TONY BEST: Putting things in order
UP UNTIL RECENTLY, Americans, Bajans, Latinos and others around the world didn’t pay much attention to the use of executive orders by United States presidents to get things done without a Congressional stamp of approval.
And the little they know today about US presidential policy directives that implement or interpret federal laws, constitutional provisions or treaties, they routinely linked to immigration.
That’s because both President Barack Obama and his successor, Donald Trump, signed controversial executive orders dealing with deportation and undocumented immigration that were ultimately settled by federal courts.
Actually, Obama used the orders rather sparingly during his eight years in the White House – 277 as compared with Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 484; Ronald Reagan’s 381, or 3 721 by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But in less than six weeks, Trump signed at least a dozen of them, one of which limited the entry of visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries – Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Syria, Sudan, Somalia and Libya from entering the country without a hassle. The list was eventually narrowed to six states when Iraq was omitted from the ban.
But an order Obama signed in the waning days of his presidency affected Selwin Hart, Barbados’ new Ambassador to the US and 14 other top diplomats from foreign nations. Unable to schedule the presentation of Hart’s credentials before Trump’s inauguration on January 20, Obama signed a directive that allowed the Barbados envoy and the other ambassadors to function.
“It enabled us to get the work done until we were able to have the formal presentation of credentials at the White House,” explained Hart, who is also accredited to the Organisation of American States as Barbados’ Permanent Representative.
Finally, the date was set and the formal diplomatic event took place in the Oval Office of the White House on a recent Friday and the ambassadors from a range of countries including, Barbados, Jamaica, Poland, India, Malaysia, Benin, Georgia, Burkina Faso and Dominica presented their letters of credence to Trump, during what was later described by some of them as a “conveyor belt” system – a handshake, exchange of a few words and the taking of a few photographs.
“It was an interesting but very necessary occasion. The president shook our hands individually and when he spoke to me he described Barbados as a “really great country” and my response was that “you are always welcome to visit”. He replied: “You might just have that. You might just get that wish.”
Letters of credence are the formal instrument by which foreign heads of state exercise the right to accredit diplomats to another country. The receiving state must accept the appointment before the ambassador can assume duties. In Barbados and Jamaica’s case, for instance, the Governors General, acting for Queen Elizabeth, exercise the right to accredit diplomats. The letters are then presented during very formal ceremonies and, in Trump’s case each ambassador had only a few secondswith the president.
Hart, a former head of the Climate Change support team that advised Ban Ki-moon when he was US Secretary General, said the Caricom ambassadors were pushing ahead with regional efforts to establish a sound and mutually beneficial relationship with the new Trump White House.
“Caricom ambassadors are working very closely together on laying the groundwork for engagement with the administration, actively engaging with members of Congress as well as representatives in the State Department and the relevant agencies that oversee issues of importance to us,” said Hart. Among them are the Departments of the Treasury and Defence and the Office of the US Special Trade Representative, USTR.
“That engagement is intensifying as the cabinet appointees of President Trump take office,” said Hart.
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart said recently in New York that Caricom leaders who met recently in Guyana had expressed the hope that the region would have a productive relationship with the Trump White House and wished to meet with him at a date that was mutually convenient.
But the region’s foreign ministers must prepare for such a summit, setting the agenda and fashioning the atmosphere for the talks.
When the Council for Foreign and Community Relations, COFCOR, meets in Barbados in May high on the agenda will be Caricom-US relations.
Tony Best is the NATION’s North American Correspondent. Email: [email protected]