Fri | Feb 21, 2020

Pompeo arrives amid divided CARICOM - Johnson Smith: Jamaica not obligated to fall in line with regional group

Published:Wednesday | January 22, 2020 | 12:31 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer
United States Secretary of State Michael Pompeo (second right) is greeted by Foreign Minister Kamina Johnson Smith (second left) and US Ambassador Donald Tapia (third left) yesterday evening. Also in photo are Opposition Spokesperson Lisa Hanna (back to camera) and Permanent Secretary Marcia Gilbert-Roberts.
US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo disembarks the plane at the Norman Manley International Airport yesterday evening for a two-day working visit.

United States (US) Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Kingston yesterday evening amid a clamour of controversy in CARICOM, but Jamaica’s Foreign Minister Kamina Johnson Smith rolled out the welcome mat and delivered a sharp retort to the leader of the regional bloc who has bristled at the select summit.

Pompeo is scheduled to hold bilateral talks with Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness, while a further meeting involving Holness and high-level delegations from Belize, The Bahamas, Haiti, St Kitts and Nevis, the Dominican Republic, St Lucia, and St Maarten is also planned.

He was met on arrival at the Norman Manley International Airport by Johnson Smith; US ambassador to Jamaica, Donald Tapia; Opposition Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs Lisa Hanna; and Permanent Secretary Marcia Gilbert-Roberts.

Earlier yesterday, Johnson Smith said via a press statement that Jamaica was under no obligation to harmonise policy with any other nation in relation to the country’s foreign-policy prerogatives.

She was responding to a critique by Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley as well as a Gleaner story published Tuesday in which a retired Jamaican diplomat warned Prime Minister Andrew Holness against becoming a pawn in Washington’s bid to solicit votes in its diplomatic war with the Maduro regime in Venezuela.

Johnson Smith said the week’s US engagements with Caribbean foreign ministers are undertaken “largely bilaterally and not within a CARICOM context”.

“There is nothing unusual or divisive about such meetings. All countries, large or small, have a sovereign right to engage bilaterally with any other country, beyond any regional or hemispheric arrangements,” she said.

Johnson Smith said that since the formation of CARICOM, members have, as is their sovereign right, voted independently and taken differing positions on a variety of issues.

“Jamaica has always both exercised that right and respected it when exercised by others,” the minister said, explaining that the Government of Jamaica view the expanded context in relation to bilateral talks with Pompeo as a “welcome and positive development” since the visit of the last US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, in 2018.

Mottley, who is also chairman of CARICOM, had slammed the Trump administration’s move to meet with select Caribbean states, and not the entire regional bloc, as an attempt at divide and rule. Mottley said she declined to dispatch her foreign minister to the meeting as a matter of principle.

Pompeo’s visit is believed to be part of a campaign to shore votes for incumbent Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro.

Almagro is openly hostile towards Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and has sided with the US in lobbying for his replacement as that country’s leader by opposition congressman Juan Guaido.

The US is accused of using the Venezuela issue to divide the 47-year-old regional group.

Almagro’s term ends in May and will be challenged by three other candidates.