who were then imprisoned in Cuba: Clayton Smith, Quatova Thompson, David Colebrooke, Reginald Wood, Frederick McCartney, Nigel Springer, Preston Floyd Rolle, Ainsworth Moxey, Marcus Colby, Randolph Smith, Henry Frazer, Pedro Morley.
Again I will quote from what I believe is relevant: “In the three and a half years that most of us have been here, we have faced everything from discrimination to mental, verbal and physical abuse. Three of us have been stabbed in our throats and back and one has gotten his hand broken by prison officials. With all of this going on not even one Bahamian official came to investigate the situation. It was only until they came to visit us eight months later, they learned about our situation. We feel the main reason we are treated differently is because we have no representation here. In comparison with the three visits that we had in three and a half years from Bahamian officials, every other inmate receives visits every month from their consuls, with a monthly allowance of $50 to $75. We receive nothing.”
The final letter that I wish to lay on the table comes from Randolph A. Smith and is dated 31 October 1999. He too was imprisoned in Havana, Cuba. Again I will read what I consider to be material and relevant: “My name is Randolph Arbingal Smith, I am one of the Bahamians incarcerated in Cuba. I would like this opportunity to say thank you for the efforts you have made on our behalf. They are very much appreciated. After three and a half years of constant writing to various Government ministers explaining and asking for help for our deplorable situation, the Government has chosen to ignore our plight until now... To say that (..a..) pro-active role was not taken by the Bahamian Government is the understatement of the year... Negligent and uncaring. I would like to finish off (by) saying that we are not properly detained, we have not had fair trials. Our health is at great peril here and that we are constantly psychologically and sometimes physically harmed. I hope this nightmare will come to an end, so we can return to our families and start to rebuild our lives. Thank you again for your kind help.”
LETTERS INDICT MINISTER
Now by any measure, these letters are an indictment of the Minister and her Ministry. The Minister of Foreign Affairs should be condemned for not assisting Bahamians abroad as is consistent with her remit as the representative of a sovereign nation. She has done, in one word, a lousy job. She is an incompetent Minister. She ought to go.
The Minister cannot seek to blame Fred Mitchell or the PLP for her problems, her incompetence, her embarrassment, her inability to do her job. She has only herself to blame. She cannot pollute the issue by seeking to punish the Cuban Ambassador. She is the problem here, not Fred Mitchell, not Perry Christie, not the PLP, not the Cuban Ambassador. The problem is Janet Bostwick. Period and full stop! There must be a full investigation of her shameful conduct as a Minister.
Why are we concerned about this matter Mister President? The PLP is concerned because the lynchpin of its foreign relations is that of human rights. We believe and subscribe fully to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. What that broad charter says is that each person is a human being with certain rights and these rights include the right to be treated as a human being. We cannot afford to allow any part of that principle to be chipped away. Everyone is a human person with these rights.
One of these rights is the right to due process. The Minister said in her press statement, published on 5 February in The Tribune that she had never heard the allegations of the Bahamians regarding being taken from Bahamian waters. Is there any wonder that should be so when for most of the time she has been fast asleep at the wheel?
Some of the Bahamians allege that they were caught, pursued into Bahamian waters and then taken into Cuba. Others allege that their sentences had expired and they were still not released by the Cuban authorities. Others say that they did not get a fair trial. These are all allegations for the investigation by a select committee to consider. The PLP cares because it puts people first, it puts Bahamians first. We care because their families in this country are anxious and concerned and are getting precious little assistance from The Bahamas Government.
Mister President, the litany of complaints about an incompetent Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not stop with the situation in Cuba. It also applies to Bahamians arrested or imprisoned in the United States of America. One such prisoner is a high profile former member and former leader of the FNM’s Action Group, my friend and schoolmate George Wilson.
Mr. Wilson has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for bilking insurance investors. According to a letter published in the Nassau Guardian, Mister Wilson said the following and I quote: “...for the fourteen months that I have been detained in the United States, not one member of the Bahamian Embassy in Washington or the Bahamian Consulate in Miami or any of my many friends in the Government made any unofficial or official inquiry or attempted to visit me to assure themselves of my treatment by US authorities and assure my family of my treatment. It is my understanding that one of the primary purposes of a consulate or embassy under all international agreements is to assist its nationals who find themselves in legal difficulties within the territories they are stationed.”
