Royal Gazette | By Matthew Taylor and Rene Hill
Premier Alex Scott is seeking urgent talks with United States Consul General Denis Coleman who accused Government of fostering economic relations with Cuba. Mr. Coleman warned on television on Thursday it could lead to a deterioration of relations between Bermuda and his country.
However the Premier said he had been blindsided by the statement and Mr. Coleman had then left the island giving Government no chance to respond. He said he did not know when Mr. Coleman would be back. “At the earliest opportunity I will be meeting with Mr. Coleman.” Mr. Coleman accused Government in a television interview of breaking a promise last year that its relations with Cuba would only be cultural but it had then agreed to allow a regular charter flight to the Communist Caribbean island.
However the Premier said it had stuck to its promise and said the flight link which had Bermuda as a stop off from Spain to Cuba was a private initiative. “That is not a government initiative.
The promise I made to the US Consul General is still true.” On Thursday Deputy Premier Ewart Brown said Mr. Coleman should talk to the Governor. Yesterday Deputy Governor Nick Carter said he did not believe the Governor had been asked to intervene in the row.
British Airways flies to Cuba. Mr. Carter told The Royal Gazette: “We come at it from different ends of the spectrum. I would say the UK has a different take on it from America.” Mr. Scott said he would be raising the matter with Governor Sir John Vereker at their weekly meeting on Monday but he said he didn’t believe there was a problem with the British. “Otherwise I would have thought they would have called.”
He told the House: “I will have a word with the Governor and if there’s a possibility were acting outside of protocol we’ll revert and bring ourselves in line.” The Opposition had harried Government on what it had hoped to gain out of links with Cuba. Opposition leader Dr. Grant Gibbons said Bermuda stood to waste all the money it was about to spend lobbying Washington to tone down the anti-Bermuda rhetoric by its support for Cuba. Mr. Coleman had said relations between Bermuda and the US were “not as good as they used to be” and that Government’s commercial relationship with Cuba was like “sticking a finger in our eye.”
Mr. Coleman added that business and airline links to Cuba could amount to “aiding and abetting” American citizens to break the law. Opposition Cultural Affairs spokeswoman Louise Jackson said US citizens caught going to Cuba faced fines of up to $55,000. “We have some Bermudian dancers who are mean to go to Cuba.” Some had dual US-Bermudian citizenship and she questioned whether they knew the financial risk they were running. Flights direct to Cuba from Bermuda will run on a regular charter organised by Government MP Wayne Perinchief starting in June this year.
US Customs agents at Bermuda’s airport and elsewhere have been trained to sniff out people breaking the American travel embargo against the Caribbean nation. Mrs. Jackson feared that Bermudians ran a risk of losing their pre-clearance rights because of the row which would end up forcing Islanders to join long queues upon arrival in America. She roundly condemned Castro’s abuse of human rights which had recently seen 75 dissidents locked up for an average of 20 years.
Government backbencher Wayne Perinchief sparked a debate on Cuba and being “British” in the House of Assembly last night. He said: “If we are British then we are free to travel to and to trade with Cuba without a problem. This country is being undermined by people, who are a little jealous.” But Shadow Home Affairs Minister Maxwell Burgess was not quite so light hearted about the matter of the US Consul General Denis Coleman accusing Government of fostering economic relations with Cuba and warning that it could lead to a deterioration of relations between Bermuda and America.
Mr. Burgess said it worried him that Mr. Coleman had gone to the media rather than to the Government. He said: “Up until now the US and Bermuda have had a partnership together and have worked together. It has got to be a sad dark day when the US Consul has to go to the media. “You say that we are British, but I would not want to go thousands of miles to Britain to stand in the food lines. To think that relations have broken down - it is a sad day.”
Mr. Burgess compared the Government to children living at home. He said: “They want to take what they want - they live in your house, you feed them, clothe them, but they don’t want you to tell them what to do.” “America feeds us. Our tourists come from America - most of the flights come from America. Work on the diplomatic relations that way the Bermuda Government and America can move forwards.”