The Bahamas - Foreign Relations

The Bahamas - Foreign Relations

Although it is a small developing nation, the Bahamas has managed to involve itself in a wide range of international affairs. It became a member of the United Nations (UN) in 1973. In the late 1980s, the Bahamas belonged to a number of international organizations, including the World Bank, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (de facto), the International Monetary Fund (IMF- -see Glossary), the International Civil Aviation Organization, the World Health Organization, and the World Meteorological Organization. The Bahamas also belonged to several other intergovernmental organizations, such as the Pan American Health Organization, as well as to several regional development banks, including the European Investment Bank, the IDB, and the Caribbean Development Bank. It was a signatory of the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America (Tlatelolco Treaty) and a member of the Nonaligned Movement. Regionally, the Bahamas was a member of the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Caribbean Community and Common Market (Caricom--see Appendix C).

In the first few years following independence, the Bahamas identified closely with United States interests. By the early 1980s, however, it was evident that the Bahamas was moving toward greater involvement in regional and international affairs and was not necessarily seeking to satisfy the United States. It joined the OAS in 1982 and Caricom in 1983 after a lengthy period of close cooperation with the latter organization. In 1984 it hosted Caricom's seventh Heads of Government Conference. The Bahamas opposed the 1983 United States-Caribbean intervention in Grenada, labeling it a "premature overreaction," and declared that there should be no intervention in the affairs of other states.

Since independence, the Bahamas has been a member of the Commonwealth of Nations (see Appendix B), the organization bringing together nations and dependent territories presently or previously under British sovereignty. In 1985 the Bahamas hosted a Meeting of Heads of Government of the Commonwealth; Queen Elizabeth II paid an official visit to the Bahamas at that time. As a former British colony, the Bahamas also was one of the African, Caribbean, or Pacific countries affiliated with the European Economic Community under the Lomé Convention (see Glossary).

Although the Bahamas had diplomatic relations with over forty nations throughout the world, it maintained diplomatic missions in only four countries: Canada, Britain, Haiti, and the United States. High commissioners served as official representatives to Canada and Britain, whereas a chargé d'affaires was assigned to Haiti. Bahamian officials in the United States included an ambassador in Washington and consuls general in both Miami and New York. The Bahamas also maintained a permanent mission to the UN in New York with a resident ambassador.

Just five nations maintained diplomatic or consular missions in the Bahamas. The United States and Haiti each had embassies, the Dominican Republic and The Gambia had consulates, and Brazil maintained a vice consulate. The Gambia maintained a consulate as a result of close relations with the Bahamas in the Commonwealth and because a majority of Bahamians were of West African origin. Additionally, twenty-five nonresident ambassadors and thirteen nonresident high commissioners (ambassador-level representatives of Commonwealth nations) were accredited to the Bahamas. The Honorary Consul Corps provided representatives from twenty-five countries; these officials assisted foreign nationals in emergencies. The corps consisted of, in descending order of rank, consuls, honorary consuls, consular agents, and commercial representatives.

Traditionally, the most important factor influencing Bahamian foreign relations has been the nation's geography, especially its proximity to the United States, Cuba, and Haiti. Of these three neighbors, the United States has been the most important. Throughout Bahamian history, the United States has played a significant role in the nation's economy.

In the late 1980s, the United States and the Bahamas were parties to over thirty treaties and agreements covering aviation, consuls, customs, defense, extradition, investment guarantees, postal matters, property, shipping, social security, taxation, telecommunications, trademarks, visas, and weather stations. The United States also operated naval and air facilities in the Bahamas. The United States Navy's Atlantic Underseas Test and Evaluation Center, located on Andros Island, was involved in underwater research and submarine testing. On Grand Bahama, the United States Air Force operated an auxiliary airfield that assisted the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration in tracking test flights from Cape Canaveral. In April 1984, the Bahamas signed an agreement whereby the United States would pay US$100 million over a 10-year period for the use of these sites. In addition to an embassy in Nassau, the United States also maintained preclearance units at the nation's two international airports at Freeport and Nassau. The units were composed of employees of the Customs Service, the Department of Agriculture's Plant and Animal Inspection Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service and were designed to help United States travelers complete their customs and immigration formalities before entering the United States.

In March 1985, the Bahamas was designated a beneficiary of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI--see Appendix D). As a result of the structure of the Bahamian economy, however, the CBI had virtually no impact on the Bahamian economy. The Bahamas was unable to participate in the special tax provision involving deductions for business people because it had not entered into a tax information exchange agreement with the United States. In a December 1986 speech to Parliament, Prime Minister Pindling asserted that limited trade concessions meant little in an environment of slow global economic expansion, declining commodity prices, and rising protectionism.

