BELIZE CITY, Wed. May 31, 2017–The U.S. State Department’s revocation of Minister of National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) and Transport, Edmond “Clear the Land” Castro’s diplomatic and personal visas may be an indictment of the corruption currently afflicting the Dean Barrow-led United Democratic Party government.
As the Senate hearings into the corruption in the Passport and Nationality department draw near to a conclusion, it is becoming clearer with each hearing that some of Barrow’s Cabinet ministers were involved in a massive visa hustling scheme at the Immigration Department, which the US may have viewed as compromising US national security, and it caught the attention of the US Department of Homeland Security.
While Castro’s admission in a press release yesterday, Tuesday, that his visas were revoked is the most recent confirmed case, a similar fate had befallen his CEO, Ruth Meighan, a former Immigration Director who was stripped of her visas and unceremoniously returned to Belize last July when she entered the US.
There is, however, speculation that other ministers from the Barrow cabinet also have had their US visas revoked, but there has been no confirmation of this.
The revocation of the US visa of the Belize Rural North area representative led to a press release by Castro, dated May 30, in which it is stated that, “…he has been given notification by the United States Embassy his diplomatic and tourist visas have been revoked, and that no specified reason was stated for the revocation.”
Information on visa revocation on the US State Department’s website, however, indicated that the US could revoke any category of issued visa without even informing the visa holder. That was what happened in the Ruth Meighan revocation case. Meighan only learned that her visas were revoked when she attempted to travel to the US on official government business, and was detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Hon. Castro’s press release continued to explain that he was the holder of a US Green Card “…. which he turned in eight years ago in 2009, at which time the US Embassy offered and issued him both visas (Diplomatic and Tourist).”
Castro noted in the release, however, that he has not travelled to the United States for the past three years and says he has no interest to do so anytime soon, which is why he recently declined an invitation by the US Embassy to go in to discuss the question of renewing his visas.
That invitation, however, to discuss the question of renewing his visas, if it was in fact done, may only have been extended as a diplomatic courtesy because he is an elected representative.
Castro said in his press release that, “The notice of revocation ends with a similar invitation” for Hon. Castro to “…reappear before a U.S. consular officer to establish (his) eligibility for a visa…” The press release then noted that, “Hon Castro wishes to state that he once again declines the offer to make such an appearance because he still has no intention of travelling to the United States any time soon.”
To make matters worse for Castro, his CEO, Meighan, also cannot travel to the US.
The press release concluded with Castro saying that all he wants to do is to “continue to serve the people in Belize Rural North as their area representative and the people of Belize in his capacity as a Minister of Government.”
While Hon. Castro says that he has no intention of traveling to the US anytime soon, the revocation of his visas is a serious matter.
Today, reporters caught up with the Leader of the Opposition, People’s United Party (PUP), Hon. John Briceño, in Belmopan and asked him to comment on the revocation of Hon. Castro’s visas.
“I think it’s shameful and disgraceful that we now have a sitting minister who the U.S. government has decided to cancel his visa and we need to ask the question why. Why would the United States government cancel a sitting minister’s visa – not only his tourist visa but even his diplomatic visa? That by itself says the Prime Minister should take action and Minister Castro should be fired, because there is obviously something terribly wrong.
And we need to add also, because we have been hearing that there are other Ministers whose visas have been cancelled, and I would want to think that the Prime Minister, as the leader of this country would know that and he needs to take action. When it happened during our time, Minister [Maxwell] Samuels was not brought back to the Cabinet. So now the Prime Minister, who was so boastful that he is going to do the right thing: Prime Minister, do the right thing, you need to fire Minister Castro,” Hon. Briceño said.
The Cayo South area representative, Hon. Julius Espat, had this to say about the Hon. Castro’s US visa revocations: “The Americans no play no game; they don’t just do things because of emotions. They have information and they act when the information is right. And, therefore, there has to be a reason that they revoked a Minister’s visa; that’s not something that is normally done. That takes a lot of effort and you have to be able to have a lot of backup to make a move like that. So, it doesn’t really matter what the Minister says; it matters what the system has to do to bring those people to justice. That’s all we are asking for, you know.”
Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA) president Giovanni Brackett, who is still banned from entering the National Assembly, also weighed in on the visa revocation and called on Prime Minister Barrow to break his silence in the wake of his supporters’ attack on the media.
“I think that if you check not only him, because I don’t want to just single out Edmond Castro, – I think a whole bunch of the UDP Ministers, who call themselves Honorable, should be losing their visas,” Brackett said.
Brackett added, “COLA has agents in every shape and form in every government agency and international friends. Let me tell you something; that there is more to come. There is at least three or four that we have confirmed who have lost their visas who have been affiliated with certain ministers.
“So, we are not surprised at COLA, when we sit at our desk and the amount of traffic and news that comes across our desk, we are not surprised that this happened. But what I can tell you, the Prime Minister cannot remain silent after his thugs have attacked the media; he cannot remain silent after his minister has lost his visa. This is enough evidence on the legacy of the Prime Minister and it is the Prime Minister who has to give an interview after this.”
In November 2013, Hon. Castro sought to vindicate himself through a libel claim filed at the Supreme Court against whistleblower Alvarine Burgess and Great Belize Production, Channel 5, but he was forced to withdraw his claim after damaging information was revealed in Burgess’ testimony on the witness stand that she had paid the Minister to sign visa recommendations. Castro denied that he was paid to sign the visa applications for Asians who wanted to visit Belize.
Today, Burgess again insisted in her testimony before the Senate Select Committee conducting hearings into the Immigration Department for the period 2011 to 2013, that she paid Minister Castro $2,000 per visa.