Jamaican officials rocked by U.S. visa cancellations

Bert Wilkinson | 11/7/2019, 1:11 p.m.
Jamaica’s political community, both at the government and opposition levels, has been rocked by news that the U.S. entry visas ...
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Jamaica’s political community, both at the government and opposition levels, has been rocked by news that the U.S. entry visas of several of its top officials have been canceled in the past week, leading to speculation that Washington might be using strong arm tactics to force Jamaica to sing to its policy tunes.

Both the Gleaner and Observer newspapers have been reporting the revocation of the visas of cabinet minister Daryl Vaz and opposition legislator Phillip Paulwell. A number of businessman and top officers of the police force have also fallen victim to the slew of visa cancellations as nerves are strained as to who could be the next fall guy in this situation.

The revocation has stunned both the ruling and opposition political classes in particular as most of the victims have admitted that they never saw it coming and are uncertain about the reasons for the move by the Trump administration.

Officials in Kingston, Jamaica’s capital say that speculation is rife about Paulwell’s revocation as it may be punishment for his role as a telecommunications liaison to the Cuban government. The U.S. and successive Cuban governments have been feuding for decades, ever since Fidel Castro kicked out a plethora of shady American investors and gambling casinos while staging a coup and revolution at the turn of the ’60s.

Local media say that Senior Police Superintendent Terrence Bent and a number of other officials have also received the ax. Bent was the head of a feared police quick response unit that hunted down the island’s baddest criminals until the unit was collapsed by authorities.

Vaz is minister without portfolio in the ministry of economic growth and job creation. Paulwell is also campaign director for the opposition People’s National Party (PNP). The revocations have come in the past two weeks. Vaz has said that he would quit his ministerial position if he is unable to obtain a new visa.

Like a number of senior politicians in the Caribbean, Vaz was forced to revoke his U.S. citizenship in recent years after courts had ruled that dual citizens who swore allegiances to foreign powers were manifestly ineligible to sit in various parliaments in the region.

Just recently, in the bloc headquarters of Guyana, more than half a dozen opposition lawmakers and cabinet ministers were forced to renounce foreign citizenship after the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice had ruled similarly in favor of an opposition motion.

Local experts say they can explain Paulwell’s revocation as he has been the Cuban government adviser on telecommunications liberalization. Given the circumstances between the U.S. and Cuba, American companies are unlikely to be able to cash in. European or even Chinese companies might be the main beneficiaries. Paulwell has also been a key figure in keeping the communication lines with the region and embattled Venezuela open.

Jamaican author Chester Francis Jackson argues that Paulwell is being spited because of his work in Cuba in particular as American companies will not benefit from the move because of their own punitive embargo.

“The U.S. did this before when they blacklisted Jamaican businesses, canceled their visas and the visas of lawyers for daring to do business with the Chinese firm, Huawei. If Prime Minister Andrew Holness had any balls at all, the thing to for him to do is to summon the U.S. ambassador to Jamaica House for an explanation,” said Jackson.

Regarding the police officers, media are reporting that six members of the force have lost their visas largely because of alleged extrajudicial killings and other infractions.