A foreign policy that must speak truth to friend and foe

Sunday, May 20, 2018

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Jamaica's foreign policy appears to be becoming less possible to predict in respect of what stance the country will take on international issues.

Our guess would be that at the core of this presumably new direction is pragmatism over the idealism that emerged out of the pre- and post-independence euphoria which won Jamaica pride of place among small developing states as an important voice in the corridors of world power.

Foreign policy changes should be expected over time because the world is not static and is in effect a shifting goalpost, where the old issues are not the new and where the old solutions to modern, complex problems are no longer adequate.

The problem with this evolution in our foreign policy — assuming that we are right and that there is such — is that the country is left to guess what this new direction is in the face of the absence of a clear, unequivocal policy statement and its strategic objectives.

We would suggest to the Administration that it should not be timid about making useful and timely changes in foreign policy if it considers this to be in our national interest. United States President Donald Trump has made it clear he is pursuing an America first policy.

At the same time, while Jamaica must be pragmatic, we cannot sacrifice certain ideals and principles to expediency or fail to stand up for what we believe is right. A few references should suffice to make our point.

The Government correctly views the Dominican Republic as a nearby economy which has been experiencing sustained high rates of growth and therefore provides opportunities for trade and investment.

This, however, should not prevent us from raising our concerns about the vicious treatment of Haitian citizens and legal migrants from our French-speaking sister Caribbean Community (Caricom) nation.

Doing business does not require public endorsement of a government guilty of despicable conduct wherever in the world that is. We are still respected as the first country in the world to ban the importation of goods from South Africa under Mr Norman Manley and to suggest the commemoration of the International Year of Human Rights under Mr Hugh Shearer.

Jamaica was also at odds with most of Caricom over the issue of how the Organization of American States was proposing to treat Venezuela and appearing to follow the approach of the United States.

We should be able to scold Venezuela for its undemocratic behaviour while not abandoning a country that was a friend when our economy was threatened with extinction by the 2008 recession.

The US will always be one of our best friends, but we have had reason to take a principled position on such matters as opposing the US embargo on Cuba and giving sanctuary to ousted Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide.

Foreign Minister Kamina Johnson Smith has correctly expressed our concern about the human rights situation in Gaza where the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem was used as an occasion by the Israeli armed forces to kill 60 people and wound almost 3,000 Palestinian demonstrators.

Jamaica fully supports Israel's rights to exist within secure borders established before the 1967 war as the basis for the two-state solution. However, this type and level of violence is unjustified.

Jamaica needs a foreign policy that speaks truth to friends and opponents alike.

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