Jamaica needs foreign policy directionSunday, May 16, 2021
JAMAICA has always stood firm on assertive and enlightened leadership in our foreign policy and principles in forging our international diplomatic relationships. Central to these principles has been a commitment to non-interference in the internal affairs of all nations and the peaceful resolution of disputes. As a consequence, Jamaica has been able to build a wide-ranging set of relationships and alliances which, among other things, has made us a central player in the movement of non-aligned states.
Throughout our history we have maintained these wide-ranging relationships with diverse political systems, ideologies, and electoral arrangements. The maintenance of these relationships has never meant the validation of particular policies or the internal political choices of the various states with whom we have relations. As a result, we developed an enviable reputation of integrity, courage, and activism in the international arena, earning Jamaica respect in matters of foreign diplomacy where our views have been highly sought by our allies.
In other words, if Jamaica were your friend, you could always count on us. It was this credibility that brought some of the world's largest change-makers and controversial leaders to our shores — Winston Churchill, Fidel Castro, Nelson Mandela, Queen Elizabeth II, Hugo Chavez, and Barack Obama.
In December 2017, the Jamaican Government took a sudden departure from these traditions when it abstained from the critical United Nations vote on Jerusalem. Without any explanation, the global body politic was left to surmise that Jamaica's unusual posture was due to the United States's threat to block aid to any country that didn't recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Following this event, then US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Jamaica (February 2018) to meet with the Government to reportedly guide support on matters pertaining to Venezuela. What ensued was insincere-sounding platitudes expressed during the visit, which sounded more like fawning than independent policy, leading to the Government's public announcement, in January 2019, of its intention to expropriate the shares in Petróleos de Venezuela, SA (PDVSA) and support the United States resolution at the Organization of American States (OAS) to not recognise Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.
This was done notwithstanding the fact that individuals, including myself, reminded the Government of Jamaica that Jamaica's economic survival had been due in no small measure to the support and generosity of the Government of Venezuela and the Venezuelan people, who graciously provided (through the PetroCaribe Fund) the largest loan with the best financial terms to us in our independent history. At an interest rate of one per cent, Venezuela provided Jamaica more than US$3 billion.
All of us would witness the Government of Jamaica eviscerating decades of historical friendships and mutual respect while it appeared to pursue a foreign policy agenda of servile diplomacy to the Donald Trump Administration in the United States.
On April 30, 1948 the OAS was formed with the objective to build peace through harnessing the cooperative efforts of the people in this hemisphere. After the expulsion of Cuba the United States became the dominant force, with the organisation lending support to any country that appeared 'anti-communist'.
With the advent of independence to the Caribbean islands the counterforce of 14 individual states became a wind of change numerically within the organisation of 33, by giving our region the power to control almost half of the voting block.
Over the past four years the Government's reluctance to take the lead in Caricom towards a unified position on matters in the OAS regarding our region manifested itself again last December at the Special Meeting of the Permanent Council. It was here that Jamaica voted to allow a representative of proclaimed Interim President of the National Assembly of Venezuela Juan Guaido — who had no locus standi in the council — the opportunity to launch an attack against the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, a fellow Caricom member state. This was unprecedented in the history of the regional organisation. Since then, no public explanation has been offered by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, especially in light of Jamaica's role in facilitating the meeting as chair of the Permanent Council.
There is no doubt that in recent times we have behaved incredibly badly towards our allies in Caricom, Venezuela, and Cuba. We threatened long-standing bilateral and multilateral dialogue between ourselves and our international partners and weakened our enviable reputation of courage and principle. We followed like sheep as we allowed ourselves to be used to advance the interests of others with unclear motives, often disguised as defence of democracy, human rights, and rule of law, when those governments themselves were violating those same tenets in their backyard.
These approaches have had dire consequences and left irreparable damage. We were not only seen to abandon our friends, but forfeited our responsibility to act as an honest and fair broker for others who found themselves at the mercy of larger countries who exerted their dominion. This reversal has been counterproductive for Jamaica's foreign relations history, where the costs have outweighed the benefits.
What did we hope to achieve in those pursuits? You just had to look at the recent sharing of the vaccines across the region to see that we were alone. We must correct our breaches, reposition ourselves, and take a new direction.
With the leadership of the US Senate, Congress, and White House changed, our once wholesale acceptance of Republican extremism could be detrimental. The Government of Jamaica should begin with a fresh Washington, DC, start in policy and personnel to reset our US foreign relations for the region.
Within the OAS we must use the opportunity to extend Jamaica's agenda to include regional and hemispheric issues and raise important areas of concern, including the US stockpiling of COVID-19 vaccines, while seeking global clearance for the Cuban COVID-19 vaccine — which the World Health Organization (WHO) supports.
We should also collaborate to access technology to fast-track our people's educational needs, design solutions to de-escalate increased poverty as a result of the joblessness created by wide-scale layoffs, and promote the welfare of small island developing states (SIDS) amidst extreme climate change and other natural disasters.
Our activism should also buttress any OAS position protecting the Amazon in Brazil and the people of St Vincent, whose island has been ravaged by the eruption of the La Soufriere volcano.
It is time for a proactive, operationalised foreign affairs and foreign trade policy agenda that is courageous, strategic and principled. As we continue to host one of the largest diplomatic corps in the region, let us never forget the declaration of former South African leader Nelson Mandela: “Anybody who changes his principles depending on whom he is dealing is not a man who can lead a nation.”
Lisa Hanna is a Member of Parliament and People's People's National Party spokesperson on foreign affairs and foreign trade.
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