It didn’t take long for Saint Lucia’s newly elected prime minister Allen Chastanet to get caught in one of his frequent faux-pas, which brings to mind US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s recent description of Donald Trump: “He is a faker. He says whatever comes into his head at the moment. He really has an ego.”
Chastanet returned last week from a “courtesy call” on US Ambassador Linda Taglialatela in Bridgetown, which he no doubt hoped would be a cozy chat in furtherance of his rash election promise to persuade the US to lift the visa requirement for Saint Lucians and a blind ambition to resolve singlehandedly the hitherto intractable matter of the Leahy Law sanctions.
In a diplomatic blunder, Chastanet claimed that “the United States government was slashing funding for security assistance in the region and contributing to regional crime by deporting criminals back to their countries of origin”. He also claimed that 800 criminals were deported to Saint Lucia in one year. In reality, the number of such deportees last year was eight.
In the event, the US embassy was forced to expose Chastanet publicly as a liar and, according to my sources, a new edict has been issued by the embassy and no doubt others in the region prohibiting any such easy going access to ambassadors and their staff in the future.
Henceforth, every regional leader and other public officials will be required, in accordance with what should have been standard protocol in the first place, to make an appointment and clearly set out the agenda and parameters for discussion.
The ambassador probably feels that Chastanet set her up with his subsequent comments and I would not be surprised to learn that she has changed her phone number.
Then, in defence of the indefensible, Chastanet’s press attaché, Nancy Charles, responded in a dumb and foolish manner to suggest that Chastanet’s comments were taken out of context, apparently oblivious to news reports and video interviews readily accessible online belying such assertion. In fact, this situation is far from Charles’ ability to comprehend and more or less mirrors her incompetence and inexperience in this area.
Surely, a competent leader of any country would have never approached the US government on a matter of lifting sanctions without first putting together a legal team and other staff versed in the subject matter, in this instance the Leahy Law or Leahy Amendment enacted by the US Congress, a US human rights law that prohibits the US Department of State and Department of Defense from providing assistance to foreign military/police units that violate human rights with impunity.
Apparently, Chastanet did not even think to take with him the one member of his Cabinet that has the foreign policy gravitas and experience on the international stage, former prime minister Stephenson King, during whose administration the events leading up to the Leahy Law sanctions occurred in the first place.
Twelve people were shot and killed by the Saint Lucian police between 2010 and 2011 during a police operation known as Operation Restore Confidence, which was implemented by the King government at the height of a local crime wave.
A report prepared by a team of Jamaican investigators from CARICOM IMPACS said, among other things, that the police had a death list and planted weapons on suspects to justify their actions. The ongoing impunity enjoyed by those responsible is what triggered the application of the Leahy Law.
Earlier this year, former prime minister Dr Kenny Anthony accused Chastanet (then minister of tourism) of backing the ill-fated police operation as being good for tourism.
Now, Chastanet’s latest actions displayed an incredible lack of basic understanding of how diplomacy works with the US government and, of course, he, accompanied by minister of national security Hermangild Francis, put on the usual display of foot in mouth syndrome to conclude: “We gave her ideas as to what we intend to do and she seemed to be a little happy as to what we intend to do.”
These “ideas” were touched upon in last week’s Throne Speech, namely, that the “government proposes to confront this situation in the first instance by appointing a tribunal which will review the coroner’s inquest process and outline a roadmap to bring this matter to a satisfactory conclusion”.
According to Nancy Charles, the government is committed to “implementing the 31 recommendations in the IMPACS report” and proposes to set up a tribunal, with one member from Britain, one from the EU, one from the US and two from Saint Lucia, to look at the matter and present a road map moving forward.
Leaving aside that such a tribunal is just another excuse to talk about a situation that requires action in the form of actual prosecutions, not more empty words, Chastanet and Francis apparently had no understanding that they were doomed from the get-go by paying a visit to a sitting US ambassador without a proper written foundation and legal expertise to proposition their concern effectively and to expect a considered response.
In fact, according to a recent Caribbean News Now report, Chastanet may have placed the ambassador in the uncomfortable position of committing a breach of protocol or even conducting “illegal diplomacy” if it turns out that the Leahy Law sanctions may reasonably be characterized as a dispute between the United States and Saint Lucia, something that has particular relevance in the context of the US Logan Act, which forbids unauthorized citizens from negotiating with foreign governments having a dispute with the US.
In the light of this, how does Chastanet now expect to be taken seriously and gain credibility? Has Saint Lucia’s foreign ministry, now a department in the office of the prime minister, become a local and international joke?
Chastanet’s competence and lack of credibility have raised eyebrows before (Tuxedo Villas, Black Bay Lands, airline deals, massive mobile phone bills) and are still cause for concern, to wit, the recently reinstated legal action against him for misfeasance in public office.
He apparently fails to comprehend that, as prime minister, his actions or inaction carry greater scrutiny and reflect on all Saint Lucians.
In any event, Chastanet’s first foray into foreign affairs is probably par for the course, with his habitual web of spin, grandiose and boastful performances, but low or even negative impact.
It is probably to be expected therefore that the experiments in semantics by Nancy Charles and other apologists seek to trivialize the US embassy press release. As Upton Sinclair said: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”
Much depends on positive change that is not visible yet to make Saint Lucia great again. In the interim, Chastanet and Francis have awarded themselves the Caribbean’s dumbest leader and minister accolade.