Thu | Dec 5, 2019

Gordon Robinson | Visa revocation is not just a Vaz problem

Published:Sunday | November 10, 2019 | 12:23 AM

Two recent high-profile USA visa revocations (and hints of more) brought into sharp focus Jamaicans’ irrational lust for and all-encompassing reliance on the American visa.

Joe Blow’s and Jane Payne’s visas are revoked all the time. The USA, as a sovereign nation, has the right to revoke or grant visas to any foreign national as its (very) little heart desires. In fact, I’ve repeatedly exposed my disbelief and disappointment at our citizens’ fawning approach to the Holy Grail of a USA visa.

So why the brouhaha?

Great Jamaican journalist Earl Moxam put it best on his Sunday programme ‘That’s a Rap’ (error? Or cute play on a word?) when he pointed out that Daryl Vaz’s public promise to resign from Cabinet if the visa isn’t returned seemed to acknowledge that somehow, the USA can pick Jamaica’s Cabinet regardless of choices made by our prime minister in accordance with Jamaica’s Constitution.

Earl correctly zeroed in on Daryl’s reaction rather than the USA’s decision. Surely, this visa or no-visa kerfuffle should be a matter of only passing concern to all Jamaican patriots?

One more Jamaican gaan abroad.

One more disciple leave di yaad.

But if yu t’ink sey we a go stan’ up an’ wait;

no way while we hold di gate fi yu

no t’ink so at all.

But I man on ya; I man born ya;

I nah leave ya; fi go America

No way sah, pot a bwoil ya; belly full ya;

Sweet Jamaica!

But, oddly, Daryl treated the revocation as crucial. So, for me, it was his reaction that made me zero in on the decision. Obviously, Daryl, the victim of the USA’s latest apparent caprice, considers the decision to be one fatal to his ability to perform as Cabinet minister. Who would know better than he?

So, what are these decisions all about anyway? Phillip Paulwell’s visa revocation, in the absence of an explanation from the USA, has been made to appear to be a puerile reaction to his perfectly lawful relationships in Cuba, which is a tale Joe and Jane can easily swallow now that the USA is run by a petulant child. But readers of this column (both of them) know that nothing in this world is as it appears.

Relationships with Cuban business interests are commonplace these days, so it’s ludicrous to believe that a USA State Department would go out of its way to revoke the visa of a high-ranking foreign politician because he has Cuban friends. THAT idea is a non-starter.

So what do the Americans think they know about Phillip Paulwell? More important, how credible is the source of their “knowledge”? Will Paulwell resign from the Shadow Cabinet if his visa isn’t returned? Will he resign as PNP VP?

How far do the ramifications of these high-profile visa revocations go? Will the USA now be in a position to over-ride Jamaican electoral results? Is this a method of interfering with Jamaican elections more insidious than Russian hacking of USA elections? Or does the targeting of members of both political parties signal something else altogether?

NOT A ‘NORMAL’ VISA REVOCATION

Regarding Daryl Vaz, let’s be crystal clear. This is NOT a ‘normal’ visa revocation! The USA, allegedly a friendly nation that enjoys excellent diplomatic relations with Jamaica, suddenly and, apparently without warning, revoked the visa of a Jamaican Cabinet minister. Without more, that would be sufficiently ‘abnormal’ to raise several eyebrows.

But Daryl Vaz isn’t just any Cabinet minister. He’s a Cabinet minister who was, until recently, a USA citizen who VOLUNTARILY surrendered his citizenship to become a Cabinet minister. In the normal course of things, I’d expect his visa to be automatic and permanent unless there has been some egregious breach of which we’re not aware. Yet the letter he received stated: “information has come to light that you may be ineligible for a visa.”

MAY BE INELIGIBLE? Really? Seriously? A former CITIZEN? C’Mon, man! Am I a coonoomoonoo?

