Row Over Cuba Vote
By Candia Dames
Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell tabled in the House of Assembly on Wednesday documents that confirmed that the Bahamas voted recently in support of Cuba’s ascension to the new United Nations Human Rights Council.
But the minister refused to state in clear terms while addressing the lower chamber exactly how the Bahamas voted. He, however, did lash out at former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham over remarks Mr. Ingraham made in Grand Bahama on Saturday on the issue.
Mr. Ingraham said during his weekend press conference, "If we were in office Cuba would not have the nerve or the gumption to ask us to vote for them to be on a human rights commission. That’s an unthinkable event."
In response, Minister Mitchell said the former prime minister was irresponsible in his comments and he accused him of political mischief making.
"I am concerned about the tenor and tone of the remarks coming from the side opposite about a country that sits on our western border, and who the last time I checked was considered at peace with us and a friend to our country," the foreign minister said.
"The language is contrary to the spirit of comity between the two countries…The position of the government as it relates to Cuba is no different from that of its citizens who, as the leader of the Official Opposition has pointed out, are free to travel where they wish. The government must protect their interests."
Minister Mitchell tabled a document from Nicole L. Archer, who wrote on behalf of this country’s Permanent Mission in New York presenting the government the Mission’s recommendations regarding who the country should vote for.
The Mission identified both first-choice candidates and back-up candidates in the event that the Mission’s first-choice candidates were eliminated at any time during the balloting.
In all, the Mission identified 47 countries the Bahamas should vote for.
According to Ms. Archer, the Mission took into consideration each country’s human rights record and voluntary commitments to human rights. It also took into consideration, the Bahamas’ relationship with specific countries and the need to ensure a broad and varied spectrum of political, economic and cultural views on the council. Other factors were also taken into consideration.
One of the countries that the Mission advised the Bahamas to vote for as a first choice was Cuba. Among the back-up candidates the Mission recommended the Bahamas vote for were Iraq and Iran.
But Minister Mitchell told reporters that the country did not vote for any of the back-up candidates because that did not become necessary.
Earlier, he told House members, "The government saw no reason to interfere with the advice offered and the votes cast on Tuesday 9 May were consistent with the advice given and consistent with historic patterns of voting by all previous administrations."
But Mr. Ingraham, who spoke with reporters in the Opposition Committee room of the House, accused Mr. Mitchell of misleading Bahamians.
"He did not and would not tell us how the Bahamas voted last week on Cuba’s membership on the Human Rights Commission," the FNM leader said.
"This is a new commission established by the United Nations and countries are able to vote for their choice. It was wrong of Mr. Mitchell to lay the blame for the Bahamas’ vote or to support the Bahamas’ vote position by producing a minute of a relatively junior foreign officer in the Mission in New York."
During his communication, Minister Mitchell laid on the table of the House a copy of the record of the votes taken by the Bahamas on the embargo imposed by the United States against Cuba.
He noted that on each occasion, except two, the Ingraham government voted with the vast majority of the members of the UN General Assembly against the embargo imposed by the United States.
"If the Cuban government and people were so odious then why did he not change the Bahamas’ position when it was his time?" Minister Mitchell questioned.
He also noted that it was under the Ingraham Administration that the decision was made in 2001 to allow the Government of Cuba to establish a consulate general’s office in Nassau.
But Mr. Ingraham responded to this saying," No, we would not have had an embassy of the Bahamas in Cuba. We may have had a consulate office, which is a downgraded position, in Cuba to deal with Bahamian nationals…I don’t know what it is about Cuba that causes it to rise to the level of ambassadorship from this government’s point of view.
"We didn’t see it that way and don’t see it that way, so if we came to office, we would downgrade the office in Cuba back to consular level."
The foreign minister also said the record will show that under the Ingraham Administration a statement was submitted to the Secretary General of the United Nations which read, "The Commonwealth of the Bahamas enjoys normal diplomatic and trade relations with the Republic of Cuba. The Bahamas has not promulgated or applied laws or measures against Cuba that would prohibit economic, commercial or financial relations between the Bahamas and the Republic of Cuba."
But Mr. Ingraham told reporters that Minister Mitchell was confusing issues.
He also said that during the time when the former government appeared to have voted in favour of Cuba on certain issues, it was because voting was done in groupings, meaning that countries were not free – like they were during the recent UN vote – to vote for individual countries.
"We would have ended up with many human rights violators on the commission before now," he explained. "That’s why the UN scrapped that system and put in a system where you have to vote for individual countries.
So this is the first time the Bahamas has had an opportunity to vote for or against an individual country."
He said an FNM government never would have supported Cuba’s ascension to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
"There are many things that we support Cuba [on], but not to be a member of the human rights commission," Mr. Ingraham said.
"Cuba’s human rights record does not lend itself to membership on a human rights commission and one of those tenets for a human rights commission would be countries that allow their citizens to leave the country when they choose to and return when they choose. Cuba does not do that."
Explaining the position his Administration took to refuse to support the US embargo, the former prime minister said, "We never supported the embargo the United States has against Cuba; we never did. We don’t propose to do so in the future.
"The most critical (and important) relationship the Bahamas has with a country outside its borders is the one with the United States of America. We want to maintain the relationship with Cuba, Haiti and other countries in the Caribbean and the world, but we’re not going to put at risk our relationship to cozy up with and be friends with Cuba."
He said the refusal of the Ingraham Administration to support the US embargo with Cuba is a completely different matter than a vote in support of Cuba on human rights.
But Minister Mitchell said that the record clearly shows that the instructions given to the UN delegation by the former government in 1994 were to support Cuba’s membership on the Commission on Human Rights.
Mr. Ingraham, however, accused the foreign minister of distorting the facts.