TCI and US in major row

FILE -Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, left, speaks before signing the budget bill that was passed by both chambers at the Capitol May 13, 2024, in Richmond, Va. Senate Finance Committee Chairman, State Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, right, listens. Republican lawmakers in states across the U.S. have been rejecting Democrats’ efforts to protect or expand access to birth control, an issue Democrats are promoting as a major issue in this year’s elections along with abortion and other reproductive rights concerns.
AP Photo/Steve Helber, file

A major diplomatic battle and economic sanctions are looming between the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) over the arrest in recent months of three Americans for illegal possession of ammunition with the US threatening to ruin the island chain’s tourism industry if authorities do not release the three in the coming days.

Three American governors — Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania, Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma, Glenn Youngkin of Virginia — have formally written to TCI Governor Dileeni Daniel-Selvaratnam demanding the release of the three as they await sentencing on illegal ammunition possession charges.

The three had been arrested separately in recent months for bringing small amounts of ammunition to the TCI. The governors said they did so inadvertently and were mostly nabbed on their way back to the US mainland. In one case, one of the defendants had a few spent shells, but the TCI has in the past 12 years or so has stiffened penalties for illegal gun and ammunition possession with sentences of up to 12 years. One American, Mike Lee Evans was jailed back in December for possession, while the others were arrested between February and early May, triggering a mini uproar among lawmakers and governors.

“We respectfully request that you reconsider the charges against Bryan Hagerich, Tyler Scott Wenrich, and Ryan Tyler Watson and expedite their release back to their respective states and families as soon as possible. This action will create the necessary recognition of your laws that will impact the future actions of travelers and continue our mutual interest in justice and goodwill between our jurisdictions,” the letter to TCI Daniel-Selvaratnam stated.

In response, the government has already told the Americans that the concept of the separation of powers also applies in the TIC, preventing her from directly interfering in the work of the judiciary, a development that appears to be lost on the American governments apparently because of the size of the islands.

Aware of the strict anti-gun and ammunition laws, the State Department has repeatedly warned Americans to be careful when traveling to the TCI, noting that they should “carefully check their luggage for stray ammunition or forgotten weapons before departing from the United States. Firearms, ammunition (including stray bullets), and other weapons are not permitted in Turks.”

On Monday of this week, yet another American tourist, Sharitta Shanise Grier of Florida was arrested and placed on $15,000 bail for possession of two bullets as she was preparing to depart the TCI.

Local lawmaker Alvin Garland says the behavior of the American governors and others is appalling as they did not even bother to get the protocol right and were basically ordering locals around on this issue.

“They had the unmitigated gall to try to press Governor Daniel-Selvaratnam to inject herself and office into our legal process in favor of three US citizens, presently on bail while awaiting sentencing for illegal possession of ammunition,” he said in a column in the Sun newspaper.” What makes this American-sourced initiative even more galling, is that it came after the authors had professed to “understand and appreciate the critical importance of upholding the laws and regulations of your territory for the protection of your citizens. We humbly ask that your government — in its wisdom — temper justice with mercy and recognize that these men made mistakes but had no apparent malicious intent. We respectfully request that you reconsider the charges against these three already convicted Americans and expedite their release,” he said as he referred to the letter to the local governor.