Editorial | Mr Pompeo and the revocation of visas
We appreciate America’s policy, reiterated by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during his visit to Jamaica last week, that it isn’t US policy to disclose why it revokes travel visas issued to individuals, as has happened to two senior Jamaican politicians, Daryl Vaz and Phillip Paulwell.
That policy, though, isn’t quite set in concrete. For, the United States, when it seeks to make a point, or send a clear political message to a foreign government, will announce the names of individuals against whom it places travel bans, usually as part of a wider set of sanctions.
A senior minister of a friendly government, as is Mr Vaz, or leading members of the opposition party, with which the United States has no problem, aren’t usually expected to be the recipients of this kind of approbation. The circumstance, therefore, warrants an explanation, especially given the remarks made in Kingston by Mr Pompeo about the issue, which, taken to the extreme, could invite deeply disturbing interpretations.
First, few ministers in Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ administration, but, perhaps, for Nigel Clarke, who has the portfolio for finance, and Dr Horace Chang, who is responsible for security, would occupy a more critical position than Mr Vaz. He, de facto, has day-to-day responsibility for the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, of which the prime minister is officially the head.
It is that ministry, under which many critical institutions of the State fall, that was positioned to drive business activity, leading to transformative levels of growth. Having a US visa, and being able to travel to the United States, is not essential for a minister of government to perform effectively, but it’s availability is, possibly, a plus.
Or, perhaps, more correctly, being in possession of one, and having it revoked, and being widely known, is likely to be a significant distraction if not an impediment. After all, the United States is the hub of global finance and commerce, where much international business is conducted. Not being able to travel to the US, therefore, could be a hindrance.
Also critical is the signal sent, and the impression left, when the powerful United States withdraws travel visas from public officials and other important figures. The perception, usually, is that such officials are engaged in the abuse of human rights, or are members or enablers of a dictatorship or corrupt regime, or are themselves personally corrupt. In the absence of specific allegations against either Mr Vaz or Mr Paulwell, except being told that they are no longer eligible for a US visa, that shadow hangs over both men as well as Mr Vaz’s wife, who has also had her US travel privileges revoked.
People close to Mr Paulwell have suggested that the US action may relate to his current association, as well as during his stint as Jamaica’s energy minister, with Nicolás Maduro’s government in Venezuela, with which the United States is at odds. But that is merely speculation. The Vazes have been able to offer no explanation for the action against them except for the claim by Dr Chang, the national security minister, that it has nothing to do with the Government. The implication, therefore, is that the US action was specific to the behaviour of the Vazes, who, like Mr Paulwell, have appealed the revocations.
Mr Pompeo is right that the United States issues thousands of visas annually to Jamaicans – 72,751 non-immigrant, and 12,747 immigrant in 2018 –suggesting, it seems, that in the context of those numbers, the revocation of a handful of permits is largely inconsequential, especially given the right of individuals to appeal. Except that in this case, the offices held by the persons from whom visas have been revoked matter.
Further, the issue is complicated by one of Mr Pompeo’s observations in response to questions about the US action. He said: “… We, just like Jamaica, have security interests when we think about how we approach these problems that are uppermost in our minds.”
It is not clear whether this remark related to either Mr Vaz or Mr Paulwell, or both, or others about whom we are not aware but whose visas may also have been rescinded. Either Mr Pompeo or Ambassador Donald Tapia, or Prime Minister Andrew Holness, if he was briefed, should clarify the matter for Jamaicans.