Last April a heated discussion commenced in the Territory when some BVI artistes were denied entry into the United States Virgin Islands to perform at a carnival activity. The matter was discussed at all levels, and even mentioned at an Inter-Virgin Islands Council meeting that was held this year. However, one year later a repeat incident resurrected the discussion.
In this instance, it is being announced that the decision to deny entry to the BVI entertainers was because the USVI Authorities were concerned that some local artistes often perform illegally in that Territory.
BVI Power Soca Monarch, and member of the Hardcore Band Martino Mark in an interview with The Island Sun newspaper explained why his Band was unable to perform. He said his Band was contacted by the St Thomas Festival Committee in February and asked them to be on the line up.
Following the discussion the Soca Power Monarch said that in preparation the Committee asked for the passport information of the Band members travelling, and promised to deal with the paperwork to make travel possible.
However, he said that it was not until two days before the bands (Showtime, and VIBE as well) were supposed to travel they were told that US Border Patrol will not allow them to enter. He said that he was later informed that the reason for the decision was the issue of BVI bands performing at various venues illegally in that Territory.
Mr. Mark said that he was made aware that the USVI authority were unhappy with the fact that artistes from the BVI would make posts on social media announcing that they will be performing in that Territory albeit illegally.
Following the receipt of notice that his Band was not allowed to perform, Mr. Mark said that he nonetheless decided to travel to the USVI to enjoy the Territory’s carnival as a visitor, and perhaps take the opportunity to entertain radio interviews.
Upon arrival in the USVI, the performer said that he was directed to have a seat and showed a flier depicting the bands from the BVI advertised to do other performances. “They said that they had to cut it out, because it was against the law. They questioned whether I would be performing illegally,” the artiste told The Island Sun.
He added that the officials of the US Customs and Border Protection were very specific in naming the Band’s and individuals who were guilty of performing illegally in that Territory. “They mentioned specific bands and they told of a situation where they actually wanted to arrest band members while they were on stage.”
Mr. Mark said that he told the US Customs and Border Patrol officials that he would not be performing, but had intention to do radio interviews. He said that he was told that he could be arrested if he did the interviews.
“After about an hour and a half, I had to really guarantee them that I wouldn’t be performing in order for me to get in,” the BVI Performer said. He also explained that the USVI Carnival Committee was disappointed that the bands were denied entry and were left in a haste to fill up the empty spots in their line up.
The artiste explained that BVI artistes are strained to meet the legal requirement in order to perform in the USVI.“The legal channels for us to go through is to go to Barbados, and apply for a visa which has now become very expensive in excess of close to $10,000…People talk about going through the legal channel, it can’t work, it is not feasible. That is the main thing, so some of our bands take chances and have been, and that’s the problem right now.”
“It is a situation that has been lingering. I feel that we are too close in proximity and have too many family ties to not have some kind of understanding. I think there needs to be a waiver of something in place.”
Minister of Culture Weighs In
The Island Sun newspaper contacted Minister for Education and Culture, Hon. Myron Walwyn based on the fact that he had taken an interest in the matter last year and promised to take steps.
Minister Walwyn said: “Our administration is aware of the issue facing our local bands when attempting to book shows in the USVI and we have been working to try to address the matter with our USVI counterparts. It’s a federal law that prohibits our bands from easily playing in the USVI that can only be changed in Washington DC. “
Hon. Walwyn said that as promised, Government did raise the issue at the USVI/BVI Inter Virgin Islands Council meeting where there was a commitment from the Governor at the time to address the issue.
Additionally, the Minister said that steps were also taken to discuss the matter with US Customs and Border Patrol: “Along with my Permanent Secretary, Dr Marcia Potter, Assistant Secretary, Brenda Lettsome-Tye, at that time, the Chairman of our Festival and Fairs Committee, Marvin Blyden, and Najan Christopher from the Premier’s Office, we later met with US Border Control agents to discuss the matter and they further explained the complexity of the issue, but expressed their willingness to work to resolve the matter by lobbying to amend their federal law given our close cultural ties with each other. “
Minister Walwyn assured that the matter will not be done away, as there is plan to discuss it with the new USVI Administration: “It is the plan from our Government to have the matter on the agenda for the next USVI/BVI Inter Virgin Islands Council meeting to secure the same commitment we got from the former governor to move this matter forward and bring about a beneficial resolution to this issue. In the meantime, we ask that our bands respect the USVI laws.”
The Island Sun newspaper attempted to secure comments from USVI Government officials, and the USVI Carnival Committee but were unable to secure a response by Tuesday’sdeadline.