While he said he doesn’t believe the US state department’s travel warning on The Bahamas will have any material impact on this nation’s relationship with its largest trade partners, former Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell said the government’s management of one of its most important foreign allies has caused discomfort to the Bahamian public.
Last week the United States placed The Bahamas at level 4, advising its citizens not to travel to this jurisdiction.
The move came about two weeks after Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced that commercial flights from the United States would not be permitted to land in the country following a spike in local COVID-19 cases.
Asked about the long-term impact of such decisions, Mitchell said while there may be some effects on the margins, The Bahamas and the United States have a long-standing, tourism-based relationship dating as far back as the 1800s.
“The Royal Victoria Hotel was built to accommodate that traffic and the government since the 19th century has been subsidizing, first steamships, and then aircraft to bring tourists to The Bahamas,” said Mitchell.
“John Kerry, who is the former secretary of state, vacations in Harbour Island and Lyford Cay and so I don’t think there will be any fundamental change. What is problematic is that the United States, we are joined to them at the hip geographically, we are in their political orbit, so there are some practical issues which follow with that. They are also our major trading partner, so one of the things we have to do is ensure the relationship does not have any public ruffles insofar as we can avoid it,” he said.
“So when the decision was announced that no flights would be allowed from the United States, I am advised that both the foreign affairs ministry and the ministry of tourism were caught flat footed by that announcement, as was the United States government, I am advised. So that sent everybody scrambling.
“You just don’t do those kinds of things. Your nearest trading partner and ally, you don’t have to do so, but it makes sense that before you do so, you talk to all the stakeholders and say here is what I plan to do, do you have any observations? So, it’s rather clumsy what happened and that has caused the discomfort in the Bahamian public, because it gives the impression that the government does not know how to manage the most important relationship in its foreign affairs.”
In a press release issued on Sunday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it noted “travel restrictions toward The Bahamas recently imposed by the United States and other nations”.
Mitchell said he was concerned by the wording of that official statement.
“I don’t think anything is actually fundamentally changed in the relationship. I had talks with the ministry (Sunday) because I was rather alarmed when I saw the first paragraph of their statement, which said that restrictions had been placed on The Bahamas. I went back and looked at the advisory and looked at their statement and I suggested to them that what exists is not a prohibition, it is just advice to travelers,” he said.
“And so even though they stated in very strong terms, there is not actually a law which prevents Americans from visiting The Bahamas, which would then be a very serious problem. And of course the government has to do its best to navigate that issue so that it doesn’t happen. At the moment there are still commercial flights between this country and the United States and that’s how it should be; there is no reason in life why it shouldn’t be, but there ought to be the appropriate controls in place given the health emergency we are now in.”
The Bahamas is currently under a two-week lockdown due to the exponential increase in COVID-19 cases since fully reopening its borders on July 1.
Visitors coming in must test for COVID-19 in advance and quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.