The friend of my enemy is…

Last week, the United States Department of State submitted the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) to Congress. According to the State Department website, “the two-volume report offers a comprehensive assessment of the efforts of foreign governments to reduce illicit narcotics production, trafficking and use, in keeping with their international obligations under UN treaties, while also presenting information on governments’ efforts to counter money laundering and terrorist financing.”

The description continues: “The Drugs and Chemical Control section of the INCSR covers the efforts of nearly 90 countries and jurisdictions. The second section, Money-Laundering and Financial Crimes, describes the efforts of Major Money Laundering Countries to implement strong anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing regimes. The Report is a requirement of section 489 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.”

So how did little ole’ Antigua & Barbuda fare? Well, we have been identified as “a jurisdiction of primary concern”, along with six other Caribbean nations. What that means, according to our Big Brother, the United States of America, is that we are “a major money laundering country.” And just so that everyone is reading from the same book, the US defines “a major money laundering country” as one “whose financial institutions engage in currency transactions involving significant amounts of proceeds from international narcotics trafficking.”

That’s right, our little bit of paradise has been cast among other notorious wrongdoers in the criminal world of drugs and money laundering.   And in case you did not know it, according to the USA “Antigua & Barbuda remains a substantial offshore centre,” houses “a large financial sector,” and has “a growing Internet gaming industry.”

We must admit that such a robust assessment of our offshore and financial services sector was news to us. That aside, considering that our offshore financial service industry has been disseminated by US pressure and our banking system is dominated by well regulated Canadian banks, we have to wonder what financial institutions the US State Department are referring to when they talk about engaging in transactions that involve “significant amounts of proceeds from international narcotics trafficking”. Heck, we want to know about the “growing internet gaming industry”.

It is no wonder that our Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, issued a statement in which he questioned the report and stated that “it is cold comfort to Antigua & Barbuda that the US State Department has also placed the United Kingdom, France, Germany and the People’s Republic of China in the same category”.

PM Browne hit the nail on the head when he said that, “categorisation of this kind by a US government department does reputational damage to a jurisdiction, that it is difficult to repair, particularly in the case of small countries” and that “these categorisations by the US State Department are arbitrary; they are compiled by unseen hands; and the criteria by which they are reached is a mystery.”

A mystery it may well be, but the conspiracy theorist don’t believe that it is much of a mystery at all. They have suggested that the real reason that Antigua & Barbuda is suffering these debilitating body blows is because of its too-warm relationship with Venezuela (and to a certain extent, Cuba and China).

They believe that this report and the recent luke-warm report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are shots across the bow and represent direct, swift reactions to Antigua & Barbuda’s public stand with Venezuela and against the United States. That stance relates to the rejection of the Executive Order by US President Barack Obama that applied sanctions against seven officials of the Venezuelan Government. President Obama stated that the US is “protecting the US financial system from the illicit financial flows from public corruption in Venezuela.”

To prove their point, the conspiracy theorist readily point to the global media’s portrayal of Antigua & Barbuda as being the best of chums with Venezuela and Cuba.   They pose the rhetorical questions: “do you think that it is just a coincidence that the Associated Press released the photo of Gaston smiling and sandwiched between Casto and Maduro at the ALBA summit on the same day this report was released?” They continue: “What message do you think they are trying to get out to the world and Antigua when they refer to the ALBA meeting and its purpose as ‘a summit of leftist leaders in Venezuela … to lambast US policy toward Venezuela?”

“That is the same meeting where Gaston firmly rejected Obama’s Executive Order and registered his concern that America had unilaterally decided that there are human rights violations in Venezuela that merit the application of sanctions,” the conspiracy theorist exclaim.

Last year, we lamented the fact that our “Big Brother” and long-time ally, the United States of America, had demonstrated bully-like behaviour in their treatment of Antigua & Barbuda in the internet gaming issue. We referred to the prime minister’s generous offer for “a prompt and final resolution” to the ongoing World Trade Organization (WTO) as a “concession to a bully.”

If the conspiracy theorist are correct and the recent negative reports are punishment for being friendly with America’s “enemies” then we can only presume that the US is practicing further bullying tactics and is now attempting to determine who can be our friends.

All very interesting, but we are not conspiracy theorist. What we do know is that many are left to question whether the US has adopted a peculiar thought process where it believes that “the friend of my enemy is not my friend”?