Sat | Dec 3, 2016

A hug from Uncle Sam

Published:Sunday | January 18, 2015 | 12:00 AM

New ambassador vows to assist Jamaica on a range of issues but not ganja decriminalisation

Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

An arrangement between Jamaica and the United States, aimed at fleshing out a solution to the island's energy woes, heads a slew of enterprising undertakings that the new American ambassador to Jamaica, Luis Moreno, is aiming to implement.

After initiating discussions last week with senior members of the Government and the Opposition, Moreno told The Sunday Gleaner that Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller is scheduled to engage in talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry this month in the quest for a solution to Jamaica's energy challenges.

"Secretary Kerry is to meet one-on-one with the prime minister," said Moreno in a wide-ranging interview. "We will get some private meetings between them and the minister of energy (Phillip Paulwell) as well, if everything goes according to plan.

"The energy situation is crucial, and we have the prime minister and minister of energy travelling to the (US) vice-president's conference on energy on January 26," said Moreno.

The new ambassador did not venture into details of the impending energy deal between Jamaica and the US, but the Government has been on a slippery slope in its quest for cheaper energy with its efforts coming up empty.

OTHER AREAS OF FOCUS

Moreno served notice that apart from the much-anticipated energy talks, focus will be placed on increased investments, improved health care, and enhanced professionalism in the country's law-enforcement system.

But while Moreno promised to do all he could on the intended energy solutions, as well other issues to propel Jamaica forward, he insisted that he is bound by US federal laws to keep clear of Jamaica's push for a change in the legal framework governing marijuana use.

Moreno was quite candid in what he called his first interview with a representative of local media since his arrival in Jamaica on December 29 to take up the ambassadorial post.

The US Senate confirmed Moreno, a 35-year career member of the Senior Foreign Service, as ambassador to Jamaica on November 20, 2014. He succeeds Pamela Bridgewater, whose tenure ended in 2014.

Moreno spoke candidly of challenges sparked by clashes involving police and minority groups that rocked sections of the US in recent months.

He highlighted what he described as the urgent need for both countries to employ the use of non-lethal strategies and equipment by law-enforcement personnel.

Moreno said in all of this, the importance of equality for citizenry cannot be discounted.

Noting that at least two and a half million Americans travel through Jamaica annually, Moreno said law enforcement and security in Jamaica are squarely on his radar.

He said that it was to this end that he met with National Security Minister Peter Bunting last Thursday.

"The intention is to enhance cooperation between the US and Jamaica by making the security forces more professional, capable, and better trained, with more resources and working in a partnership with us," asserted Moreno.

VISA ISSUE

He was asked whether recent diplomatic discomfort between the two countries over the rescinding of the visas of prominent Jamaicans as well as the perpetration of extrajudicial activities, allegedly by members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, had been resolved.

"As far as visas go, I am not at liberty to speak to that because there are confidential issues at stake," said Moreno. "But as far as extrajudicial killings go, a great deal of our training is focused on community policing and people working together with those communities."

But he was quick to emphasise that he was not in a position to preach, as the US has had its fair share of challenges concerning alleged extrajudicial killings.

"We have our own issues," he said. "But we would like to bring non-lethal alternatives and we have [been] looking at body cameras that will record interactions between police officers and the community."

He said this constitutes addressing educational programmes for targeted communities.

REACHING OUT TO HEALTH SECTOR

Moreno promised to extend a helping hand to Jamaica's ailing public-health mechanism.

"We would like to enable our health programmes to help foster a better and improved environment to make the health system here in Jamaica more effective," he said.

Referring to what he called a robust assistance programme in Jamaica being administered through the USAID, Moreno asserted: "We do a lot of work in HIV prevention and treatment … . My vision is to make those partnerships even stronger."

He also made a promise to help Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips' efforts at injecting new life into Jamaica's limping economy.

"We would like to inject more energy into the economy and Jamaican prosperity," he asserted.

Added Moreno: "I would like, for example, to encourage [more] American investments … . I spoke to the prime minister about this during our brief meeting - to bring in American companies and freight delegations.

"We really want to endorse the concept of equality for all Jamaican citizens," asserted Moreno. "This is something that we in the United States struggle with as we have had issues with minorities in the US.

"Just this past summer, it was rather tumultuous in some parts of the States, but we would like to encourage and endorse the concept of equality among different parts of society. We have had sensitivity training in the embassy on how to deal with minorities."

Asked about his position on the lifting of the embargo on Cuba, Moreno noted that Jamaica has been at the forefront in the advocacy for change in the tactics of the US, and he stressed that the goal has not changed.

"Our policy objectives have not really changed: We want to work with civil society; we want to work on respecting human rights political freedom; open markets in Cuba. That has always been the goal."

As US President Barack Obama did in his announcement, Moreno said the US's tactics on Cuba have turned out to be fruitless in the past 53 years and are being changed. That means diplomatic openings, more opening up of civil society, and opening certain doors that had been closed before as far as trade visitations and remittances go.

However, the ambassador declined to elaborate on the developing issue.

"I don't want to speculate because I don't know what the specific plan is and I am not privy to that, but we will be working with civil society and will be placing a strong emphasis on civil rights, human rights, freedom of expression and an open market in the Cuban society," he said.

The US Embassy in Kingston later stated that Moreno would not speak on the Cuban issue in the future, as specific information would be forthcoming directly from the White House in Washington.

On the issue of the proposed decriminalisation of marijuana by local legislators, Moreno said he is bound by federal and not state laws.

He said the Federal government still maintains that marijuana is a Title One dangerous drug, and the US will honour its commitments to international treaties by enforcing laws in relation to the large-scale transit or sale of marijuana.

"While there is a view that there needs [to be] some degree of flexibility, I am a federal official, I am bound by federal laws, which are quite clear on marijuana."

He conceded that the US has been placed in awkward position vis-à-vis Jamaica in respect to ganja, "but we have to live with what the federal mandates on ganja are".

Moreno stressed that it is not the US as a country but different states which have made changes to their local statutes, but noted that Washington is in limbo due to the need for congressional action on that because of its unique status.

gary.spaulding@gleanerjm.com