It is clear then that the situation not only exists in Cuba but in the United States as well. Another example, Mister President is a Bahamian whose sentence in the United States had expired, but who was still detained up to nine months afterward. The Americans could not deport because the Ministry of Foreign Affairs needed to determine whether or not he was a Bahamian. How it can take more than nine months with proper documentation to determine whether or not a person is Bahamian, I do not know. The only difference is that the state of relations between the U.S. and ourselves is a normal relationship, not distorted by the distrust of a judicial system in Cuba, and by the fact that there is a dictatorship in power in Cuba. The PLP’s position is that we ought to have a cordial but correct relationship with Cuba. This means that we must have regard for the maintenance of our primary foreign affairs relationship, that of the United States of America.
This then is an appropriate time to deal with the specific allegations made regarding the relationship with the Cubans. People who ought to know better have either deliberately missed the point or are politically motivated in ignoring the facts. The primary offender in this regard is the Minister who acted because she got ‘goosied’ by her ministerial colleagues because she was not fast enough in announcing the conclusions of the various agreements, and so in order to save face she had to destroy the Cuban Ambassador in the process. And then they got their little lackey down at the Nassau Guardian following right along: hook, line and sinker.
CUBAN AFFAIR STEP BY STEP
I intend for the record to detail step by step how the PLP approached the issue of the Cuban Affair. The story began sometime in 1999 just before our independence anniversary when I was introduced to the Cuban Ambassador at a social function. As I do, I asked him to make a courtesy call on the Leader of the Opposition, which upon his return to The Bahamas during the Independence celebrations of 1999 he did.
At that time, he expressed a desire for the members of our party to visit Cuba. We made it clear that we would accept such an invitation only if it came from the Government of Cuba. It was left to me as Opposition spokesman on Foreign Affairs to follow up with the Ambassador. We wrote in connection with the Ambassador's suggestion but heard nothing further in connection with it.
Sometime in late September 1999 or early October, several members of the Progressive Liberal Party's Leadership Council approached me as Opposition Spokesman on Foreign Affairs in connection with a follow up on public comments that I had made early in the year about Bahamians imprisoned in Cuba. I was authorized by the Leadership Council to take a certain course in connection with this and on 21 October a communication was made to the Senate in connection with our concerns, and announced the following:
– That we were to undertake a special investigation into the detention of our citizens in Cuba;
– We expressed our concern about the lack of a consular presence in Cuba by The Bahamas Government;
– We expressed the concern of families that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was not doing its job;
– We expressed our concern that the agreement on the transfer of prisoners from Cuba was taking too long to be concluded.
We added: “We believe that it is the responsibility of the Opposition to keep the people of The Bahamas abreast of developments in our relations with all countries. The Opposition sees its solemn responsibility to protect where we can the rights of Bahamian citizens both at home and abroad.
“It is our hope that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will act expeditiously to investigate these matters, once this communication has been laid on the table.”
The Minister of Foreign Affairs did nothing publicly about this. No response, indifferent silence. Then a brief announcement appeared in The Tribune of 22nd October 1999, which stated that the Ministry would be sending an emissary to Cuba to investigate complaints and report back to the country. We never heard a word after that, but that presumably was the trip about which the former detainees spoke earlier in the letters tabled in this House.
On 20 October, I wrote the following letter to the Ambassador for Cuba and I wish to lay that letter on the table of this House. It reads as follows: “The Progressive Liberal Party's Leadership Council has asked me to request your assistance in arranging a visit to the Bahamian citizens who are detained in Cuba. We would also wish an opportunity to meet with the officials responsible for their detention and care. I tried to reach you prior to and during a recent visit to Barbados but unfortunately without success. I am grateful for your consideration.”
In the meantime, on the 2 November 1999, I wrote a letter to the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I will lay that letter on the table and insofar as is material, I will quote as follows: “ The Opposition proposes to lead an investigation into the state of detention of Bahamians in Cuba in accordance with our communication to the Honourable Senate and would wish the assistance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to that end.”
On 5 November the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote back under the hand of the Permanent Secretary and insofar as is material, I quote: “If the Leader of the Opposition would provide the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the details of the proposed investigation in to the detention of Bahamians in Cuba, the Ministry will endeavour to assist.” I now lay both those letters on the table of this House.
That should put the lie to any suggestion that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would not be included and was not included in this matter.
Further action on the matter stalled as we continued our investigations, and awaited a response from the Cuban Ambassador.
On 1 December, we received a response by fax but that response did not come from the Government of Cuba and did not address our concerns about the visit to the Bahamian detainees. I was instructed by the PLP’s Leadership Council and the Leader of the Opposition after much discussion about a possible response without insulting our correspondents we responded on 11 January in the following terms:
“Thank you for your letter dated 1 December 1999. I am instructed by the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Perry Christie to express his regrets at being unable to avail ourselves of the invitation to visit Cuba in the latter half of January 2000. However, we are interested in knowing whether or not a small delegation of the party may visit the Bahamians incarcerated in Cuba.”
