By Kellon Bubb
I’m certainly no apologist for the Government of Grenada or its representatives in New York, as I have always held my own reservations on the conduct of any government, as independent citizens should. This is because the health of the democratic process is largely dependent on an informed citizenry that holds its elected servants accountable for every action taken on the peoples behalf.
To burden oneself with the yoke of political partisanship cripples us to being slaves to our political masters wherein we scrutinize and respond to issues through black and white lenses, heavily tainted by our own political biases.
The current “debate” surrounding the alleged closure of the Grenada consulate in New York provides a poignant example of the extent to which blind political loyalty and hyper partisan discord can distort, misinform and mis-educate citizens on the real issues that should be discussed. And I’ve decided to enter this very jaundiced debate only to offer clarity to the very false and convoluted messaging surrounding the consular office.
It’s also useful to admonish my former media colleagues in Grenada and The Caribbean for doing the public a dis-service by publishing material void of independent verification and information which bears no modicum of truth, accuracy or proper context. For example, The Grenada Informer Newspapers’ recent publication of 3 July 2015, asked the question; “Who Closed NY Consulate?”, and went on to detail such colorful claims as “residents in New York expressed disapproval with the closure of the 40-year old consulate office in the New York mission”. Another colorful article written by Caribbean News Now in May 2015, led with the headline “As a result of abuse of power by Keith Mitchell, the Grenadian Consulate in New York is closed.”
The fact that two widely read Grenadian and Caribbean publications gave editorial approval to allow such poor journalism to be published is an indictment of the state of basic investigative journalism in the region. The fact is, a simple verification of the claims by opposition political activists would debunk the idea that the office was closed, and further research, as should be standard journalistic practice would arrive at the conclusion that Grenadian nationals in New York still have access to most, if not all consular services. As much as it is an opposition party’s role to publish propaganda that whips up anti-government sentiment, journalists and people who claim to be such should conduct their own independent research to avoid the very basic errors of reporting we’ve witnessed in this current salvo.
At the risk of preaching to the choir, it will be necessary to discredit two widely held assumptions. Firstly, the doors of the consulate office in New York aren’t closed, and secondly, Grenadian nationals in New York aren’t being deprived of any particular service offered by the office. Before we publish superficial, open-ended statements, we should first acquaint ourselves with the role of a Consular office.
The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963, ratified by 22 Independent States in 1967 defines the role of a consul as follows; “(1) protecting in the host country the interests of their countrymen, and (2) furthering the commercial and economic relations between the two countries.” The Convention then lists the specific functions of said office to include the following; issuing identification documents, organizing initiatives, making public appearances, and linking services. The Convention, finally enumerates these key provisions of the role of the Consular Office as follows:
- Article 5. Thirteen functions of a consul are listed, including protecting in the receiving state the interests of the sending state and its nationals, as well as developing the commercial, economic, cultural, and scientific relations between the two countries.
- Article 23. The host nation may at any time and for any reason declare a particular member of the consular staff to be persona non grata. The sending state must recall this person within a reasonable period of time, or otherwise this person may lose their consular immunity.
- Article 31. The host nation may not enter the consular premises, and must protect the premises from intrusion or damage.
- Article 35. Freedom of communication between the consul and their home country must be preserved. A consular bag must never be opened. A consular courier must never be detained.
- Article 36. Foreign nationals who are arrested or detained be given notice “without delay” of their right to have their embassy or consulate notified of that arrest. If the detained foreign national so requests, the police must fax that notice to the embassy or consulate, which can then check up on the person. The notice to the consulate can be as simple as a fax, giving the person’s name, the place of arrest, and, if possible, something about the reason for the arrest or detention.
While the concerns of Grenadian nationals in the tri-state area are valid, it is important to acknowledge that there is nothing to fear but fear itself, as this is debate is nothing but a manufactured political “crisis” meant to gin-up support for the opposition National Democratic Congress, and other members of the Grenadian community who still harbour ill-will at the prominence of Mr Derrick James in the Grenadian community as Ambassador of Diaspora and Humanitarian Affairs. Grenadian and Caribbean journalists should therefore pose some very fundamental and pointed questions to the peddlers of this “crisis” by asking the following questions: Who was affected by the alleged closure of the consulate, how they were affected, how has the consulate office ceased to function, and what services are being denied to Grenadian nationals in the tri-state area?
Until the opposition provides tangible, well-researched and verifiable evidence to these key questions, then their argument amounts to naught. Any critique of the opposition does not, however absolve the current government of any guilt in this manufactured crisis, as they are also obligated to communicate with the 16th constituency of Grenada, any changes made at the consular office. The Government cannot underestimate the important role played by the New York community in the development of Grenada, and governments messaging has been sadly lackluster and ineffective. Poor communication then leaves the door open for the propagation of rumour, falsehood and innuendo which this “debate” provides no shortage of. The biggest castigation however is reserved for journalists who’ve covered this story for not holding either side accountable for their flippant rhetoric in the case of the opposition, or for their lackluster communication strategy, in the case of government.
In an age of instant gratification and modernity, we should be earnest in our efforts to question the credibility of our sources because failure to do so means that our own credibility isn’t worth the paper its written on, and we might as well endorse the outmoded traditions of yellow journalism which has no place in the 21st century.