By Melanius Alphonse
Caribbean News Now associate editor
CASTRIES, St Lucia — The recent refusal by the US government to extend the convenience of an interview waiver for visa renewals to three Eastern Caribbean countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines, is widely perceived as retribution for the representatives of those countries declining to support a failed US-sponsored, anti-Venezuela resolution at the Organisation of American States (OAS) earlier this year.
This perception has been reinforced by the recent publication of an op-ed by Linda Taglialatela, the US ambassador to Barbados, the Eastern Caribbean, and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, which singled out Saint Lucia (which supported the US-led resolution) for effusive praise and consideration, notwithstanding that Saint Lucia is one of just ten countries worldwide subjected to US sanctions under the so-called Leahy Law.
According to one of our readers, the reason for the op-ed is simple: “St Lucia backed the resolution by the OAS against Venezuela. The three countries that defied the US are Dominica, Antigua and St Vincent. St Vincent is already being punished with this Peace Corps disinformation and attempts are being made to punish Antigua and Dominica similarly. So Saint Lucia must be rewarded for its good behaviour and in so doing communicate a lesson to the errant children of what happens to the good children versus the bad ones. Notice none of the three got visa waivers?”
We asked the State Department and the Bridgetown embassy if there is any truth in this assertion and, if not, will similarly glowing op-eds be published about the other OECS countries and Barbados?
We also requested their reaction/comments on why the State Department thinks it is appropriate to praise so effusively the only country in the Caribbean (and one of only ten worldwide) subjected to US sanctions imposed under the “Leahy Law” as a result of unresolved extra-judicial killings by the security forces in Saint Lucia during a security operation that was at the time endorsed by the current prime minister.
No response has been received from either.
So far, the US embassy has announced the implementation of the interview visa waivers for qualified applicants in Barbados, Saint Lucia and Grenada, who are wishing to renew their US visas. The process can now be done online and passports sent to Barbados via courier service.
Passport holders may qualify for a visa renewal interview waiver if their previous visa expired within the past 12 months and they are applying for the same visa category as their previous visa, according to information posted on the embassy’s website.
The applicant must be physically present in their respective countries or within the consular district of the US embassy in Bridgetown, Barbados, to take advantage of the option.
Additionally, the previous US visa must be in the applicant’s possession, and the applicant must have submitted a ten-fingerprint scan in conjunction with the previous visa application.
Students who wish to renew their visas, and who satisfy the requirements, may also qualify for interview waiver if they are applying to continue attendance at the same institution, or will continue the same major course of study at a different institution.
The prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne questioned why three member states of the Organisation of the Eastern Caribbean (OECS) were not included in the list of countries that are to benefit from the US interview waiver programme for people renewing their visas.
Browne said he finds it strange that the new measure does not include all OECS member-states.
“We have an economic union comprising of six independent countries and you have offered it to three of those countries and you have left out three. You have left out Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St Vincent and the Grenadines,” Browne said on local radio over the weekend.
“That’s their policy and I am not saying this out of any acrimony, but I want to know how does that type of behaviour help to foster stronger relations between the US?” he asked.
Dominican attorney Anthony Astaphan SC also spoke on the matter, saying that he found it astonishing that a country that the US has sanctioned as a threat to public security is now going to be a beneficiary of what he described as “benevolent principle”, while countries that have never been sanctioned are being left out.
“I think it is punitive… because they [the three OECS states] did not follow the ‘instructions’ of the United States,” Astaphan said.