The next time we heard from the Ambassador was when we received a telephone call inviting me to lunch on 26 January, 2000 at the Hilton British Colonial. The luncheon meeting took place after a visit to the Leader of the Opposition on 25 January 2000. At that meeting, the Leader of the Opposition told the Ambassador that we wished to visit Cuba to see the Bahamians in prison there. The details were to be settled with me. Those details were settled with me.
Senator Obie Wilchcombe, the Chairman of the Party, my publicist Al Dillette and myself joined the Ambassador. A photo was taken and released to the press in terms of the release which I now lay on the table of this House. Insofar as it is material, the release stated that - and I quote: “Opposition Spokesman on Foreign Affairs Senator the Honourable Fred Mitchell announced in the Senate yesterday that five Bahamians have been released by the Cuban Government. The Bahamians have returned home. Relatives of the five, said Senator Mitchell expressed their thanks to the Progressive Liberal Party for the public efforts to obtain their release.”
I pause there and note that we were thanked for our public efforts, Mister President. No one on this side sought to claim credit for the release. We said only that the families thanked us for our public efforts on their behalf.
Now the release goes on to say Mister President: “The Ambassador said that Cuba expects to open a consulate in The Bahamas next week. An agreement in principle has been reached for members of the PLP to visit the remaining Bahamian prisoners in Cuba as early as the second week in February.”
Now remember, Mister President, since this is the great source of contention - that we made no claim to have concluded any agreement on behalf of the Bahamian people. We simply said that the talks we were having with the Cubans on visiting their country were concluded. Remember also that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were aware of our interest from a request from November of 1999 and offered their assistance. Clearly, the Minister of Foreign Affairs cannot give us permission to enter Cuba, only the Cuban Government or its representative can do so. And this is a free country, we do not need to get her permission to travel to Cuba. Once the agreement was obtained our next step would have been to advise the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that we intended to travel to Cuba; not to ask their permission, simply to inform them so that they could arrange the consular assistance during the visit.
So I hope I have put paid to two untruths spun by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, i.e., that we somehow usurped the functions of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and secondly that we breached some diplomatic niceties. I have long experience with foreign affairs matters and would not; would never breach any such protocol. I am scrupulous with it. In fact, the press can tell you how at another Embassy, I stopped a press conference in mid-stride when sensitive political questions were being asked because it was inappropriate to ask those questions in that place. It is now for the Bahamian people to decide who is telling the truth. I believe that the Bahamian people must surely see that all that has happened here is that a lazy Minister of Foreign Affairs was caught napping at the wheel in her service of the Bahamian people. Now suddenly jolted out of her sleep by an activist Shadow Minister, she is running around flat footed and groping, striking out at everyone, and seeking to call the game because she does not know what to do and who to blame. It is quite simple Minister: you have only yourself to blame.
DID NOTHING WRONG
I wish now to repeat what I said in the Senate on the 26 January when the lunch took place with the Cuban Ambassador. Remember Mister President that all of this information was revealed to the Senate before the lunch took place. I repeat what I said then, during the debate on the Amendment to the Court of Appeal Act, before lunch: “As the Opposition's spokesman for Foreign Affairs, I have been at great pains to advise my Leader and all Governments with whom we have contact that the PLP sees human rights as an integral part of its foreign policy, namely those rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“We have raised the issue of the rights of Cuban citizens and their freedom to travel out and into their country with the Cuban Ambassador. We have expressed publicly our concern that the judicial system of Cuba did not give due process to our citizens who are detained in Cuba.
“Mister President, I am pleased to report that five Bahamians have been released by the Cuban Government and have returned to their habitations in The Bahamas. They have expressed through relatives their thanks to the PLP for the public efforts to obtain their release. The five were convicted in Cuba of what the Cuban Government called illegal entry. They insist that they were pursued and picked up in Bahamian waters, framed by Cuban authorities, and then sentenced to two years imprisonment.
According to the Bahamians, their sentences expired in September last year but they were held in prison until 1 January when they were released. What is most galling to them is the lack of consular assistance from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and it is a complaint, which other relatives have today.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not been co-operative with the PLP on this issue. That is why we continue to speak about it publicly. The Government, I personally believe, needs to consider some resident consular assistance for Bahamians given the numbers who travel there for frolic and for commerce every week. I am to meet the Cuban Ambassador at lunch today and will raise again the plight of Bahamians in prison in Cuba. We are close to obtaining agreement from the Cuban Government to visit Cuba. Further, we understand that the protocol which will allow the transfer of prisoners serving time in Cuba to serve their sentences in The Bahamas is to become effective as early as the 1 February.”
