Fri | Dec 14, 2018

Editorial | Mr Tillerson and an American reset

Published:Wednesday | February 7, 2018 | 12:00 AM

In the era of Donald Trump, the world is confused about what America stands for and with whom it stands. And no one is certain of who speaks for the United States. That is why people's attitude to today's visit to Jamaica by Rex Tillerson is so paradoxical.

On the one hand, the stop by the secretary of state is perceived as something of a damp squib - a presence without substance. For Donald Trump, the US president, has, despite the sometimes fine words of people like Mr Tillerson, been cavalier with old relationships while undermining the moral doctrines upon which America's foreign policy was built.

Indeed, Mr Trump has proffered a vision of an illiberal and jingoistic America, embracing a creed of bigoted nativism in which people who look like the vast majority of Jamaicans have no place.

Yet, this newspaper clings to the expectation that the institutions of America's democracy and government, and the presidency itself, are greater, and more enduring, than the individual who sits in the Oval Office and will, in the end, influence the office holder to the fact that America's greatness rests not only on the might of its economy and military, but just as much on the ideals and philosophies that inspired and sustained its creation. In that regard, we prefer to think of Mr Tillerson's visit as an opportunity for a reset of America's relationship with Jamaica and the Caribbean.

If that is to be the case, presuming that Mr Tillerson has come with a mandate of genuine partnership, the talks between Prime Minister Andrew Holness and the secretary of state have to be a full and frank discourse between representatives of sovereign states of sometimes divergent, but mostly shared, interests and not of a superpower dictating to a presumed subordinate. Further, Mr Holness should define Jamaica's interests not in narrow terms, but must take into account what is good for the broader regional group, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), which he is soon to chair.

In this regard, Mr Holness ought, at the outset, to be clear that while Jamaica was not a direct subject of the slur, Kingston finds utterly objectionable and demeaning Mr Trump's characterisation of regional neighbour and CARICOM partner Haiti as a "s***hole country". Given our history, circumstance and ethnic blend, Jamaicans are unlikely to have fallen far, if at all, outside the cover of President Trump's crude metaphor.

Further, it has to be pellucid to Secretary Tillerson that Jamaica and CARICOM have an interest in the immigration debate now taking place in the United States, as well as in the policy prescriptions thus far floated by congressional Republicans and the Trump administration. For instance, while the precise numbers are unknown, there are many Jamaicans who are among the so-called Dreamers, the 800,000 or so undocumented young people whose parents took them to the United States as children and who could now face deportation unless they have a credible path to citizenship.

 

INSTABILITY IN THE REGION

 

Indeed, the return of these, as well as thousands of other Caribbean immigrants, who have little or only tenuous roots in these countries, could well destabilise regional economies and societies.

This problem would be exacerbated if Mr Trump's proposed border wall with Mexico - or the idea of it - drives more narcotraffickers deeper into the Caribbean Basin, including CARICOM states, posing challenges to their democracies. A potential upshot is precisely one of the problems Mr Trump is keen to avoid: increased illegal immigration to the United States.

As Mr Tillerson no doubt appreciates, a stable, prosperous Caribbean, which exists in mutual respect with the United States, is good for American security. So, it is in America's interest to redouble efforts to prevent the flow of arms that help to drive crime and instability in Caribbean societies, as well as to promote increased American investment in the region.

Secretary Tillerson, if he doesn't already know, ought to be informed - and he, in turn, might educate Donald Trump - that the United States has not done badly from Caribbean immigration. Mr Tillerson need only look to one of his recent predecessors, a Republican to boot, General Colin Powell, for evidence.