BY VERNON DAVIDSON Executive editor — publications firstname.lastname@example.org
THE Obama Administration sent a strong signal of support to Jamaica last week with the visit of former Secretary of State General Colin Powell and America's new Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Western Affairs Liliana Ayalde.
At the same time, Washington has made it clear that it values its relationship with Kingston and wants to do as much as possible to help the Jamaican economy improve.
"We remain committed," Ayalde told print journalists in a specially arranged interview last week in Kingston. "This is an important relationship to us and to the region... we're very appreciative of the excellent bilateral relations that we've had over the past 50 years and we want to start thinking about the next 50 years ahead."
Ayalde and Powell attended Jamaica's 50th anniversary of Independence celebrations which, she said, were also a celebration of the "excellent bilateral relations" between Jamaica and the US over the past half-century.
She said America's "deep commitment" to Jamaica was demonstrated by the presidential delegation led by Powell, who has Jamaican heritage, and that the visit highlighted the closeness between both countries.
Given that relationship, Washington is keen to ensure that Jamaica secures an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in order to help turn the economy around.
"I will be having a meeting to get a better sense of what the challenges are fiscally for Jamaica, and obviously as a friend of Jamaica we would like to see Jamaica's fiscal health up to speed to be able to enter into an agreement with the IMF," Ayalde said.
She said that as long as the US is able to, it will provide technical assistance to deal with some of the issues required for a new IMF agreement, "whether it's tax administration or others that we may be able to provide through our US Government agencies such as the Department of Treasury, or others that can provide that technical assistance, but it's mostly based on demand and ability... We have expertise, best practices that we can share," she said, pointing out that help does not always have to come in the form of cash.
Addressing the view held by some political analysts in the region that since the end of the Cold War Jamaica and the Caribbean no longer held strategic importance for the US, Ayalde said that was not so.
"We want to make sure that we are paying attention to the agenda that is driven by the Caribbean, and one of the reasons I am here after the celebrations is to sit down and hear very closely what our interlocutors have to say," she explained.
"The agenda has changed, has shifted, because this is your country, your region, and you need to tell us how that agenda is changing; and we want to make sure that we do the follow-up, and that's one of the reasons I'm here, to check and see and be able to articulate that back to Washington and do the follow-up in Washington as well," Ayalde said.
"We want to ensure that we maintain the profile of the region, vis-a-vis the hemisphere, as well as other parts of the world," added Ayalde, who has 30 years' experience working in this hemisphere and as such is very much aware of the different agendas throughout the region.
She said that one of the reasons she was delighted to be able to come here first was that she sees Jamaica playing a leadership role in the region.
"There are various aspects of the regional dynamics where Jamaica can play a much more forceful role than your neighbours, and so we
Ayalde also said she intended to look at how best Caricom can be utilised to move some of the bilateral agendas forward.