Sun | Jan 24, 2021

Ned Brown | What ahead for Ja-US relations?

Published:Saturday | November 10, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Some of the best lessons for modern-day politics and better relations between two countries are often learned from stories of decades ago.

Jamaica enjoyed no better relationship with a US President than that with John F. Kennedy. Kennedy had been visiting Ja since 1950, and was good friends with the deLisser and Pringle families. He invited both Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante to the White House, with private visits in the Oval Office, before Jamaica's Independence.

Kennedy would provide whatever assistance Jamaica required - particularly after Fidel Castro's takeover of Cuba. After the death of President Kennedy, Jamaica's relations with the new president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, were less close, and Prime Minister Bustamante knew this.


It all stemmed from Johnson's ego, and his feeling that he played "second fiddle" to HRH Princess Margaret during the independence celebrations of August 1962. Johnson felt he should be the grand pooh-bah as he drove the streets of Jamaica, and not the young princess. Johnson's memory of personal slights was long throughout his political career.

The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming book on Jamaica, which affirms the brilliant political skills of Busta, and has relevance to the new US Congress about to be seated in January 2019.

For President Kennedy's final funeral procession and cortËge on Monday, November 25, 1963, more than 90 heads of state or their representatives marched behind the caisson: the towering French President Charles de Gaulle walked arm-in-arm with the diminutive Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia. Towards the rear of the head of state procession was President Kennedy's good Jamaican friend, Prime Minister Alexander Bustamante. The group just behind the heads of state were the leaders of Congress and its members.


Friends in High Places


Bustamante, ever the shrewd politician, strategically walked slowly, so that he could fall back and walk side-by-side by the powerful speaker of the House, John W. McCormack. Bustamante wanted to assure that Jamaica maintained friends in high places of the US government.

When the contingent arrived at St Matthew's Cathedral to be seated, Bustamante was found without a seat as he had lagged behind. Robin Chandler Duke, wife of the White House chief of protocol, Ambassador Angier Biddle Duke, asked New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller if he could squeeze over, so that the Jamaican prime minister could sit with him. The governor graciously agreed, and introduced himself to the prime minister.

Unbeknown to anyone present, except Rockefeller and Bustamante, Rockefeller told him that he was very familiar with Jamaica from his days working in the State Department during WW II, and that his brother, Winthrop, was an early investor in the development of Tryall.

And then Bustamante told Rockefeller that he had met his uncle, Winthrop Aldrich, head of the Chase National Bank, in April 1947. Aldrich was returning from a trip in South America on his private DC-3 for the International Chamber of Commerce. Aldrich's banker contingent stopped in Kingston for the night, and they were staying at the Myrtle Bank Hotel.

Bustamante told Rockefeller that he was the founder of the Jamaican Labour Party, and mayor of Kingston at the time of Aldrich's visit. A fast friendship developed between the prime minister of a small country, a scion of America's most powerful family, and the governor of the state where the world's financial centre resided. At one solemn occasion, Bustamante had shrewdly made two valuable new friends from both the Republican and Democratic parties.

What does this past week's US election outcome portend for JA-US relations? Actually, the prospects are very good. Jamaica already has excellent relations with a number of Democratic leaders in the new House of Representatives: Eliot Engel, Carolyn Maloney, Maxine Waters, Yvette Clarke and others. My point is that the Ja political class (both the JLP and PNP parties) have an opportunity to re-engage with the new House leadership for the good of the country.

Where are the opportunities? First, no one should discount the significant bilateral relations Ja has established with China. While the terms are sometimes disadvantageous to Jamaica, borrowing money at two per cent, at lenient terms, is a good deal. However, there are areas where the Holness Government should engage with the new US Congress, while continuing their work through the normal diplomatic channels:

n Power, power, power - cheap, abundant electricity is the key to Ja's economic development. Partnering to develop more wind and solar, while converting to lower-cost LNG-powered plants, is key to economic growth.

n Agriculture - partner with US companies to create demand for Jamaican coffee, and get higher prices than what Japan is offering. Ganja- the money transfer issue will eventually get resolved with the US Treasury. Canadian and US cannabis growers want to be part of Ja ganja development. Climate change and fouled water are devastating citrus growing and processing in Florida; it needs to be relocated to Ja, where land, clean water and sunshine are plentiful.

n Light manufacturing - for more than a century, Jamaica's principal trading partner to the north was the port of Charleston. South Carolina is now a major manufacturing centre for Boeing, BMW, Volvo and Siemens. There is no reason why Jamaica could not be a supplier of smaller, sophisticated components to these assembly operations. And, it is less than a two-day voyage by cargo ship between the ports of Jamaica and Charleston.

What's the sales pitch from the Jamaican Government to the US government? Jamaica and the US have enjoyed a profitable trading relationship since the late 17th century. Tourism is vitally important between both countries. Jamaica is of strategic military, political and economic importance in the Caribbean.

It is in America's (including the US and Canada) interest to provide more opportunities for Jamaicans, and assist with sustained economic and jobs growth. Good poker players know that the hand you play is the one dealt ya. Jamaica has a good one, and many opportunities with the new Democratic controlled US House of Representatives.

- Ned Brown is a 'reforming' Washington, DC ,government affairs adviser, which means that he will be working, as needed, with the new Democratic leadership. He now writes full-time, and is completing a book on upscale Jamaica tourism from 1946 through present day. Email feedback to