Now, Mister President, that was before lunch. So far everything that I have been accused of breaching a confidence for was known to this body and to the public from this body before lunch on the 26 January. The one exception that I did not say in this place but which I knew again from independent sources was the exact time of the setting up of a consulate in The Bahamas. But here the important point to note is that in an interview with The Tribune on 4 February, the Minister of Foreign Affairs herself confirmed the truth of my statement when she said and I quote: “We will definitely have the Cuban consular office opened here.” Further, I am reliably informed that in 1998, a Cuban Vice Minister visited The Bahamas and announced publicly the intention of his Government to establish a consulate here.
So what has the Opposition spokesman on Foreign Affairs done wrong? Absolutely nothing. Nothing at all. All we have, I say again, is a Minister of Foreign Affairs startled out of nap time on East Hill Street, and running around like a chicken without a head. The truth will set you free.
WHO IS INTERESTED IN THE TRUTH?
One section of the press got it wrong. The Minister jumped to conclusions. But who is interested in the truth? We shall see if one person apologizes. I will not hold my breath. But I am constantly assaulted by the most incredible ignorance, lies and half-truths.
In an Editorial in The Tribune dated 15 February 2000, the editorial of The Tribune published the following comment on the matter under the headline: Westminster System vs Freelance Diplomacy.” As far as is material I quote: “Mr. Mitchell's pronouncement on behalf of the Opposition, after his private luncheon with the Cuban Ambassador, smacked of this freelance diplomacy... But Mr. Mitchell's way was probably the way an American in his position would have operated.”
I thank The Tribune for that. Except for my legal education and my primary and secondary education in this country, I was trained in the United States. I am proud of that fact. Even here in The Bahamas at high school, I received an American approach to education. It taught me to be a liberal thinker, a social conservative and how to keep an open mind. It taught me the values of a free society and the right to privacy and private property. I went to that nation's finest school. I am proud of that fact. It taught me the value of an open society and of the public's right to know. Everywhere that I have been in a public context, I have fought for an open society and the public's right to know. I therefore plead guilty to that. Public life is operated in public.
This is even more the case with regard to our relations with the Cubans. The ruling class in this country tried to portray the PLP as socialist oriented. I don't know of one socialist in the PLP but that's what people like to say. Nothing could be further from the truth. That word is used as a pejorative, to scare people away from the party that puts people first before money and machines; the party that puts Bahamians first.
Imagine if we had conducted all of these discussions in private: secret meetings with the Cuban Ambassador, nothing said about what we were doing. Imagine the hue and cry; the conspiracy theorists would have a field day. But the PLP, this Opposition spokesman on Foreign Affairs this Leader of the Opposition chose to develop his policy on Foreign Affairs and Cuba in the light of day. But can we say the same thing about the Government of The Bahamas and its relations with Cuba? I do not think so, but I tell you this, perhaps they had better start to be open about what they are doing. We are well aware of our primary relationship with the United States. We know that in the past U.S. authorities are concerned that Bahamian companies with American made products - that a condition of their purchase is that they cannot be exported for sale from this country to Cuba. We are aware of reports of Cubans coming to the Bahamas to shop for American goods. Is The Bahamas Government condoning that, and the risks which our merchants run if the United States decides to investigate that possible activity? I ask the Minister to wake up and instead of fooling with me, do her job as Minster and not make any secret deals with the Cubans or anyone else. Everything must be in the light of day.
So we intend to travel to Cuba, and since our announcement we have been deluged with calls. The Leader of the Opposition has a list of persons who are there, and from families who have lost loved ones at sea and who are rumoured to be there. Remember that the most vivid memory that Bahamians have of Cuba is the shooting and sinking and killing of those four Bahamian marines in 1980. Remember Cuban forces touched down in Ragged Island in 1980 in hot pursuit of their fishermen. That's what Bahamians remember.
I have a list of some 25 persons give or take a few who are still in Cuban jails. The Minister should tell Parliament what she intends to do to assist. Some are in Havana in Jail; others are some 500 kilometres away from Havana in jail in Camaguey. We know that persons have seen the group in Havana, but what of those in Camaguey?
And now that the Minister has confirmed that there is to be a consulate in The Bahamas for the Cuban Government, we must know what the limits are of that agreement. I add here that if the intent of the Cubans is such as to open a consulate here, then we need to open a consulate there in Havana. This should be so, Mr. President, if only for reasons of neighbourliness and reciprocity, Bahamians of Cuban origin, our long history with Cuba, our consular matters and our commercial and touristic trade with them. In addition, there has been a non-resident Ambassador to Cuba for seven years in the person of Mr. Davidson Hepburn. We want to know what has he done? What, in fact, has he been allowed to do by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs?