Beginning in 1980, the Bahamas and the United States agreed to intensify efforts to hinder the illegal flow of drugs, and they coordinated a drug interdiction program (see Current Strategic Considerations, ch. 7). The United States Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 authorized the establishment of the United States-Bahamas Drug Interdiction Force and the construction of a joint United States Coast Guard-Bahamas drug interdiction docking facility. The law authorized expenditures for helicopters and improved communications detection equipment. The Bahamas-United States Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, designed to hinder drug traffickers from money laundering, was expected to be signed in late 1987.

Although the United States had more drug interdiction agreements with the Bahamas than with any other country, United States officials in the late 1980s at times questioned Pindling's commitment to the narcotics control effort. In 1987 the Bahamian government took umbrage at various statements on this issue by United States officials, regarding them as unacceptable intrusions in the islands' domestic politics. The Pindling government responded by engaging in such actions as temporarily suspending the airport parking privileges of the United States ambassador. It remained to be seen whether Pindling would engage in more substantive retaliation in the wake of his impressive electoral triumph in June 1987.

The country's proximity to Haiti has made it a haven for economic refugees from that nation. The number of illegal Haitian immigrants has increased steadily over the last several decades, as have accompanying social and economic problems. Haitian immigrants began to trickle into the Bahamas in 1948; by the late 1950s, that trickle was described by government officials as a flood. Roundups and deportations began at that time and reached an annual high of 2,899 deportees in 1963, when the government resolved to clear out the illegals. Following the election of a black independent government in 1967, a change in official policy was expected; a leading PLP figure indicated that expulsion was out of the question because so many Haitian illegals were raising families. The new government, however, initiated a repatriation program similar to that in 1963 and deported 2,589 Haitians in 1967.

Illegal Haitian immigrants kept arriving despite the regular roundups and detentions and the implementation of a new "Bahamas for Bahamians" policy that was intended to phase out the employment of expatriates. According to the 1973 Constitution, those born in the Bahamas to noncitizen parents may register for citizenship only at age eighteen or within twelve months of that birthday, provided that no dual citizenship is involved. (Before independence every person born in the Bahamas was able to claim Bahamian citizenship.) Despite these restrictions, by early 1980 the illegal Haitian immigration had reached enormous proportions, with an estimated 25,000 in a country having fewer than 210,000 people.

The situation developed into a major political issue as the expense of health care and other services for these illegals increased along with Bahamian unemployment. In September 1985, some alleviation was noted when the governments of the Bahamas and Haiti signed a treaty whereby Haitians who arrived prior to 1981 would be legalized. A two-month voluntary repatriation period was established, after which deportation would be carried out in an orderly and humane manner. As of early 1987, however, an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 Haitians still resided in the country. None had been accorded legal status under the terms of the treaty. About 2,000 had been repatriated, but many of those detained for deportation were quartered in less than humane facilities. In 1986 it was estimated that over 300 Haitians had returned voluntarily. Both the United States Department of State and human rights groups in the Bahamas have expressed concern over the treatment of illegal Haitians.

For years, Bahamian relations with Cuba were strained by disagreement over territorial fishing rights. The disagreement came to a head in May 1980, when Cuban military aircraft sank a Bahamian patrol vessel, the Flamingo, after it had apprehended two Cuban fishing boats; four Bahamian marines were killed during the event (see Regional Security Threats, 1970-81, ch. 7). The Bahamas demanded an unconditional apology and full reparations. Cuba agreed to the Bahamian demand and paid US$5 million to replace the patrol vessel and US$400,000 to the families of the four marines. The two nations continued diplomatic relations despite the incident. In May 1986 a new nonresident Cuban ambassador presented his credentials to the government and encouraged the development of Bahamian-Cuban diplomatic, commercial, and cultural relations. Cuba was the only communist nation with which the Bahamas maintained diplomatic relations.

Although Bahamian relations with Britain in the late 1980s were most often overshadowed by its relations with its giant neighbor to the north, important links persisted. Over 300 years of British colonial rule left many relations still intact. Membership in the Commonwealth increased Bahamian contact with former British colonies around the globe. Important linkages also existed in legal institutions, such as the right of Bahamians to final, judicial appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London. British cultural influence on the Bahamas was also strong. Finally, although trade between the two nations was relatively small compared with trade with the United States, it was still significant. In 1984 Bahamian domestic exports to Britain were 7.2 percent of the total figure; imports from Britain accounted for approximately 7.7 percent of the Bahamian total.

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