While the Caribbean so far has fared well through the 2006 hurricane season, political winds are still blowing ill when it comes to the U.S. government’s decision regarding deadlines for the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. Congress has extended a controversial WHTI deadline by 17 months, making June 1, 2009, the new deadline by which people traveling via land or sea from the Caribbean, Bermuda, Panama, Mexico, and Canada must have a passport or other accepted document to enter, or re-enter the United States. The rub, says Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, secretary general for the 32-member Caribbean Tourism Organization, is that the January 8, 2007, deadline requiring passports for people traveling via air still stands.

Vanderpool-Wallace said in a press release, “It is incomprehensible that the United States government would approve an amendment that excludes air arrivals from the Caribbean and thereby grant an additional advantage to cruise lines in the Caribbean who already enjoy a significant competitive advantage, especially in light of the fact that the cruise lines supported the inclusion of air arrivals also. We know that all of the affected governments made their own representation through several diplomatic channels as recently as last Wednesday, prior to the final vote of this bill. Because of the potential far ranging effect of this action, there is nothing potentially more devastating. This is a category 6 hurricane.”

Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. and Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, proposed an amendment pushing for the extension because of fears that cross-border trade and tourism between the United States and Canada could suffer with the earlier target date. Travel and tourism organizations such as the Travel Industry Association of America also feared that the technology behind the implementation of the PASS Card system wouldn't be in place by the deadline.

The amendment contains language requiring that the PASS Card technology meet necessary security standards, that the technology be shared with the governments of Canada and Mexico, that an alternative system be devised for groups of children crossing borders, and that the necessary technological infrastructure be implemented at the ports of entry in order to correctly process identity cards and to train U.S. personnel on new technologies.