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Jamaica might need a foreign policy reset

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

As the Joseph Biden Administration gets ready to take the reins of power in the United States in another eight days, now would be a good time for Jamaica to review its foreign policy and decide whether there is need for a refresh and reset.

The perception in some diplomatic quarters is that, under the Donald Trump regime, Jamaica tilted somewhat towards a foreign policy of pragmaticism, and away from the well-known course based on non-alignment, multilateralism, and regional cooperation.

Some older heads in the local diplomatic community fretted about that perceived shift. However, others believed that the complexity of Mr Trump's “America First” policy suggested that Jamaica was correct to be more flexible as it tried to walk between the raindrops.

For sure, Jamaicans have been jealous about the country's outstanding international reputation as a respected ally that would stand up with our friends and allies and a fearlessly independent country that defended what it believed to be right.

This reputation made Jamaica a leader in international affairs with influence far beyond its size, able to punch above our weight, and a sought-after ally who was always consulted.

There is much pride in the fact that while Jamaica was still a colony of Britain we became the first country to ban imports from apartheid South Africa. We initiated the United Nations International Year of Human Rights, defended Cuba's right of self-determination, and advocated the new international economic order.

Jamaica's ideas led to the development of the Caribbean Basin Initiative, led the formation of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, and gave sanctuary to deposed democratically elected President Bertrand Aristide of Haiti.

For all these reasons, Jamaica is permanently designated to lead Caricom's advocacy in international affairs, has been on the Security Council on two occasions, and chaired the Group of 77 and Non-Aligned Movement.

It is quite likely that Jamaica's status and influence among some of our traditional friends might have waned in more recent times. For example, China might have felt let down because of blistering attacks on it from the US on Jamaican soil.

Some would have questioned why Jamaica was bestowing a national honour on the president of the Dominican Republic while that country was expelling Haitians born there. Cuba would have appreciated some support as US sanctions were being imposed.

Venezuela, too, would have felt hard done that, after bailing us out with PetroCaribe, Jamaica had not been more strident in its support at the Organisation of American States and in other international fora.

Some Latin American countries would have been unhappy with us for being among the first to support an American candidate to be president of the Inter-American Development Bank.

Against that background, it is an appropriate time to review Jamaica's foreign policy, if only to ensure that we are back on track. In any event, we have to fine-tune our post-Brexit relations with the United Kingdom and the European Union.

Mrs Kamina Johnson Smith has some work to do.