Sun | Feb 5, 2023

What to expect from the next US ambassador?

Published:Tuesday | July 23, 2019 | 12:15 AM


What should Jamaica come to expect from incoming US Ambassador to Jamaica Donald Tapia? Likely, not much. Jamaica has been without a full-time US ambassador for over two years, and the negative impact of that has been felt. I want to be fair to Mr Tapia.

By all accounts, he is a successful businessman, quite philanthropic, but a US$100,000 contribution to the Trump Inaugural Committee is a tad dubious in the diplomatic qualifications ledger.

Mr Tapia begins his tenure with at least three challenges: lack of diplomatic/political experience, lack of State Department structure to back him up, and potentially, lack of time. I will explain.

The last US Ambassador to Jamaica, Luis Moreno, had an extensive career in the foreign service. At one point, he served as the head of the State Department’s Taskforce on Drug Trafficking.

Ambassador Moreno was backed up in the State Department by Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, who later became the US Ambassador to Mexico. Jacobson could get Moreno the resources he needed to help with economic development, drug and human trafficking, combating lotto scams, etc. Moreno served ably in Jamaica for four years. Unfortunately, Ambasaador Tapia has neither the experience nor the resources in the State Department to address his requests; the Trump administration never filled the vacant positions.

Is this important? Absolutely. China takes very seriously its present and future opportunities in Jamaica. Chinese Ambassador Tian Qi has extensive experience in the foreign service, as well as back in the Beijing home office Foreign Ministry. He knows how to get the resources he needs both within the Chinese government and the Chinese private sector.

The final limitation is time. Ambassador Tapia would be in his post for less than 18 months if President Trump is not re-elected.

There is a bright side. I doubt that Ambassador Tapia will top the infamous tenure of US Ambassador Vincent deRoulet from 1969-1973. DeRoulet spent his days being chauffeured around Kingston in his Checker limousine, afternoons at Caymanas Park, and cocktail hour on his private yacht in the harbour – hardly any time at the US Embassy.

DeRoulet overstepped his bounds when he tried to interfere with Jamaica’s elections. Prime Minister Michael Manley got fed up, declared deRoulet persona non grata, and requested the US government to recall him.

Nevertheless, I am eternally hopeful when it comes to US ambassadors and Jamaica.

Ned Brown

Washington, DC- based

political consultant

who recently completed

a book on Jamaican tourism

from 1946-1962.