AS if competing with his United States Vice President colleague, Joseph Biden, in demonstrating the warmth of America’s friendship for countries of the Caribbean Community (Caricom), Secretary of State John Kerry was wowing Jamaicans last Monday with the warm assurance that the US “is proud to call Jamaica a partner and friend”.
In the world of diplomacy, we are accustomed to encouraging expressions about “friendship” and “partnership” between and among nation states. But it’s quite rare for the world’s sole superpower—which at times expediently reminds us of our geographical location in its “backyard”—to do what its current Secretary of State did in Kingston last Monday:
Mr Kerry declared that the US was “proud” to call little Jamaica “a partner and friend”.
The occasion was his participation in the official programme for Jamaica’s 51st anniversary of political independence—the first English-speaking Caribbean state to be free from British colonialism. The second, three weeks later this month, was Trinidad and Tobago.
Well, just over two months ago when Vice President Biden found himself being involved in virtual back-to-back official visits to Port of Spain with China’s President Xi Jinping, he was quite anxious to reveal “happiness” to be in the birth place of the original musical sound of the 20th century that flows from instruments made from old oil drums—the pan.
So, before leaving after his two-day visit to underscore “friendship” between the US and that Caricom member state, Biden was enthusiastically saying to the media—undoubtedly for benefit of host Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s Government—to “tell President Obama to allow me to come again and for a longer visit...”
The cynics may perhaps place the enthusiasm displayed by Biden in Port of Spain and now Kerry in Kingston, as high-profile public relations diplomacy.
But let’s face the cold, hard political reality: superpower US does not have to engage in political flattery to secure the friendship of either Jamaica or Trinidad and Tobago. Or, for that matter, all member states of our Caribbean Community.
Not just those two but all of the other 13 member countries of Caricom would more than welcome being hailed as “friend and partner” of the US, often caricatured as “Uncle Sam”. Of more relevance, however, the Caricom bloc of countries would prefer being treated, in practical terms, as “friends” and “partners”. The practical dimension that could better contribute to helping our regional economic integration movement overcome lingering post-colonial obstacles to social and economic development for a better life.
The reality is there’s no equality between rich and powerful states and those that are small, poor and vulnerable. But the appreciation for friendship, separately expressed with warmth by Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Kerry, would always be welcome by the governments and people of Caricom.
After all, this sub-region of the Greater Caribbean strongly embraces the sentiment eloquently expressed years ago by Barbados’s “Father of Independence” and one of the primary architects of Caricom, Errol Barrow, in being “friends of all, enemies to none”.
And against the backdrop of encouraging sentiments expressed by Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Kerry, strategists/advisers in The White House or US State Department should recall the collective desire by Caricom Heads of Government for a summit meeting with President Barack Obama first made during his first term and since repeated
While they wait for such a meeting, perhaps Secretary of State Kerry may consider dropping a hint in the ears of relevant State Department officials to pay heed to recurring complaints by governments within Caricom over recurring controversial reports dealing with human and narco-trafficking—challenges regional governments are dealing with among priority issues.
There is also the old problem of some American diplomats credited to Caricom member states who seem to have difficulty in restraining themselves from lecturing governments in this region about “democratic governance” when they could devote more time to conveying to Washington expending responses for tangible assistance in critical areas.
For now it is good to know that the USA which, under a different dispensation of PNP-led governance, had contributed to political destabilisation and economic crisis in Jamaica, could now have Secretary of State Kerry conveying with such enthusiasm the message from Washington of Uncle Sam’s happiness to salute Jamaica as a “friend and partner”.
Happy 51st independence birthday, Jamaica!