Further, we must consider the cost of operating a long-term relationship with Cuba, resident or non-resident. In fact, there are recommendations which now exist from the Crime Commission for the setting up of diplomatic missions in both Cuba and Haiti. They say that such missions would assist in controlling the flow of illegal immigration from those countries.
THE PLP ON
Mister President, what then is the PLP’s position on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. What would the PLP do if it were the Government? What would I recommend to Prime Minister Perry Christie. We have already laid on the table of this House by way of a communication, the PLP’s platform on Foreign Affairs in 1997. That has been amended to reflect the reality of ‘One China’ and the recognition of the Beijing Government as the true representative of all the Chinese people.
I wish now therefore to make a general statement of what the PLP’s position would be if it ran the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We would run a Ministry of Foreign Affairs that would be rooted in bi-partisanship.
To the degree that it is practicable and within reason, every nation's foreign policy should be conducted in a bi-partisan approach.
The reasons for this are obvious. Firstly while Governments and Ministers may change, it is important that there should be a sustained approach to the basic foreign policy positions of a country. Foreign policy should not be conducted at the personal whims of the Government but should reflect a wide-ranging support on the various issues. For example, the position taken by the previous administration on Drug Co-operation with the U.S. was one which the FNM Government was able to support and continue because of the bi-partisan and national approach to this serious issue.
The second reason why this bi-partisan approach is necessary has to do with the fact that there should be a national and united effort in dealing with the external world. When a position is adopted it must reflect and have the support of the nation. It follows, therefore, that there must be a role for the Official Opposition on matters relative to the conduct of foreign policy and this role can only be effective if information, briefs and other such documents are shared with the Official Opposition.
What has the Government done in this regard? Precious little and this must change so that the system has built into it the national conduct of foreign affairs.
The position has always had wide international acceptance and its for this reason that Ambassadors and Ministers and other envoys of foreign countries make it a point, when visiting The Bahamas, to call on the Opposition, in addition to their discussions with the Government.
I find it strange and troubling, therefore, that the Minister of Foreign affairs would take advantage of the fact that in this case of the recent visit by the Cuban Ambassador to The Bahamas, there was something amiss in him holding talks with the Opposition. There has been so much controversy over this. I think that the record ought to be set straight. It is shameful to see how this Government has manipulated this issue to the detriment of the personal relations between Ambassador Cabezas and his many friends in The Bahamas and possibly to our growing and complex relations with the Government of Cuba. I assert that if anyone has put relations with the Cuban Government on ice, it is Janet Bostwick who has to take full responsibility for this not the PLP.
For the record, I wish to give some facts for this House's consideration:
In the conduct of Foreign Affairs, there must be transparency. It is important that the nation, through Parliament should know what is happening. Sadly, this is lacking. In the last year alone, the Minister of Foreign Affairs attended meetings of CARICOM, OAS, the Caricom Heads of Government Meeting, and the United Nations as well as many other meetings. There have been meetings of the African Caribbean and Pacific Group meetings, meetings with the European Union; the on-going Free Trade of the America's Agreement (FTAA) negotiations and many other such fora, yet the country has not heard from the Minister any pronouncements or communications on the outcome of those meetings or the various positions The Bahamas has taken with regard to the issues on the agenda of these meetings. The official communiqué of these meetings are seldom circulated to the Opposition and not tabled in Parliament. How then is the country to know what our foreign policy is?
Some major areas of concern which we have and for which we require answers from the Government are on the following issues:
– CARICOM: The Bahamas has continued to vacillate on the question of membership in the Common Market. It was only recently that a delegation visited The Bahamas from the Caricom Secretariat to talk about the participation of The Bahamas more fully in Caricom’s trade protocols. I have been told that a number of American businessmen have approached the Government about establishing manufacturing concerns in The Bahamas but once they learn that there is no duty free access to the Caribbean markets, they decline to invest. We need therefore to study this problem and not continue to sit on the fence. That is my personal recommendation to my own party.
Information emanating from the Caricom Secretariat indicates that a study was to have been conducted on the efficacy of The Bahamas becoming a member of the Common Market. To date, the Bahamian public does not know whether that study has been completed, whether in fact it has been done, whether the Government has acted on its recommendations and what decisions, if any have been taken with respect to this most serious question.
Now I understand that it has been recommended that we do not join the common market but the people of The Bahamas ought to have the opportunity to understand and discuss why or why not have full participation in Caricom.
ACP/E.U. AND LOME: These are matters which have significant import for The Bahamas. We have certain trading arrangements with the E. U., particularly with regard to our exports of rum and fishing products. And I was able publicly to confirm the support of the Leader of the Opposition and the PLP for Bacardi, which is the main beneficiary of the E.U. arrangements.
