Thu | Aug 6, 2020

‘Money is everything’ - Ward cautions against donor ambassadors as Warren rakes Tapia as Trump’s ‘rich buffoon’

Published:Thursday | October 17, 2019 | 12:00 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer
Donald Ray Tapia, US Ambassador to Jamaica
US Senator Elizabeth Warren

Amid blistering criticism of the White House appointment of Donald Tapia as ambassador to Jamaica, a former envoy has warned of the dangers to international diplomacy when non-career campaign donors are parachuted into embassies.

That caution was made by Curtis Ward, former Jamaican ambassador and deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, hours after Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren charged that United States President Donald Trump may have appointed at least five ambassadors she dubbed “rich buffoons” as reward for their contributions.

Tapia presented his credentials to Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Kamina Johnson Smith in September.

“Don Tapia, a former electrical product company chairman, was nominated to be our ambassador to Jamaica – a country he had not visited for about 20 years – after donating $100,000 to Trump’s inauguration,” Warren said in a series of tweets on Tuesday.


Warren also suggested that he was unqualified to hold the post.

“For decades, administrations of both political parties appointed big donors as ambassadors. They’re usually not experts in the country, foreign policy, or anything else relevant to the job. But Donald Trump perfected the act of selling swanky diplomatic posts to rich buffoons,” said Warren.

While acknowledging that it was not unusual for non-career diplomats to be appointed ambassadors, Ward warned that a politician lacking diplomatic skills may make major foul-ups.

“Career diplomats know how to walk between the raindrops to maintain friendly relations even when carrying out policies that may be objectionable to the host government. Money is everything in politics,” he said.

While there are limits on individual campaign contributions to candidates in the US, and strict reporting requirements to the Federal Election Committee, there is no limit to contributions to political action committees (PACs), which can spend unlimited amounts of money in support.

“I wouldn’t say diplomatic postings are being ‘sold’, but the appointments are highly influenced by the potential diplomat’s contribution to the candidate or party. There is no doubt that when some of these contributions are being made, they are made to position the donor for an ambassadorship.

“Most US presidents appoint individuals (political appointees) with some connection to the countries to which they are appointed. Also, many of these political appointees turn out to be good, not only for the host country, but also for the United States. One should be careful about using a broad brush,” Ward said.

The US Embassy in Kingston declined to comment on Warren’s pronouncements.

“It is an internal US government political matter, and we will not comment,” said Jeremiah Knight, the officer for public affairs at the embassy.