The revocation of THIS visa is equivalent, in my opinion, to a declaration that Daryl Vaz is persona non grata in the USA. Former citizens aren’t put on ‘no-fly’ lists for other than the most serious alleged offences or unless they are somehow considered dangers to USA national security.

The foreign policy that guided this visa revocation decision ought to ensure that it’s only taken in the clearest of cases of threat to American interests. It’s inconceivable that this is an act of American whimsy. So, again, the crucial question is, what do the Americans think they know about Daryl Vaz, and, how credible is the source of this “knowledge”?

For something like this to come out of the blue; for the Jamaican government and people to be so blind-sided by this hostile action against Jamaica is something our government should pursue with aggression and commitment.

Daryl shouldn’t be hung out to dry and asked to pursue a personal mission to have his visa returned. This is NOT, and can never be, a personal matter. If this remains unexplained, it’s an act of extreme national provocation.

But when you stop and check out di facts

is a whole heap a t’ing Jamaica lack

but when you run from a problem

it neva solve

no man waan fi get involve at all

we sit down and bawl

I hope the Jamaican Government, especially the Foreign Affairs Ministry, insists on a detailed explanation from the USA Government as to the reasons behind this visa revocation. Especially as we joined four Caribbean brethren in the vestibule outside a Mar-a-Lago conference room waiting to be summoned for instructions on Venezuela; especially as we have stood beside the USA in making some otherwise inexplicable decisions on OAS resolutions and the expropriation of Venezuelan assets. At the very least, we deserve to be treated as more than subservient lackeys and told WHY this act of enmity.

Is there a protocol in these matters? Was the USA expected to inform at least the prime minister, foreign affairs and national security ministers of this impending missile launch? Did the the USA give the Government or the Opposition advance notice? DID OUR GOVERNMENT KNOW THIS WAS COMING AND WHY? Did the opposition leader know? Was his replacement of Phillip Paulwell as leader of opposition business connected?

GOVERNMENT MUST ACT

In what might have been a slip of the tongue, Horace Chang reportedly told The Gleaner that he “did not believe Washington was targeting the Holness administration, but, instead, was acting on individual merit.”

Oh? On what factual basis did Horace come to that belief? Bear in mind, the USA, in its letter to Daryl, based its decision on “information” that “has come to light”. Why would Horace Chang make such a specific declaration if he was unaware of the USA’s reasons for revoking Daryl’s visa, which would include the details of the USA’s “information”? If he has reason to believe that the USA was acting on “individual merit” and yet failed to say he disagreed with the merits of the decision, why is the Government waiting on Daryl to try to get the visa back? Why hasn’t Daryl been Reided?

Unless Horace Chang clarifies his remarks as reported by The Gleaner (or says he was misunderstood), as a friend of mine from horse racing would say, “sump’n inna sump’n”, and this will begin to look like another cover-up that makes Petrojam/NESOL buck-shuffling appear exemplary transparency in governance.

Jamaicans must demand that the Government immediately say what it knows and what action it is taking, as Government, to rectify the situation. Corrective action can be taken diplomatically, through the foreign affairs ministry (no details required, just a statement that the Government is moving to treat the action as hostile) or politically, through the prime minister.

Daryl Vaz’s visa revocation is NOT just Daryl Vaz’ problem. Until further advised, it’s Jamaica’s problem. And Daryl’s seemingly intemperate initial response has led me to a bastardised version of Keith ‘Pluto’ Shervington’s brilliant lyrics.

But I man on ya,

I man born ya

I nah leave ya

til mi get mi visa ...

Less than two years after Pluto wrote and recorded his 1975 monster hit ‘I Man Born Ya’, he was on one of the “five flights a day to Miami”, where he has resided ever since. These days, he returns occasionally to “Sweet Jamaica” for live performances. I saw him perform at Ernie Smith’s 30-year anniversary concert at the Pegasus, where he first coined the lyric “til mi get mi visa” to an adoring crowd that had long ago forgiven him for abandoning them.

Peace and love!

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com