The Bahamas has also benefitted over the years from grants under various Lome Conventions and from concessional lending from the European Investment Bank. We know that there have been meetings held through out the ACP region on these issues yet we are ignorant on the state of negotiations. Should not the Minister of Foreign Affairs or some other Minister so designated say something to the nation?
FTAA: This is but yet another example of silence from the Government on this issue. I have only read one statement recently from Ambassador James Smith on the difficulties being encountered in these negotiations, but there has been nothing from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on these matters. The same applies to the World Trade Organization (WTO). We know that The Bahamas has made application for observer status. Have negotiations regarding our membership begun? Has the Ministry explained to the Bahamian people why we have to join WTO and what this will mean for our tax system, and the national revenue collection?
Bases agreement: What for example is the current position on the bases agreement between The Bahamas and the U.S.A. and the U.K. Of particular concern is the Atlantic Underwater Testing and Evaluation Centre facility (AUTEC) in Fresh Creek, Andros. The previous agreement has expired and yet there has been no indication when a new agreement will fall into place. Why is it taking so long when the livelihood of hundreds of Androsians are at stake depending on the outcome of these negotiations. We have not heard one word from the Government on this score.
The Foreign Policy of The Bahamas has to be pro-active and brought into line with modern reality. The blue print of The Bahamas foreign policy is the same that was put into place some twenty-five years ago. Yet in that time The Bahamas has become more complex and is a progressive society. It is sad that now, nearing eight years in office the FNM Government has yet to spell out its vision as to how it views The Bahamas in the modern world. We admit that The Bahamas is a small nation, but so are Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, New Zealand. These are countries which should be admired for their role in international affairs. They are aggressive players on the international scene. There needs to be a re-thinking of our position and a new thrust to our foreign policy. Regrettably, the current leadership seems incapable of this.
I note Mister President that the Foreign Minister of Cuba is coming to The Bahamas with a high level delegation. And yet the announcement was made in the newspaper, but the Leader of the Opposition had to read the news in the press like every one else. And then the Government would ask us to join them in a bi-partisan consensus on Foreign Affairs matters. But the Leader of the Opposition should not have to hear about this on the radio or read about it first in the newspaper. He or his designee ought to have been briefed and should be briefed afterwards about whatever it is the Cuban Foreign Minister is coming to town to do.
The Progressive Liberal Party commits itself to a bi-partisan approach to foreign affairs. I am urging our party to support a position where trade becomes the main focus of our missions overseas. I believe that we must spend more on training candidates for the Foreign Service and think more about professionalizing our diplomatic corps abroad.
We ought to consider the appointment of an Ambassador for Children to oversee the needs and requirements of children in this society. That Ambassador would be our Permanent Representative to UNESCO in Paris which looks after children's issues but would be non-resident. The duties will be to ensure that children get a proper start in this society and that their rights - in terms of international conventions -are protected so that they can grow up in a free and healthy atmosphere, free from physical or mental abuse.
It is my view that the Free Trade of the America's Agreement negotiations should be run out of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and to that end I would recommend that the team at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development ought to become part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
I believe that the PLP should provide in its platform for the next election provision for the expansion of consular services for Bahamians abroad. There ought to be a consul resident in Havana. There ought to be a Permanent representative and resident Ambassador to Caricom.
Under the PLP, the party that puts people first, the fiasco of Janet Bostwick and the Cubans would not have happened.
GREAT VALUE IN PLP MOVE
Mister President, there has been great value in what the Opposition has done. There are benefits for the party showing that it is a pro-active organization and not content to let the Government lead it by the nose. But the greater benefit has been enlightening the Bahamian people on the role of the Foreign Ministry.
Thus far most people think of the Foreign Ministry as a place for diplomats who live the high life. Occasionally, they think about it because of the demand for passports. And while speaking of passports, it is high time that the systems for the delivery of passports be modernized, to eliminate the waiting and the long lines in so far as it can be avoided. I think as with all Government systems people ought to be able to pay for their passports by credit card, and embassies overseas ought to be able to renew passports.
My own view is and I shall be recommending to my leader that there ought to be a full time Ambassador to the European Union, resident in Belgium. I believe that we ought to appoint an Ambassador to the International Labour Organization (ILO), non-resident so that Labour matters can be better monitored, particularly given the increased and heightened awareness of the labour content and environmental content in the W.T. O arrangements. I will ask the PLP to support those issues as part of the WTO arrangements. It is part of our philosophy of putting people first.
