Jeanelle van GlaanenWeygel | Jamaica: a strong voice in the OAS for over 50 years
In his statement celebrating Jamaica’s independence in 1962, then Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Dr José Mora expressed the wish to ultimately welcome Jamaica to the OAS, and on August 20, 1969, Jamaica proudly ascended to membership of this hemispheric organisation.
Jamaica has been a longstanding force in the Inter American System as exemplified by its early statement on its foreign policy when the controversial issue of its relations with Cuba arose. Jamaica resolutely declared that not only would the country not end its consular relations with Cuba, but that had it been a member of the OAS in 1962, it would have objected to the expulsion of Cuba.
Jamaica, along with Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados, valiantly strived early on to facilitate the entry process into the inter-American system of other Caribbean nations, particularly in respect to membership of the OAS and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). This resulted in changes to the Charter of the IDB to allow IDB membership of countries prior to joining the OAS, and in amendments to the original OAS Charter to accord a pathway to membership to independent states in the hemisphere, existing territorial disputes notwithstanding.
Our diverse hemisphere continues to face its fair share of challenges, yet the OAS remains a strident hemispheric platform for promoting and enhancing strong relations among member states and within the inter-American system. Membership of Jamaica and other Caribbean countries not only enriched the inter-American agenda, but also expanded the scope of the issues addressed to have a more representative reflection of the challenges facing the Americas. For over five decades, Jamaica’s influence has been prominent throughout the hemisphere and the OAS has benefited from its commitment to the shared principles of promoting democracy, defending human rights, ensuring a multidimensional approach to security, and fostering integral development. Jamaica has chaired the OAS Permanent Council on seven occasions, and proudly sits as the current Chair, presiding from October to December, 2020, during the historic 50th General Assembly of the OAS, which will be held virtually for the very first time. Jamaica has never shirked from taking the lead before various OAS Councils on controversial issues, including those of national and regional import, and especially those which speak to matters of particular interest to small states.
Among the milestones of Jamaica’s contribution to strengthening democracy within the Americas, the following stand out: Jamaica’s leadership role during the negotiations and the drafting of resolutions in the 1970s leading to the end of some dictatorships in the Americas; the nation’s support of processes to restore democracy in Grenada in the 1980s, in Haiti in the 1990s and 2000s and in Honduras in the 2000s. Jamaica participated in the drafting of the 1991 Santiago Commitment on Democracy and the Program of Work for the Promotion of Democracy, supported and provided inputs for drafting the 2001 Inter-American Democratic Charter, and continues to support resolution of ongoing political crises before the OAS, such as the situation in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and electoral challenges in Haiti and Guyana in recent years.
Jamaica has supported the defence of human rights in the Americas by postulating candidacies of qualified nationals for vacant seats on the Inter American Court of Human Rights (the Court) and the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). It has hosted important OAS human rights events and was the first Caribbean country to host IACHR Public Hearings.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, Jamaica was instrumental in advocating for fair and equitable economic and technical support for the Caribbean and for steering reform efforts on trade and economic issues to strengthen smaller hemispheric economies. The island nation hosted many hemispheric and regional OAS development conferences and workshops over the years and has chaired the Inter American Council for Integral Development (CIDI), highlighting important development issues. Its sharing of best practices and offering technical support to other OAS member states through OAS technical cooperation programmes has been recognised, as has its leadership role in drug abuse control efforts and those in the fight against drugs.
Over its 70-year trajectory, the OAS has evolved to meet the changing demands and needs of its member states, and has continued to deliver along the lines of its four main pillars while contending with challenges to its role and relevance, and to its capacity to overcome the financial woes plaguing international organisations. Additionally, escalating new mandates, expanding arrears in quota payments of member states, increasing hemispheric political tensions and hostilities, the continued absence of Cuba, and the serious political issues related to ongoing instability in Venezuela have cumulatively strained the budget and raised questions about the relevance, responsiveness, and political integrity of the organisation.
SUPPORT AND ADDRESS PRIORITIES
Nevertheless, the organisation continues to support and address the priorities of member states. The OAS has implemented hundreds of activities in Jamaica in the past decade alone, including projects, programmes, conferences, and workshops benefiting thousands of Jamaicans.
Support to Jamaica in recent years include, inter alia, technical cooperation exchanges, institutional strengthening and human resource capacity strengthening through scholarships and training, interest-free student loans, teacher training, labour and employment, public lectures on contemporary issues, social protection, supporting craft enhancement, sustainable tourism development, corporate social responsibility, competitiveness, innovation and entrepreneurship, cultural heritage, small business development centres, sustainable development and the environment, renewable energy, tourism security, maritime security, cybersecurity, promoting productive alternatives for juvenile remandees in an effort to reduce juvenile recidivism, crime and violence, strengthening electoral processes through international election observation, defending human rights, support with the expansion of drug treatment courts and developing drug abuse control programmes and policies.
Throughout its membership in the inter-American system, Jamaica’s strong voice in looking after the interests of small states has been well respected. Although CARICOM nations are considered the small states within the OAS family, they form an important block, with each country holding a vote within the organisation’s decision-making bodies. A unified stance on issues of common interest has often worked to the block’s advantage.
The current pandemic has spawned new challenges for our people and countries of the hemisphere and revealed and exacerbated existing challenges. Addressing these issues will require a concerted approach by the OAS, requiring all members to continue to work towards a better future for all peoples of the Americas. A multilateral approach to addressing the urgent needs of large and small states will guarantee a safer, peaceful, more democratic hemisphere in which the rights of all peoples are respected, and citizens are afforded every opportunity to realise their fullest potential.
The relationship between the OAS and Jamaica over the past 51 years has been a mutually beneficial partnership. The OAS office in Jamaica continues to serve as the nexus between the OAS Secretary General, the OAS Secretariats and Departments of the General Secretariat and the Government of Jamaica to successfully implement OAS activities in Jamaica.
The Organization of American States will continue its work to ensure that the future collaboration is one geared towards sustainable growth for Jamaica and its people, and the strengthening of this longstanding and mutually enriching partnership.
Jeanelle van GlaanenWeygel, is OAS representative in Jamaica. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org