Caribbean Community governments last week widely condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine calling for a diplomatic solution rather than war to end the conflict while leaving any sanctions up to individual nations.
That decision was made at the recent leaders meeting in Belize but by the middle of this week, tiny Dominica appeared to have fired the strongest diplomatic salvo, suspending nationals from Russia and Belarus from participating in its much vaunted citizenship by investment program (CIP).
Along with St. Kitts, St. Lucia, Grenada and Antigua, the island nation of about 75,000 people has used the program to replace revenue lost from the US-inspired collapse of its banana exports to the European Union in the past decade and import taxes also garnished through tax free trade in the regional single market.
Latest figures indicate that the island national-nestled between the French Overseas Territories of Martinique and Guadeloupe-made around US$550 million in the past three years from people who participated in the scheme. Some of the money is to be used to build an international airport that could accommodate jet aircraft and help to pay off external debt.
A government announcement from Roseau, said cabinet had agreed to an immediate suspension of the right of nationals of these two countries to apply to obtain Dominican citizenship and passports once they can afford the minimum US$100,000 fee, pass due diligence tests, are older than 18 years, in good health, possess no criminal record and could defend their source of funds. English language proficiency is not a requirement.
“In light of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, the government of Dominica is suspending the process of all new applications from Russians and Belarusians with immediate effect. This measure is to safeguard the Dominica community and the integrity of the Dominica Citizenship by Investment Program,” the announcement stated.
None of the other participating CIP territories has as yet made similarly clear moves as many in the 15-nation bloc prefer to take collective action at the level of CARICOM rather than expose themselves individually.
Antigua, which also has a vibrant CIP program has asked the US for a full list of names of people facing sanctions so they could be blocked from applying or participating. The island wants to ensure that it has an accurate list of sanctionable people rather than act with haste.
“It is important to appreciate that not all Russian persons and entities have been placed on a sanctions list. These lawful persons and entities continue to be entitled to benefit from services provided by Antigua and Barbuda and other countries. In this regard, the relevant agencies in Antigua and Barbuda will be required to follow the international sanctions lists,” said Sir Ronald Sanders, Antigua’s ambassador to the US.
Respected regional pollster, Barbadian Peter Wickham had urged Prime Minister Gaston Browne to act accordingly, arguing that there could be a rush of applicants seeking a new refuge in the Caribbean.
“It is possible that as their borders close and the situation gets worse, maybe some of them might start to look for citizenship opportunities elsewhere. Hopefully, Antigua and Barbuda will do the due diligence required…I personally think it’s a good idea to exclude such persons,” he told the Observer newspaper.
Antiguan officials had suggested, however, that sanctions imposed against some international banks had already made it difficult for CIP foreign agents to conduct business, meaning that the application process had been severely affected anyway. New applications have been put on hold for the while, officials said.
The Bahamas, meanwhile, appears to have been caught in the middle of an international row over the recent transitioning of two Russian oil tankers in the past week.
“The matter of sanctions was discussed extensively by the government and we are in consultations with all our partners and stakeholders, both domestic and international. This remains an evolving matter. In the meantime, we are advising all entities within The Bahamas that they ought to deal with appropriate caution in respect of any transactions in our country with Russian individuals and entities who have been sanctioned by the United States, EU, Canada and the United Kingdom,” states a cabinet release.