by Sir Arthur Foulkes
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did not stay long and did not speak a lot. Nevertheless, her visit to the Bahamas was a veritable tour de force. Perhaps she will return under different circumstances for a deeper experience of Bahamian hospitality.
The public comments Dr. Rice made, though brief, were nevertheless compelling and instructive. Those conducting our affairs of state and contributing in the media to the shaping of public opinion ought to take note.
Dr. Rice is an African American at the highest level in an administration that is more to the right that any in recent memory. That might seem a bit odd since the great majority of black Americans are of a liberal bent because of their history and experience.
That is not to say that black conservatives are unknown in America. In recent years some blacks in the media and academia have discovered the benefits of black conservatism in America and have made it a lucrative growth industry.
There is no doubt that Dr. Rice is a genuine conservative, although not of the extreme ideological brand that has created so many headaches for the US and the world. Her predecessor, Colin Powel, was a liberal dove in a conservative hawks’ nest and he was eventually picked to pieces.
Mr. Powell tried to be a moderating influence in the Bush administration and warned of the dire consequences of pursuing harsh ideologically driven policies in international affairs. His famous -- and prescient -- warning about Iraq must today be ringing in the ears of a beleaguered President George W. Bush: “If you break it, you own it!”
In the end Mr. Powell is not likely to end up in as honoured a place in history as he might have otherwise enjoyed because of his brilliant military career.
His dramatic performance at the UN helped to pave the way for the invasion of Iraq with the claim that Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction and was therefore an immediate threat to the US and the world. But it was not true, and that is something Mr. Powell now says he will have to live with for the rest of his life – and in history, too.
Dr. Rice has been busy using her considerable intellect, talent and personality in an effort to reverse some of the worldwide disaffection for the US caused by neocon policies. Her visit to the Bahamas to meet with Caricom Ministers of Foreign Affairs was clearly a part of this wider diplomatic initiative.
Like most of the nations of the world, Caribbean states for the most part did not support America’s adventure in Iraq. Closer to home, most Caribbean countries were also deeply disturbed when it appeared that the US aided and abetted the violent overthrow of Haiti’s democratically-elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Dr. Rice’s visit should close that sad chapter. Caricom states should now collaborate as fully as possible with the US and the international community in supporting the Haitian people in their struggle for democracy, stability and, in time, prosperity.
Never again should any state encourage the violent overthrow of a democratic government in Haiti. The US should also resist the temptation to interfere, however covertly, in the internal affairs of working democracies in the region.
Dr. Rice’s visit should help to correct the myopic vision of those Bahamian isolationists who believe that the Bahamas should have as little as possible to do with our brothers and sisters in the rest of the Caribbean and that our horizons should extend no further than Florida.
Regionalism is a fact of life in today’s world and there are few countries that do not belong to some kind of regional bloc. Regionalism can be a valuable step towards just and sustainable globalism. The US understands this and is obviously happy to deal with Caricom on a wide range of issues.
As Dr. Rice put it, “We can do a lot together. We share common values; we share many ties of kinship between the Caribbean and the United States.”
This does not mean that the Bahamas cannot continue its special relationship with the US and that we cannot also continue to pursue common objectives bilaterally.
But Bahamians should remember that we are not the only ones with a special relationship and many ties of kinship with the US. There are, for instance, more persons of Jamaican descent in the US than Bahamian and one of them became Secretary of State!
It must have been a big blow to the local isolationists, cold warriors and panderers to hear Dr. Rice say:
“Of course the government of the Bahamas is a sovereign government that will make its own decisions on its international relations.
“We are here because the United States has positive relations with Caricom. It is not to be our concern for what other relations there are. It is our responsibility, our obligation and indeed our intention to deepen and broaden the relationship of the United States with the countries of Caricom.”
That effectively gives the lie to those who try to scare the Bahamian people into believing that the US will punish us for having relations with other countries, especially China and Cuba. International relationships do not work that way; they are not like marriages in which one relationship requires the partners to renounce all others.
As if to underline the point, Dr. Rice added, “I’d like you to note that we have an extensive relationship with China in trade.”
So the PLP Government should not be timid about relations with China which were initiated by the FNM Government. Care should be taken with all our relationships, of course, but it will no doubt be to our benefit now and in the long term to develop our friendship with China.
The Chinese economy has for some time been enjoying the fastest sustained growth in the world. Why should we buy Chinese goods out of Florida when we can get them cheaper directly from China? This would make no sense, especially now that we have a containerized port in the Bahamas to facilitate this trade.
After all, what the Secretary of State describes as an extensive relationship between the US and China is in fact a massive trading relationship amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars.
Why should we not prepare to get our share of Chinese tourism? This is bound to be one of the biggest -- perhaps the biggest -- tourism markets in the world if present trends continue. The Ministry of Tourism is to be congratulated for its forward thinking in this matter.
We can be absolutely certain that the US hospitality industry is preparing to entertain Chinese tourists and that the State of Florida will be right there competing with us for its share of the Chinese market.
The Ministry of Tourism is to be congratulated for its forward thinking in this matter. Prime Minister Perry Christie should do likewise and without further delay appoint an ambassador to China. It is disgraceful that there has been no Bahamas Ambassador to China since December 2002.
Dr. Rice rightly acknowledged that “Everyone knows that we have a special set of circumstances with Cuba. I would just note that I would hope that one day Cuba would be able to take its rightful seat at the Organization of American States as a democratic state.”
Bahamians are aware of those special circumstances and most do not believe the US is managing that relationship so as to hasten Cuba’s inclusion in regional organizations. US policy towards Cuba is dictated by local political considerations and many Americans do not expect the rest of the world to fall in line behind it.
The problems we have with Cuban immigration today are a direct result of failed US policies towards that country over the last half century. But there are indications that more and more Americans are becoming fed up with the Cuban American tail in Florida wagging the dog. Perhaps Dr. Rice is one of them.