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EDITORIAL: When Audrey Marks goes to Washington

Published:Sunday | March 28, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Audrey Marks must know that even in the best of times, she would have faced a challenging assignment. In the current environment, her job will be far more difficult. Prime Minister Bruce Golding, for no great principle that we can discern, is making it so.

On Friday, the foreign ministry confirmed what had long ceased to be a secret: that Ms Marks, a respected businesswoman, who founded Paymaster Jamaica Ltd, will be Jamaica's new ambassador to the United States. The Americans have accepted Ms Marks' appointment and she is expected to present her credentials at the State Department in May.

Audrey Marks will succeed the pleasant and convivial Mr Anthony Johnson, who is being shifted to London, the post to which Ms Marks was initially to have been assigned. London, however, is better suited to Mr Johnson's distinctly homey and community-oriented personality. He meets the demands of the Jamaican Diaspora in Britain.

The expectations of Washington tend to be more hard-nosed, with a tighter focus on business, economics and calculating geo-political relationships. These issues loom large for Jamaica, a small, middle-income developing state, at all times, but especially now, given the state of the global economy and our own circumstances.

Indeed, Jamaica has been forced to borrow US$1.2 billion from the International Monetary Fund under a stand-by facility. We are getting another US$300 million from the Inter-American Development Bank. In both these institutions, based in Washington, the United States exerts significant influence. Moreover, the US remains the world's largest economy and a key player in fashioning global economic and trading relationships, such as anything that goes on at the World Trade Organisation.

admired businesswoman

In that regard, it is more than useful to have in Washington a perceptive, well-connected and skilled envoy, with a clear grasp of economic and business as well as political issues. On the face of it, Ms Marks meets most of these criteria. Not only is she an admired businesswoman, but her stint as president of the Jamaica-American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) expanded her connections in the United States.

Unfortunately, when she arrives in Washington, she will not be able to give her primary attention to economic and business matters. She can expect, during her first call at the State Department, and subsequently, to receive an earful about the Christopher 'Dudus' Coke affair that is increasingly defining US-Jamaica relations. Mr Coke is the reputed 'don', whose alleged base is in Prime Minister Golding's West Kingston constituency. He is an acknowledged supporter of the governing Jamaica Labour Party.

The Americans want to try Mr Coke for narcotics smuggling and gunrunning, and have attempted to extradite him from Jamaica. Mr Golding's government refuses the request, claiming that the wiretap evidence the Americans used to support their claim was improperly acquired and is not admissible in a Jamaican court. Mr Golding is refusing to have the Jamaican courts adjudicate on the issue. The US must bring new evidence.

Washington is not happy. We do not believe that America's frustration is unconnected to their empty ambassadorial chair in Kingston.

Ms Marks may find herself entering the fray as the Americans tighten the political/economic screws over a matter that our courts are quite competent to handle. This distraction, including the complication of the controversy over the American lobby firm of Manatt, Phelps and Phillips, is one she does not deserve, especially when Jamaica's focus should be on economics.

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