Wed | Oct 20, 2021

VAZ VISA VICE

Bruce Golding slams US for playing politics; Bunting denies baiting embassy on revocation

Published:Tuesday | September 28, 2021 | 12:13 AMKimone Francis/Senior Staff Reporter
Cabinet Minister Daryl Vaz has quipped that his political enemies will soon watch him take a flight to the United States.
Cabinet Minister Daryl Vaz has quipped that his political enemies will soon watch him take a flight to the United States.
Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding says the United States government must come clean with its claims against Daryl Vaz.
Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding says the United States government must come clean with its claims against Daryl Vaz.
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In the wake of the flagging of Cabinet Minister Daryl Vaz’s United States visa with a substance trafficking marker, former Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding has criticised Washington for weaponising travel documents for political ends. Vaz, who...

In the wake of the flagging of Cabinet Minister Daryl Vaz's United States visa with a substance trafficking marker, former Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding has criticised Washington for weaponising travel documents for political ends.

Vaz, who served as information minister when Golding occupied Jamaica House after winning the general election in September 2007, was on Friday issued with a one-year, multiple-entry B1/B2 visitor's visa two years after it was revoked.

But the document contained the rare annotation “212(SMALL D) (3) (A) WAIVER of 212 (A) (2C) (1)”, which covers controlled substance traffickers under US immigration law. Vaz has denied any wrongdoing.

Golding has insisted that the US should state the reason it cancelled the science, energy and technology minister's visa and disclose the basis on which it was reissued.

“I don't have much faith in the US government's consideration when it comes to visas. It's used as a political tool and it may have nothing to do with any substantive facts,” Golding told The Gleaner on Monday.

He said the reason behind the waiver would have to be substantiated before any decision is made, or considered, about removing Vaz from the Cabinet.

Golding demitted office in 2011 after a protracted dispute with Washington over the extradition of now-convicted drug runner Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.

Vaz received a 'D A2' five-year diplomatic visa on Monday. It was issued on Friday and expires on September 22, 2026.

The US Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs says that holders of D A2 visas are restricted to travel only on the behalf of a national government to engage solely in official activities.

That means Vaz, who is scheduled to address Parliament Tuesday afternoon, would have to use the visa flagged for substance trafficking if travelling as a tourist or for personal business.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness is yet to comment on the tenability of Vaz's position in his Cabinet.

Former US ambassador to Jamaica, Donald Tapia, who served from August 2019 to January 2021, has vehemently maintained that Vaz was wronged by the US government when his visa was revoked.

The controversial former diplomat said the annotation on Vaz's visitor's visa was an attempt by the US to cover up its mistake.

Tapia told The Gleaner that shortly before he took up the post, complaints were made against Vaz and now Opposition Kingston Eastern and Port Royal Member of Parliament Phillip Paulwell while the Portia Simpson Miller-led People's National Party was in office.

He alluded that the complaints were made by then Minister of National Security Peter Bunting.

Bunting, when contacted on Monday, categorically denied all accusations of having any role in Vaz's visa revocation.

“This matter cannot, and should not, be resolved in the realm of gossip and speculation,” he told The Gleaner.

“... I have chosen not to engage publicly on this issue, as to do otherwise could risk the trust and confidentiality, which is the bedrock of the relationship between representatives of governments.”

Bunting urged Holness and Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith to engage directly with the US State Department on the revocation saga.

Paulwell, a former minister of commerce, science, technology, and energy, could not be reached for comment.

Although Tapia has sought to establish the recency of allegations against Vaz, concerns about Paulwell's and Vaz's suitability for office go as far back to 2006 and 2009, respectively, according to diplomatic cables that surfaced in a WikiLeaks exposé.

In a January 2007 WikiLeaks cable, a high-ranking member of the Jamaica Labour Party is reported to have solicited the support of the US government in vetting senior party members. No party member was named.

“I don't like surprises,” the official, whose identity has been withheld by The Gleaner, had said.

Tapia said that following the revocation of Vaz's visa in 2019, he reviewed his case on the request of Holness, whom he said was considering Vaz, then a minister in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), for a very important ministry.

The former ambassador, who reportedly lobbied dozens of US senators for Vaz's cause, said that US and Jamaican authorities had cleared Vaz in multiple probes. Those claims have not been independently verified.

Civil-military cooperation officer at the Jamaica Defence Force, Lieutenant Nathan Curtis, when asked whether the army had conducted an investigation into Vaz, said that such a probe did not fall within its purview.

“We have no jurisdiction in that regard,” he told The Gleaner on Monday.

Senior Superintendent of Police Stephanie Lindsay, who is in charge of the Jamaica Constabulary Force's communications arm, declined to comment.

Former US Ambassador Luis Moreno, who preceded Tapia, serving as Washington's top diplomat in Jamaica from 2014 to 2017, declined to comment on the visa controversy, noting that he was not at liberty to discuss any past, present, or future visa issues.

“As a former ambassador, it would not only be unseemly and inappropriate, it would be a violation of the Privacy Act,” he said.

James Robertson, who also had his US visa revoked in 2011, believes Vaz's visa was wrongfully yanked and that the annotation should not have been placed on the returned document.

The government St Thomas Western MP said that he has known the minister since their days together at Mona Preparatory School and that he has always been honest.

“I've never known him to mix up with anything other than the truth. He has always spoken his truth to a point where people become uncomfortable,” Robertson said on Monday.

“In this country, there are people who specialise in nothing but Anansi stories. Daryl has spoken and is speaking the truth.”

kimone.francis@gleanerjm.com