Henfield: Travel advisory to the US will not be issued

Says there’s no evidence that attack on Williams was as a “hate crime”

 

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will not issue a travel advisory to Bahamians travelling to the United States, nor is it classifying the recent incident of Harold Williams, who was stabbed in the face this past weekend in a Florida eatery as a hate crime.

Williams, a Bahamian citizen employed as a manager at Bahamasair in Grand Bahama, was viciously attacked while visiting a sandwich restaurant in Pembroke Pines to use the bathroom.

Williams told a Florida news station that he had no idea why he was attacked, and his attacker never said a word.

Yesterday, when asked if The Bahamas would issue a travel advisory to Bahamians travelling to the U.S. following the attack on Williams, Minister of Foreign Affairs Darren Henfield said, “Absolutely not, not at the moment.”

“How many moments do we know of where Bahamians have been attacked in this fashion which will warrant us sending a warning to Bahamians travelling to Florida,” Henfield asked reporters before heading to Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.

The foreign affairs minister said the government will always act in the best interest of Bahamians when it comes to their security and the economy.

“If we feel that Bahamians are threatened in any country that they travel to, an advisory will come forward. In this instance, we don’t feel so,” he said.

On the heels of Williams’ attack, the opposition Progressive Liberal Party also called on the government to state their position and whether or not the incident is being classified as a hate crime.

In response, Henfield said while many have referred to the incident as a hate crime, there is really no real evidence to support this view.

“I contacted my Counsul General in Miami who had no information from police or Florida officials that the crime was deemed to be a crime of malice or hate, but in the moment,  it appears to be somewhat of a freak crime [where] someone walks up to you and attacks you, and so our prayers and thoughts are with Williams. We hope him a speedy recovery as we continue to delve into this incident,” Henfield said.

Henfield said he also viewed the news report that Williams gave to Channel 7 News which aired on Monday night, of which he never indicated anything to suggest that the incident was a crime of hate.

“He himself did not understand why he was unceremoniously attacked in the fashion that he was,” Henfield said, adding that the incident was very unfortunate.

“We don’t expect when we walk into a coffee shop or some other place of business to be attacked by someone.  The state of affairs in the world is that you should always be alert,” Henfield said. “Always expect the unexpected. Anywhere you travel in the world you are subject to these type of incidents or events in this environment of terrorism in which we live.

“It’s unfortunate but we have to be careful when we travel. This is not a common incident. I think many of us have travelled to America and other places over and over and we have not personally encountered any such instance.”

Also addressing the issue of travel advisories, Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar told reporters that while The Bahamas is well within its right to issue a travel advisory, the government must be mindful that 74 per cent of tourists who visit The Bahamas are from the United States.

He said an advisory is also more impactful when issued by the U.S. as opposed to The Bahamas.

“So we don’t want to get into a tit for tat because we will never win that battle,” D’Aguilar said.

“Our economy is extremely reliant on foreign visitors from the United States and so we must thread very cautiously on how we respond to their travel advisories, but also we try to impress upon them that they must be very mindful of how impactful their travel advisories can be on our economy so that is our job to sensitize.”

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister Henfield said at some point a committee must be formed between the minister of foreign affairs, the minister of tourism, the minister of national security and the ministry responsible for maritime affairs to appoint a technical team that would examine the issues that are constantly raised in U.S. advisories.

“Those things that we can fix, we will fix, and we will continue to get better at what we do. I think we are doing a good job at fighting crime but there is room for improvement,” Henfield said.

The U.S. Department of State released a level two advisory on Feb. 25, 2019,  warning US residents to exercise extreme caution when travelling to The Bahamas.

The level two advisory said violent crimes, including armed robberies, sexual assault and burglaries remain common “even during the day and in tourist areas.”

In response to this latest advisory,  The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism  (MOT) said travellers to any destination must maintain awareness of their surroundings and exercise basic precautions, as they likely would in their home cities and when not on holiday.

The MOT said in reality, the vast majority of the country’s six million visitors who travel to The Bahamas annually, do so without incident.