May 26, 2013
Your columnist, the British MP, Ms Diane Abbott, has written an interesting piece on diplomatic representation under the heading, "Take another look at the cost of overseas missions" (Sunday Observer, April 24, 2013). I would be grateful if you would allow me to respond to some of her observations.
Ms Abbott's general perspective is that old-style diplomacy is passé, and that Jamaica should carefully scrutinise "whether it can really afford to spend millions of dollars in foreign exchange on "old school" diplomats going through "old school" diplomatic rituals which have less and less relevance to Jamaica."
As a Jamaican diplomat, I share the view that every dollar in expenditure must be carefully scrutinised. And, against that background, I wish to set out briefly some — certainly not all — of the activities of the Jamaican Mission to Washington, DC, since I took up my posting about nine months ago:
(a) At the bilateral level, Jamaica has sought to maintain good relations with the United States of America. This has involved working with representatives of the American Executive and Legislature on matters such as the "Jamaican" Lottery Scam, co-operation in relation to security and narco-trafficking problems, interaction in relation to the proposed US legislation under the acronym 'FATCA', interaction with respect to labour issues, immigration, deportation, and exchanges concerning Jamaican trade issues (including the much-mentioned rum issue and other Jamaican export matters).
(b) The Jamaican Mission to Washington has also been active in seeking to promote investment opportunities in Jamaica, and has, for instance, sought to facilitate some aspects of Jamaica's effort to promote the Logistics Hub concept. We also field requests quite frequently from prospective investors and other persons with business ideas which they would like to apply in Jamaica. Similarly, we have sought to foster educational linkages between some Jamaican tertiary level institutions and counterpart institutions in the USA.
(c) In addition, the Mission operates as some of the eyes and ears of the Jamaican State, by gathering technical and non-technical information about developments in the United States and conveying such information to the Government: to avoid mischief-makers, I note for the avoidance of doubt, that this form of legitimate information-gathering is, of course, a far cry from "spying". On some matters, information obtained at source in Washington is helpful to the Jamaican Government in making policy assessments in Kingston.
(d) At the multilateral level, the Jamaican Mission to Washington represents the country at the Organisation of American States (OAS). Jamaica served as chair of the Permanent Council of the OAS from July to September 2012, and continues to be active in the organisation. Thus, at the OAS the country sought to be helpful, for example, in the dispute between Ecuador and the United Kingdom over the WikiLeaks matter, in deliberations concerning the Paraguayan presidency, and in issues concerning the role and operations of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
(e) In some issues, and especially in relation to development questions, Jamaica has worked with other Caricom countries in forging uniform positions at the OAS. It is quite clear to me that the power of Caricom countries, as a group with 14 votes among the 34 members of the OAS, is very strong; if this bloc power were to be reduced to a single Caricom representative, the situation would, in all likelihood, be different.
(f) To be clear, I believe that the positions taken by Jamaica and Caricom colleagues on human rights issues in the last few months have helped tangibly to bolster the defence of these rights within the OAS system. And, with respect to certain developmental and institutional questions, decisions cannot be taken without regard to Caricom perspectives, given the voting power of the group.
(g) On the matter of relations within the diaspora, the Jamaican Mission to Washington has been active. Within the last nine months we have hosted a series of Jamaica 50 lectures, kindly funded by Jamaica National Building Society. These lectures have provided opportunities for Jamaicans in Washington, DC to engage in intellectual exchanges with distinguished speakers from, or of Jamaica, and from both the public and private sectors (so far, Minister Peter Bunting, Minister Mark Golding, Dr Peter-John Gordon, and Professor Carolyn Cooper, with others to come).
(h) We are right now in the midst of encouraging participation in the Diaspora Conference to be held in Jamaica from June 16 to 19, and have also promoted the overseas launch of various books by Jamaicans (including Professor Curdella Forbes and Dr Henry Lowe). We have also sought to promote Jamaican art, and have hosted three art exhibits in the last nine months to this end (Michael Escoffery, Cherry Stewart-Josephs and seven young artists of the Jamaican diaspora).
(i) Our diaspora outreach programme has also seen me travel over the last nine months or so to Atlanta (twice), Los Angeles; New York; New Jersey; Miami; and Minneapolis, St Paul, to make presentations relating to Jamaica and to discuss various developments at home. I have also had occasion to give guest lectures about particular Jamaican issues at the Inter-American Development Bank (on Jamaican and International Law concerning the Caribbean Sea), at the OAS (on Jamaican Refugee Policy), at Howard University (on Jamaican Constitutional Law) and at the University of Miami (on Constitutional Issues and Economic Developments in Jamaica).
(j) The Jamaica 50 lectures, art exhibitions, book launches, the annual Independence church activities, and other activities at Independence time, during Caribbean Heritage month, contacts relating to diaspora activities, lectures, and frank discussions at town hall meetings help to foster sentiments of patriotism among Jamaicans and encourage good relations between Jamaicans and other nationals from the United States and elsewhere.
(k) Consular services continue, and I am glad to see that Ms Abbott accepts that these services are of value.
Jamaicans should, indeed, scrutinise how every public dollar is spent. But to imply or suggest that Jamaican diplomacy is ritual and flummery would simply be incorrect.
Stephen Vasciannie is Jamaica's ambassador to the USA and permanent representative to the OAS.