Eastern Caribbean Time Zone UTC-04:00
Capital City Basseterre
Currency East Caribbean dollar
National Day 19 September
His Excellency Kevin M Isaac arrived in London in January with his wife, Prangtip and two young sons. Asked about the beginnings of his career, he recalls meeting, as a 19-year-old, the French Ambassador to St Kitts and Nevis, who, surprised by his linguistic skills, recommended that he spend some time in France. Thus Mr Isaac travelled to Toulouse on a scholarship; it was there that he ‘got a feel for the dynamics of language, culture and how these can bring people together or drive them apart’. ‘I think it was then that the idea of diplomacy crystalised in my mind,’ he says.
A ‘professional student at heart’, Mr Isaac graduated with a BA (Hons) in French and Spanish and a Postgraduate Diploma in International Relations from the University of the West Indies, followed by an MA in International Studies from the University of Birmingham. A week after completing the latter, in October 1995, he was sent to New York to become Deputy Permanent Representative and Chargé d’Affaires at his country’s Permanent Mission to the UN. (Mr Isaac had joined the Foreign Ministry in 1992.) He recalls ‘fascinating negotiations’ with the Chinese over the establishment of a St Kitts and Nevis Consulate in Hong Kong: ‘I was impressed by the preparation and precision of the negotiations, and how they recognised the importance of dialogue in the end.’ Eventually, due to his country’s diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the consulate was officially opened as an ‘office’.
From 2005-10, as Senior Political Advisor to the Assistant Secretary-General of the Organisation of American States (OAS) in Washington, DC, Mr Isaac wore two hats. He was co-ordinator of the work of the OAS country offices, which are stationed in 28 of the 34 member states. ‘We had a budget of $7.5 million; each year, I had the nerve-wracking task of going before the Committee on Administrative and Budgetary matters to defend the budgets for these offices and explain what work had been doing during the year.’ Meanwhile, as political advisor, he worked with the Assistant Secretary-General on issues such as natural disaster mitigation and establishing a committee on development as a new pillar of the organisation.
Now, as High Commissioner in the UK, he wants to reach out to his country’s diaspora. ‘Being a small country, it is important to have as many hands on deck as possible, especially because there are more people from St Kitts and Nevis living in the UK, US and Canada than there are living on the island itself!’ He continues: ‘I also want to make people aware of St Kitts and Nevis as a different tourist destination, with a thriving financial services sector and a place of opportunity for investment, trade, manufacturing, and agro-processing.’ Last month, his Prime Minister visited the UK to meet with officials in Jersey. ‘The idea is to learn from their best practices and techniques and to ensure our sector exceeds international standards.’
Finally, he highlights St Kitts and Nevis’s greatest diplomatic challenge: ‘economic survival’. Five or six years ago, rising costs and depressed sugar prices forced the country to abandon sugar production, and then the global financial crisis hit. He also has concerns about the UK government’s application of the Air Passenger Duty, ‘which means flights to our country become even more expensive than flights to the US.’ Such actions are a reminder of the importance of building partnerships and to get people to understand our circumstances.’ A natural diplomat with a flair for language, Mr Isaac should have no trouble getting his point across.