By Melanius Alphonse
Caribbean News Now associate editor
CASTRIES, St Lucia — Capping a week of bizarre reports in the Eastern Caribbean, including an attempt by the prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines to blame a 70-year-old woman for the hurried withdrawal of Peace Corps volunteers from his country and attempts by the prime minister of Saint Lucia, Allen Chastanet, and one of his colleagues to deny the explicit wording of a Cabinet conclusion, an op-ed written by the US ambassador appeared to be oblivious to the fact that Saint Lucia is one of just ten countries worldwide subjected to US sanctions under the so-called Leahy Law.
In 2013, Saint Lucia was restricted by the terms of what is commonly referred to as the “Leahy Law” from receiving security-related assistance from the United States as a result of “credible evidence of extrajudicial killings of 17 people in 2010-2011” by the island’s security forces. The US Department of State suspended assistance to the local police force and cancelled the visas of a number of senior police officers, denying them travel to the US.
In the meantime, a comment posted to Ambassador Linda Taglialatela’s op-ed by a reader using the cryptonym “JMWAVE” includes the unexpected assertion that “the US Department of Justice via two empaneled grand juries in two different cities is currently receiving testimony from cooperating witnesses against Allen Chastanet, his corrupt ministers and cronies”.
While an online search for “JMWAVE” produces some interesting results, it is unclear where this information comes from except that Caribbean News Now has learned separately that an independent investigation by federal authorities has indeed been triggered by the compelling “probable cause” provided by the then Saint Lucia government in its 2014 request for legal assistance from the US in relation to allegations of corruption involving a US citizen.
The reader in question declined to comment further in response to a request by Caribbean News Now for additional information as to which are the two cities referred to; what is the nature of the investigations and how did he or she come by this information.
In her op-ed devoted almost exclusively to her perception of Saint Lucia, Linda Taglialatela, the US ambassador to Barbados, the Eastern Caribbean, and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, referred to the 2016 US-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act enacted by Congress with bi-partisan support to strengthen ties in the Caribbean region and enhance prosperity and security.
According to Taglialatela, “This strategy … demonstrates continued support across the fields of education, security, health, and energy, among others.”
However, Taglialatela’s “feel-good piece” takes no account of the serious issues in Saint Lucia that the government seems incapable of dealing with in any kind of professional or competent manner and which culminated on Sunday with a “National Protest March and Rally”:
• The unresolved healthcare crisis despite pre-election promises to do so “immediately”;
• A perceived systemic approach to degrade educational services;
• The recent sports consultancy ‘no-bid’, crony contract for US$12 million;
• The recent claim by the general secretary of the ruling United Workers Party (UWP), Oswald Augustin, that a “top Israeli investigative officer” is presently on island in an attempt to suppress ongoing leaks of embarrassing Cabinet and other documents.
Furthermore, the US-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act referred to included no provision for funding and it is therefore unclear how the Bridgetown embassy and/or the State Department generally hopes to “support security” in Saint Lucia when to provide assistance to local security forces would be contrary to current US law.
In fact, this type of loosely worded, imprecise commitment may well have been the reason for Saint Lucia’s minister of national security, Senator Hermangild Francis claiming last year, that the US government had pledged to fund a proposed new border control entity for Saint Lucia comprising, amongst other agencies, the marine police.
After a number of attempts to get a straight answer from the State Department on the issue, following some equivocation, it eventually issued a flat denial of the assertions made by Francis.
“No funding has been pledged, approved, or distributed for a border security force in Saint Lucia,” a State Department spokesperson told Caribbean News Now in emails, adding, “Leahy law restrictions remain in place against the Royal St Lucia Police.”
Since the term “security forces” is not defined in the relevant US legislation, the State Department also clarified that “Security forces units subject to Leahy vetting generally include foreign militaries, reserves, police, homeland security forces such as border guards or customs police, prison guards, and other units or individual members of units authorized to use force”.
Furthermore, any lifting of the Leahy sanctions would require congressional approval. In other words, it is not something the State Department or an individual ambassador may do unilaterally.
In April of this year, deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Bridgetown, Laura Griesmer, said that the US has been working to improve the partnership and relationship with Saint Lucia and, in specific relation to the sanctions on local security forces, “We have made a lot of progress.”
However, when asked at the time to provide details of the specific progress made in relation to the lifting of the Leahy sanctions, given that the expressed condition for such lifting, i.e. credible prosecutions of those responsible for the alleged extra judicial killings has seen little or no progress, a Department of State spokesperson for Western Hemisphere Affairs said, “The US government continues to actively support Saint Lucia’s efforts to take effective measures to bring the responsible members of the unit to justice.”
It is not known whether or not Taglialatela will publish similarly glowing pieces about the other islands in her bailiwick or if it is only Saint Lucia that warrants special, favoured consideration in this regard.