Prime Min­is­ter Dis­misses Op­po­si­tion Com­ments

The Star (St. Lucia) - - FRONT PAGE - By David Venn

Fol­low­ing a jostling match at Tues­day morn­ing’s sit­ting of Par­lia­ment, Prime Min­is­ter Allen Chas­tanet de­fended his re­cently minted visa poli­cies for Chi­nese na­tion­als trav­el­ling to, or pass­ing through, Saint Lu­cia, even though that’s not what the day’s meet­ing was about.

Dur­ing his in­tro­duc­tion to the gov­ern­ment’s pro­posed amend­ments to the Im­mi­gra­tion Bill, the prime min­is­ter ex­plained that the changes are sup­posed to lodge en­hance­ments to na­tional se­cu­rity through ad­vanced and de­tailed se­cu­rity checks, called the Ad­vanced Pas­sen­ger List.

“In essence,” he said, “the se­cu­rity of our borders is now go­ing to be strength­ened sig­nif­i­cantly by the in­tro­duc­tion of this Bill.”

The Op­po­si­tion MP for Cas­tries South, Mr. Ernest Hi­laire, in his turn, ex­pressed his sup­port for the amend­ments to the Im­mi­gra­tion Bill but soon after, in a ref­er­ence to a leaked Cab­i­net con­clu­sion, queried: “It says they [Chi­nese na­tion­als] can come to Saint Lu­cia with no visa, whether to stay or to visit, what­ever. There are ab­so­lutely no lim­i­ta­tions. What is the mo­ti­va­tion for it?”

In his re­sponse, the prime min­is­ter ad­vised the House: “We came here to dis­cuss an Im­mi­gra­tion Bill. If the gov­ern­ment wanted to am­plify its po­si­tion on re­cent pro­nounce­ments, it would’ve done so ac­cord­ingly”. He added that the op­po­si­tion was fram­ing in­for­ma­tion to suit its own pur­poses. “These are childish games that the op­po­si­tion con­tin­ues to play, Mr. Speaker, in or­der to con­fuse the poli­cies of our gov­ern­ment.”

The prime min­is­ter said that when his party took of­fice in June 2016, it did not re­ceive an­swers to ques­tions about na­tional se­cu­rity, the lack of coast­line pa­trols and an in­ac­ces­si­ble foren­sic lab.

The MP for Mi­coud North, Moses Jn Bap­tiste, said the op­po­si­tion was not sat­is­fied with the gov­ern­ment’s re­sponse and that it had ram­bled on about un­re­lated sub­jects.

"The SLP wants to make sure it is clear that they have ab­so­lutely no quar­rels with Chi­nese na­tion­als," of­fered Bap­tiste cau­tiously. In­stead, the SLP was “very cu­ri­ous” about the rea­sons for the Chi­nese-visa ex­emp­tions “at this time”. He wanted to make it “clear, abun­dantly clear” that the Labour Party does not have is­sues with the Chi­nese peo­ple.

The visa ex­emp­tions for Chi­nese na­tion­als, in ad­di­tion to the re­stric­tions placed on Venezue­lan na­tion­als in Au­gust 2017, have left the SLP wary and sus­pi­cious. The SLP main­tains that Saint Lu­cia’s diplo­matic ties with Venezuela should be up­held, re­gard­less of whether the coun­try is pros­per­ing or pre­car­i­ous.

“Venezuela has al­ways been a friend to Saint Lu­cia. In good times we could have re­lied on Venezuela to pro­vide sup­port and al­ways be will­ing to as­sist Saint Lu­cia,” said Hi­laire.

Venezuela’s visa re­stric­tion was a part of a two-point ar­gu­ment by the op­po­si­tion MP, with Chi­nese visa re­quire­ments stand­ing paramount. How­ever, the mo­tive for his spe­cial con­cern is un­clear.

Nonethe­less, the PM ad­dressed their re­marks: “We have re­peat­edly said here that we have a very good re­la­tion­ship with the Venezue­lan gov­ern­ment. We con­sider them broth­ers, we con­sider them pa­tri­ots. On the prin­ci­ple of na­tional se­cu­rity in­ter­est, we have been work­ing in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Venezue­lan gov­ern­ment in or­der to en­sure that we can se­cure our borders.” It is im­por­tant to note that Venezue­lans can still en­ter Saint Lu­cia, con­tin­gent upon a visa ap­pli­ca­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to the prime min­is­ter, Venezue­lan refugees that flee their coun­try are tak­ing firearms and drugs with them as a form of cur­rency so they can es­tab­lish them­selves else­where.

Ac­cord­ing to Chas­tanet, there were 60 mur­ders in Saint Lu­cia in 2017; a record num­ber for homi­cides. Fur­ther, 40 of them were gang-re­lated. “When we see now the im­pli­ca­tion as to where those drugs and those arms are com­ing from, Venezuela has been very high on the list,” he said.

A press re­lease is­sued on Thurs­day from the Min­istry of Home Af­fairs, Jus­tice and Na­tional Se­cu­rity, said Her­mangild Fran­cis would travel on Fri­day (yes­ter­day) to Venezuela and meet with min­is­ters of the Venezue­lan gov­ern­ment to dis­cuss na­tional se­cu­rity. Min­is­ter Fran­cis, said his press re­lease, “also calls on the pub­lic to trust the gov­ern­ment’s po­si­tion” and urged them to avoid “sen­sa­tion­al­iz­ing the is­sue”. In all events, he said it would be ap­prox­i­mately three months be­fore the visa im­pli­ca­tions on Venezue­lan na­tion­als take ef­fect.

As for the op­po­si­tion’s ex­pressed sus­pi­cions in re­la­tion to Chi­nese na­tion­als, the PM said: “Why would Saint Lu­cia not open up its doors in or­der to al­low the Chi­nese to visit Saint Lu­cia?” He noted that China was the sec­ond fastest grow­ing econ­omy and Chi­nese tourists should be en­cour­aged to visit.

Fol­low­ing the House meet­ing on Tues­day, I asked the Vieux Fort North MP, Moses Jn Bap­tiste, about the op­po­si­tion’s ex­pressed con­cern over the visa con­ces­sions to Chi­nese na­tion­als. He said: “We sus­pect that a lot of the gov­ern­ment’s strat­egy has a lot to do with their poli­cies, DSH and im­mi­gra­tion for work­ers and that kind of thing. And that the gov­ern­ment is do­ing ev­ery­thing they can to en­sure they achieve their ob­jec­tives.”

Amongst the con­stant chat­ter­ing, Hi­laire stands up to de­mand an­swers from the UWP.

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