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When Uncle Sam is the subject of a travel advisory

The Bahamas, a sister Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member state, recently took the bold and unusual step, especially given its developing country status, of issuing a travel advisory against the United States.

Washington, as everyone knows, does not hesitate to issue similar advisories against other countries, even though the effects may be detrimental to their economies in some cases, whenever it determines that there is significant risk to the safety and well-being of American citizens abroad.

Despite the negative fallout, especially for tourism-dependent economies like our own, the fact of the matter in such cases is that the United States is simply fulfilling its duty, which is what citizens everywhere rightly expect of their government.

On a rare occasion, however, the US found itself on the receiving end of a travel warning.  The unusualness of the Bahamian move was so striking that it immediately made headlines on CNN, ABC, Washington Post and other major US news outlets.

The Bahamian decision obviously took note of growing tensions within the United States, following two recent highly publicized police shootings of black males that were the latest in a trend during the past few years. In the circumstances, Nassau obviously felt it had to fulfill its duty to advise Bahamians to be on their guard when visiting the US, given the serious potential threat.

The advisory, issued on July 8 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, said: “We wish to advise all Bahamians travelling to the US but especially to the affected cities to exercise appropriate caution generally. In particular, young males are asked to exercise extreme caution in affected cities in their interactions with the police.”

It went on: “Do not be confrontational and cooperate. If there is any issue, please allow consular offices for The Bahamas to deal with the issues. Do not get involved in political or other demonstrations under any circumstances and avoid crowds.”

Probably influenced by the lead taken by Bahamas, a number of other countries, including Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, quickly issued similar warnings. The UAE, in its advisory, urged citizens visiting the US to “be aware of immediate surroundings and avoid crowded places” and also to stay clear of any demonstrations.

Ironically, since the Bahamas issued the travel advisory, the situation in the US has arguably worsened.  On Sunday this week in Baton Rouge, Louisiana where the recent police shooting of a black man enraged the African American population in particular, three police officers were gunned down.

It followed the killing of five policemen in Dallas, Texas just over a week earlier. These developments can be viewed as justification of the Bahamas’ decision to alert its citizens to the potential danger when visiting the US. However, in an obvious flexing of its muscles as if to say to the Bahamian government, “how dare you?” Washington issued a travel advisory against the Bahamas days later.

“Over the course of the past six months, the US Embassy has received reports of a significant increase in armed robberies throughout New Providence, specifically targeting patrons of ATM machines, parking venues at various retail locations, and armed car-jackings,” the US advisory said.

It added in part: “Avoid using ATM machines located in isolated areas and consider using ATM machines located in shopping centers that have security coverage.  Use the buddy system when using ATM machines. Do not display or wear expensive jewelry that make you a target for criminals. Avoid wearing gold necklaces, bracelets, expensive watches or other flashy jewelry.”

In a recent editorial a few weeks ago, we drew attention to the rising gun violence gripping the United States and highlighted the double standards of the US practice of issuing travel advisories against countries when it too is grappling with similar or worse issues. How ever you look at it, there is no escaping the fact that America is no longer as safe a place to visit as it was many years ago.

The same applies to some European countries which clearly have become terrorist targets, a reality which requires persons in public places such as airports and shopping plazas to be on extra guard. Given the fact that Caribbean nationals are travelling in increasing numbers, these are serious issues which our governments should not ignore.

The very least expected of regional governments, including our own government, is to bring these issues to the attention of their citizens, as the Bahamas has done, so that they are better informed and can take the necessary precautions. The world is becoming an increasingly dangerous place and absolutely nothing should be left to chance.

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