Prime Minister Dismisses Opposition Comments
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.