As Jamaica prepares to celebrate Diplomatic Week with heads of mission from around the world, it is opportune for an assessment of whether the country has adjusted its foreign policy agenda in keeping with 21st-century complexities, and how much sway the country has in the Western Hemisphere.
In announcing details of Diplomatic Week celebrations, the minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade, Senator A.J. Nicholson, had this to say: "It aims to update heads of mission on government policy touching on foreign trade and external affairs; to highlight the work and service of diplomats and their contribution to the cordial relations that exist between Jamaican and other countries; to facilitate deeper bilateral relations on issues of mutual interest; and to promote cultural exchange and mutual understanding."
Take the matter of consular diplomacy. With more than 200 million people around the globe being classified as migrants, consular diplomacy has taken on greater significance in many countries and given birth to a very active diaspora. There is, indeed, a whole series of issues surrounding visa applications, legal migration, and workers.
The rather sudden announcement by the United States (US) Embassy that come March 1, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services Field Office in Kingston would close its doors for good has prompted some commentators to question whether this is an indication that Jamaica is losing its influence in the hemisphere.
The field office is moving to the Dominican Republic, and with that move will now have jurisdiction over Jamaica, Anguilla, Aruba, The Bahamas, Bonaire, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Curaçao, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos Islands, and Guantanamo Bay Naval Station. Does this also signal a decline in Jamaica's importance as an ally to the US? Maybe the US will do something spectacular in the near future to prove that this is not correct.
STRONG VS WEAK
There is no doubt that the furore over the long-delayed extradition request for drug kingpin Christopher 'Dudus' Coke fractured relationships between the US and Jamaica. Bruce Golding's tough stance may have sounded good to the base, but it got him nowhere and placed the country in conflict with its powerful North American neighbour.
There is also a feeling that Jamaica's closeness with Venezuelan benefactor Hugo Chávez has not pleased the American government. Then there were the embarrassing WikiLeaks cables of a few years back which laid out in detail how American diplomats tried to use their clout to influence Cabinet appointments. This was something that many people found to be quite unpalatable. But diplomacy is the tool used in solving conflicts between nations.
Recalling the dictum of the ancient Greek historian Thucydides, "The strong do what they do, and the weak suffer what they must." There is no doubt about who is strong and who is weak in this equation. The only question is what's in the interest of our country? So it seems that the Jamaican Government should use all available tools to try and thaw the frostiness that may be persisting in Washington.
The appointment of academic Stephen Vaciannie as our top envoy in America seemed like a good start, but we have not really seen any evidence of how the Government intends to use the craftsmanship of diplomacy to undo Mr Golding's damage.
There was a time when Jamaica's voice was well respected in the international community, for example, when it argued vigorously against apartheid and blasted the bastions of white supremacy.
Sadly, that voice is now very feeble. We hope the Government will use this opportunity to lay clear the Jamaican agenda and set before our friends a new path that will build trust and confidence in the future.
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