Prime Minister Andrew Holness yesterday defended the March 22 meeting in Florida between United States (US) President Donald Trump and the leaders of five Caribbean countries as crucial to maintaining Jamaica’s geopolitical relevance and retaining regional influence.
He made the statement in Parliament yesterday in response to questions raised by Lisa Hanna, opposition spokesperson on foreign affairs and foreign trade, who likened Jamaica’s foreign-policy posture to lapdog diplomacy.
Hanna had charged that the majority of leaders at the Mar-a-Lago summit had voted against Venezuela in an Organization of American States (OAS) resolution in January, effectively delegitimising Nicolás Maduro as president, and were seeking to kowtow to Washington.
“The Government of Jamaica, therefore, reviewed the context of the proposed meeting and the invitation and concluded that the meeting was in keeping with the Government’s foreign-policy objective to ensure that Jamaica remains a relevant leader and influential voice in the region,” Holness said yesterday.
“The meeting provided an opportunity for Jamaica to discuss our security and economic interest with our largest trading partner and largest security partner,” said Holness.
Shedding more light on the agenda of the trip, the prime minister said that the meeting provided an opportunity for direct dialogue between leaders of the region and Trump to strengthen multilateral and regional relationships and reaffirm the goodwill between the US and the Caribbean.
“The invitation was extended on a bilateral basis. Nevertheless, the meeting would still provide an opportunity to address issues relevant to CARICOM member states,” stated Holness.
Not satisfied, Hanna pressed for more details, arguing that she feared that the Government was veering off course in contempt of Jamaica’s long-standing foreign-policy principles.
“There was a time when we took very principled decisions in this particular area, and I feel and I fear that some of the decisions have been weak-kneed in terms of how we have positioned Jamaica,” noted Hanna.
“I am a little concerned because it appears that the United States is perhaps trying to divide a very principled, non-interfering approach of CARICOM, which has been established over successive administrations by Jamaica as leader of that divide,” said Hanna.
But the prime minister argued that Jamaica valued the human rights of Venezuelans and would continue to advocate for free and fair elections.
However, Hanna launched into another set of questions, asking Holness to explain Jamaica’s OAS vote in support of opposition congressman Juan Guaído as Venezuela’s official delegate to the group until new elections are held. Dozens of nations have recognised Guaído as Venezuela’s leader-in-waiting.
“When Jamaica voted at the OAS to recognise Guaído as the legitimate ambassador to the OAS representing Venezuela, what, in your mind, does that mean in terms of recognition? Because to me, that is recognising him as a legitimate official representing Venezuela,” asked Hanna.
Yesterday, Guaído sought to drum up domestic and international support for an overthrow of the Maduro regime, but the army appeared to be standing behind the beleaguered president, the British Broadcasting Corporation reported.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed yesterday that Maduro was prepared to yield power and fly out of his homeland but was talked out of a meek surrender by political backers Russia.
In a series of tweets yesterday, Trump threatened that a “full and complete embargo, together with the highest-level sanctions”, would be placed on Cuba if that country’s troops did not stop its military operations in Venezuela.
“Hopefully, all Cuban soldiers will promptly and peacefully return to their island!” Trump said.
Earlier Tuesday, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla tweeted that the country was standing in solidarity with Maduro.