In another few weeks, after primary and secondary schools close for their annual two-month-long summer break, the usually heavy traffic of Barbadians heading north to the United States that occurs around this time every year, is expected to get under way.
Such trips are eagerly looked forward to by most Barbadians who would have started planning from either late last year or earlier this year when they would have submitted requests at their workplaces for vacation leave. Flights are also usually booked around this time as the lowest fares are then available.
New York, Miami and Orlando are among the most popular American destinations for Barbadian visitors, whose reasons for travel include visiting relatives and friends; bargain shopping, especially in Miami with its many malls; and enjoying the fantasy of Disneyworld, especially in the company of children.
The United States has been a generally safe destination over the years. Travel for most Barbadians has been free of major incidents, except occasionally reported muggings in places like Brooklyn or Miami. Otherwise, Barbadians have had no real reason to feel unsafe once they took the necessary precautions, which everyone should, for their protection in the unfamiliar setting of a foreign country.
However, a spate of deadly incidents over the last few years, including the latest in Orlando over the weekend that involved the fatal shooting of 49 people –– partying at a gay club –– by a 29-year-old follower of the ISIS group, underscores the need for Barbadians visiting the United States to be extra careful, especially in public places.
Since the deadly September 11, 2001 attacks on New York by the Al Qaeda group, the United States has been continuously waging war at home and abroad against Islamic fundamentalism which, officials in Washington say, is fuelling a brutal new form of terrorism that represents the single biggest threat to world peace and security today.
The deadly early Sunday morning attack on partygoers at the Pulse nightclub has been described by United States officials as an act of terrorism. It was the deadliest mass shooting in American history and also the worst domestic terror attack since 9/11.
It underscores the United States security threat posed by the ISIS group that seems to have taken over leadership of militant Islam from Al Qaeda, which has quietly faded into the background after American forces took out its leader Osama bin Laden a few years ago.
Besides the terrorist threat, what seems to compound the security problem for the United States is that so many deranged persons bent on causing mayhem are apparently on the loose on the streets. What is particularly frightening is that these said persons can easily acquire deadly high-powered weapons; and the hands of the authorities seem tied because of a provision in the United States Constitution that allows citizens to bear arms.
Whenever there is a flare-up of violent crime on a much smaller scale in other countries, especially those which are tourism-dependent, it seems, ironically, that the United States sometimes rushes to put out travel advisories warning American citizens about security risks in these countries. Little consideration is given, it seems, to the economic consequences which these advisories may have on the countries
However, there currently exists in the United States what can be described as a high-risk environment in which the personal safety and security of visitors are under some level of threat, which did not obtain several years ago. Yet it seems no country has had the courage to issue a travel advisory to alert their citizens about the risks involved in travelling to the United States.
It is the duty of every government to look out for the interests of its citizens when they are travelling abroad in the same way that the American government does for Americans. Are we seeing a tacit admission by some countries that in international relations, all countries are equal, but some are more equal than others?
The United States war against terrorism is likely to be drawn out and not easily won. What is particularly challenging is that the enemy is mostly unknown and can strike with deadly consequences when least expected. No matter how good United States intelligence may be, it is impossible for it to pick up everything before
Evidence suggests that terrorists like to strike in public spaces –– shopping malls, subways, bus terminals, and so on –– where there are lots of people so that they can achieve the most terrifying and deadly impact.
While we would want Barbadians going to the United States to enjoy themselves, we urge them to recognize the new reality, be conscious of their surroundings, especially for suspicious activity, and never let down their guard.
It is better to be safe than sorry.