It's a trying time for Fiji's optimists. Just when you think a corner has been turned on the slow road back to democracy in Fiji, a rock comes crashing down to stall the pace. That's what happened this week when the Fijian interim government expelled a visiting team from the UN's International Labour Organisation.
Visiting Fiji to look at the state of workers' rights, the mission was shown the door (or rather, the departure lounge) before it could conduct any more than a brief and apparently abbreviated meeting with Fiji's Labour Minister. Yet the mission was in the country not at the invitation of Fiji's trade union movement but the interim government itself.
No reason has yet been given for this very strange treatment of an officially invited UN team. But what it does suggest is that there's still some considerable way to go before the actions of Bainimarama's military regime start to match its expansive rhetoric about the return to democracy.
That's not to say that there haven't been some steps forward in recent months – but they have been baby steps. The expulsion of the ILO team is a big step backwards.
This isn't the first time the regime has expelled an international team looking at workers' rights. In December last year, Australian union officials were denied entry after their aircraft arrived in Nadi. Fiji's Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, said at the time that the delegation was not welcome because it would not be fair or objective. This is despite the regime's earlier open invitation to investigate the allegations of breaches of human and labour rights in the country.
So what we are seeing is a regime which is generous with words but whose actions negate the rhetoric.
This must be making it increasingly difficult for Canberra and in particular Foreign Minister Carr. Just two months ago, Carr, along with his New Zealand counterpart, brokered an important breakthrough in the Fijian stalemate with the agreement to reinstate their top diplomats and to consider softening travel sanctions. I argued at the time that the return of the high commissioners to Canberra, Wellington and Suva meant that the communication channels would again be open at the highest levels.
A good thing, because this latest about-face by the regime means there will have to be some pretty tough words communicated. Best they come from the most senior levels.
Photo by Flickr user rachel_titiriga.