Today marks five months since I arrived in Bermuda to serve as the United States Consul General with my wife Denise. Amazingly, it feels like time has gone by quickly like the blink of an eye and at the same time – in a very positive way- it feels as though we have been here for five years.
This day also marks my 100th church visit. With the many churches and houses of worship in Bermuda, my wife Denise and I decided to try to visit them all. Having the opportunity to say 100 prayers in today’s world is most welcomed. It has also been a fantastic way to visit the many neighborhoods and communities across the island. We have met some wonderful people along the way, while learning some fantastic history, especially of the many older churches – some of which are 200, 300, 400 years old. Most visits are pre-arranged and scheduled ahead of time yet, it’s nice to be able to drive around and stop in when we approach a house of worship that we have not yet seen.
I recall one day in particular, when Denise noticed a service going on at Shekinah. We stopped the car, entered the building, and found a seat in the last row. We sat for the duration of the service and were very impressed by high energy in the room. Rev. Maria Seaman noticed we were new to the congregation and began singing a welcome song to us – this was most special and enjoyable.
From the AME to the Jewish Community Center, Catholic, Anglican, Seventh Day, and other religions, there is no shortage of Houses of Worship in Bermuda. What do they all have in common besides their belief in God? A moral reflection of the Bermuda people. ‘Love thy god, Love thy neighbor.’
In addition to visiting Houses of Worship with my wife Denise, I have made many visits during my daily bike rides. From St David’s to Somerset, it has been a great experience riding my bike around the island, including taking the opportunity to stop for a church visit and a prayer several times. Since my arrival, I have logged over 1,000 miles and burned 100,000 calories. That’s a great achievement given the number of remarkable restaurants that I also like to visit in Bermuda – it’s difficult to pick just one favorite with so many choices and so many specialties.
Upon arrival to Bermuda on July 15, it was brought to my attention that the U.S. mail service to Bermuda had been suspended since March. It was learned that American Airlines had the contract to deliver mail, and since they suspended their commercial passenger service, mail services were disrupted. The U.S. Consulate immediately contacted Washington D.C. and established a relationship between Delta and the U.S. Postal Service. Within three weeks, U.S. mail service was restored to Bermuda in addition to 14 other countries that were disrupted by the suspension of American Airlines.
Another project that we were quite satisfied with was getting the U.S. CDC to upgrade Bermuda’s Travel Health Advisory Notice from Level 4 and Level 3 to Level 2 in August. In October, Bermuda’s status was classified as Level 0, identifying the Covid-19 risk as very low. The implementation of mandatory travel authorizations by the Government of Bermuda, pre-test guidance, required arrival tests and testing on Day 4, 8, 14, together with contact tracing, has produced impressive results. Although there is current a spike in cases, the positive takeaway is that they mostly reflect clusters. The government is on top of it and I have full confidence they will continue to handle the situation well.
There are many other projects that I hope to complete during my tenure, which includes working with Washington D.C. on how to constructively review what is locally deemed as the “Stop List.” The world has evolved and it’s our job to suggest revisiting the language and eligibility criteria of individuals seeking to travel to the United States. Many of our customers come in for visa waivers. Some are first-time applicants, while others continuously apply to renew their waiver for an extended period. As U.S. law allows citizens of Bermuda to travel to the United States without requiring a visa, it has been suggested that perhaps language should be amended to allow those who have been approved for a waiver over an extended period of time, be less restricted. The United States has embraced criminal reform by both the Democrats and Republicans, and timing is ideal to embrace potential changes to eligibility requirements for travel from Bermuda to the United States.
With the opening of the new airport it’s an ideal time to also expand U.S. PreClearance services of General Aviation. These services are currently only available to commercial passengers. Approximately 150 private flights go back to the U.S. monthly. PreClearance would significantly increase that number and make Bermuda a more attractive destination for private charter flights.
To end the year with one more project, it is our goal to see how we can help Bermuda secure enough vaccinations for the entire country. The thought of throwing away our masks and helping to make Bermuda an even safer place would be a dream come true.
With Christmas less than two weeks away and Hanukkah underway, Denise and I wish all in Bermuda a happy, healthy Merry Christmas, and for our many Jewish friends, a happy healthy Hanukkah. May God Bless us all.
U.S. Consul General to Bermuda Leandro (Lee) Rizzuto