It also seems incumbent upon The Bahamas Government to tell a Select Committee of this Parliament what its plan is for expanding consular assistance to the Bahamians who are increasingly travelling abroad. One is to make clear that where we do not have an embassy who they ought to contact. I believe - as I have said - that it is the British who have handled these matters for us since 1973 where there is no resident ambassador. Secondly, there ought to be and I will recommend to a PLP Government that there be a 24 hour toll free line set up for any Bahamian citizen who gets in trouble abroad to contact The Bahamas. These numbers should be well known and listed with directory assistance and printed in Bahamian passports, in the U.S. departure lounges in Freeport and Nassau.
In the major travelling areas like Miami, New York, Toronto, London, Kingston and Montego Bay, we ought to be able to provide a physical body to assist any Bahamian overseas within 24 hours. That should be the aim of our consular service.
Now, Mister President, I indicated to you that the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cuba is coming to The Bahamas. I told you how the Leader of the Opposition learned of this from the newspapers. I told you that this was improper. But there are several issues about which we are concerned. One of them is the issue of the prisoners and the lack of due process. But another is the number of refugees coming to this country from Cuba.
I have already indicated that that we have made human rights the lynchpin of our foreign policy. And it is a matter of concern to me that Cuban citizens are apparently unable to dissent politically and are unable to leave and enter their country without having the permission of the authorities in Cuba.
Of course, that is anathema to everything that we in The Bahamas stand for. Our country's constitution guarantees freedom of movement and we do not need the permission of the state to travel anywhere in the wide world that we want to travel.
But the political problems between the United States and Cuba are affecting us adversely, and they have also had a positive affect. The positive affect is the increased tourism and commerce through The Bahamas by Americans who can not travel directly to Cuba. The other is Cubans coming to this country to buy and also providing and outlet for their goods in The Bahamas by the selling of Cuban cigars for example.
But the problem is the refugee problem. Largely because of the American embargo against Cuba, there is a terrible problem of economic refugees. We have signed a protocol with Cuba on this matter and I continue to be concerned that this protocol does not allow for the rights of Cubans to be properly considered if they wish to request political asylum this country. That is an international obligation which we have and I would not want The Bahamas to be involved in any agreement which circumvents our international obligations by sending people back to political persecution without due process. This matter needs to be investigated by a Select Committee. The Bahamas Government claims that the asylum process is domesticated and that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees does not need to oversee the process, but I remain concerned.
Further we need to examine more fully what our relationship is with the Republic of Haiti. What agreements are in place about the repatriation of Haitian refugees, and are the rights of those refugees being protected as well. I wish as Opposition spokesman on Immigration to congratulate Vernon Burrows, the Acting Director of Immigration for his stellar job in recent weeks in dealing with the illegal immigration policy.
Just yesterday, I am informed that the Department of Immigration led a raid at the Paradise Island construction site at Paradise Island's Ocean Club and closed down the job site in response to complaints that illegal immigrant workers were employed on the job. This is the kind of thing that must continue.
I have complained about the situation in Romer Street in Fox Hill and he has worked on that as well. We ask also that the Government work expeditiously to consider the complaints of professional Bahamians on work permits being issued to foreign persons where Bahamians can do the job. But apart from the internal policy of immigration, we need to arrange if there is a shortage of labour in this country and I say if, that there is an orderly agreement between Cuba and Haiti to deal with these matters. That question ought to be examined by a Select Committee.
I end where I began this intervention this morning. When have we ever had a debate on Foreign Affairs in this country? The answer is that this is the first such debate in Parliament. The PLP has a responsibility in this new form, in this new guise to keep the Government on its toes and we shall do so. We have done so with regard to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
What I believe I have laid out here today is a sweeping indictment of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and her Ministry. We need a thorough public investigation and accounting. The real question is: has the Minister provided the consular assistance for Bahamians abroad? This has nothing whatever to do about who said what at lunch. I plead guilty only to working on behalf of Bahamians. Can the Minister say the same?
She cannot if she truly searched her heart.
SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP WITH THE US
I wish before sitting down today to reaffirm the primary relationship that we have with the United States of America. The PLP’s policy is to reaffirm that primary relationship in foreign affairs. We will do nothing, nothing to jeopardize that primary relationship. We have no right to risk the future of the Bahamian people in any way by adventures in foreign affairs. That is why we are open in our activities with the Cubans. We have no other brief but a cordial and correct relationship and the protection of our citizens in Cuba and our legitimate trade and national interests. If The Bahamas Government wishes to conduct its affairs in secret with the Cubans that is up to them. That is not the PLP’s way.
MINISTER MUST ACCOUNT
This is a call on the Minister of Foreign Affairs to account for her mismanagement of the Foreign Affairs of this country. It is not, I repeat not an attack on the good and talented staff of that Ministry, and should not be characterized as such. Indeed, I will not allow it to be characterized as anything other than joining the long-suffering Foreign Affairs staff in what must surely be their misery. Every week, there is at least one telephone call from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs staff complaining about working conditions; the lack of a plan for foreign affairs, a systematic approach to pay and conditions for promotion, the fact that the Minister does not stand up for her staff against the Prime Minister and against public attacks; indeed, you will recall that in this place I called for the Minister to publicly account for her inability to defend her staff when the Prime Minister interfered in the Department and caused dislocations at the senior level.
The staff, about whom this group of Senators on the other side today are so concerned, were mortified and continue to be mortified that the Minister did not stand up and defend them and their integrity.
It is clear from DeSmith’s seminal textbook on Constitutional Law that one of the sacrosanct tenets of our Constitution which we inherited from the British is that the Minister must account to Parliament for the activities of herself and her departments. So the question today is, is the Minister doing that?
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs deserves better, and the Minister ought to say how she plans to develop the Foreign Affairs profile of The Bahamas so that the lot of our country can be improved; our citizens protected overseas and the public comes to understand what role Foreign Affairs actually plays.
What she ought to have done in pursuance of her mission with regard to all of the matters I have discussed here this afternoon, is to have asked for a meeting with the Leader of the Opposition to discuss matters of common concern before bringing a foreign Government into the internal political debate of The Bahamas.
The Free National Movement Government are masters of obfuscation; smoke and mirrors, policy by sleight of hand, a wink and a nod. And so it would consistent with that for the FNM would to try to pollute the issue of this debate by suggesting that somehow we are more concerned about the credibility as between the Minister on the one side and the credibility of the former detainees in Cuba. I repeat what I said many times in my intervention today: this has nothing to do with the credit or lack of credit in the Minister or the detainees. It has to do with her credibility as Minister and her ability to run her Ministry, and whether or not the Ministry is doing an effective job for and on behalf of the Bahamian people.
The Minister should not conduct affairs by informing about public policies simply by releases to the newspaper, indeed, the cryptic notice this week about the visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Cuba is an example of the lack of appreciation for reporting to Parliament. One thing you can say about this spokesman for the PLP is that there is no act of a public character which is not publicly made known to the people of The Bahamas, by way of press and by way of Parliament. The cryptic notice by the Minister simply invites idle speculation about what secret deals the Minister and her colleagues may be cooking up with the Cubans to the detriment of the Bahamian people. We must be careful about this, having regard again for the primary relationship between the United States and The Bahamas. Nothing must interfere with that relationship. No Minister has the right to sacrifice the interests of the Bahamian people be jeopardizing that relationship.
This is also not about the guilt or innocence of the persons detained in Cuba or about the activities in which they have been alleged to have participated. This is about whether or not the Minister provided the consular assistance to which every Bahamian is entitled when they fall into error or into trouble overseas. She must account to Parliament for that.
I wish to summarize the position here. The PLP in its foreign policy reaffirms the primary relationship between the United States and The Bahamas. Next in importance are the relationships between The Bahamas and its Caribbean neighbours in Caricom, Canada and the United Kingdom. Next to that are the relations between ourselves and the European Union. Next to that are all other relationships. The jumping off point is the declaration of Human Rights and our relations with all states are governed by those guiding principles. We support a ‘one China’ policy, but we remain aloof from the internal political disputes of the two claimants to the name China. We support the Beijing Government as the sole legitimate representative of the people of China. We oppose the use of force to accomplish the result of a united China. We have made this known to the Chinese Ambassador in this country.
Further, this debate today is a call for a public education programme by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on matters relating to foreign affairs and the Progressive Liberal Party would be more than happy to assist in trying to carry out this public education programme. The Minister need only speak to the leader of the Opposition and I am certain that he will assist where he can.
The PLP nor this spokesman on Foreign Affairs has breached any diplomatic nicety or protocol. The facts are now there for all to see. I call on the Minister to protect her staff, to stand up for her staff, to let the public know what is happening within her department and invite public participation in the development of the work of the Ministry.
I call on her to express her deep regrets for besmirching my good name. I ask her to apologize to the Cuban Ambassador for besmirching his good name. And I repeat that this debate is not about the good, decent, well-trained, hard working diligent, God-fearing, workers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I have seen them at work in the Department of Protocol. They work odd and long hours with great sacrifice and pay which is not sufficient, but they do not complain. I have seen the officers at work overseas, and they work double and triple shifts two and three different responsibilities where other countries have one or two people for those responsibilities. I am proud and the PLP is proud of the work they do. The Minister must stand up for them and this Select Committee can get to the bottom of why the staff are being abused.
I commend this debate to this House and seek its support as I move this request for the select Committee.
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