Jamaica retreats from courage, Caricom ‘spineless’

Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Lisa Hanna has described Jamaica’s abstention vote on the UN Jerusalem resolution as a “retreat from principle, a retreat from courage”.

In a well-received address at the St Kitts and Nevis Labour Party Gala on Friday evening, Hanna also suggested that the Caribbean Community (Caricom) appeared “spineless in the face of an offensive threat”, because some countries supported the resolution, while some abstained or left the room when the vote was called.

Following is a lightly edited version of her address to the partywhich enjoys fraternal relations with the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) here:

Life has taught me that courage has no limits; it might be perceived as stubborn or unreasonable and could even mean you stand alone on principle. Courage can create the perception you’re choosing battles unwisely that could adversely alter the immediate and long- term future. But courage has a responsibility to the future to take a stand, be fearless in the face of any adversity, and act in our children’s best long term interest. Our children ARE our future generation of power.

Courage is individual but also can drive people’s collective consciousness to imbue a country with national courage, and nations with regional courage.

As a region, we have a proud history of promoting respect, self-determination and tolerance of different economic and political systems. Size has never hampered our ability to stand tall, think big, and unleash our feisty/unabashed certainty that we know the answer even in the face of great opposition.

Our regional courage has never been in question and has, and should be allowed to force each of us to recognise that courage’s responsibility to the future will always translate into Caricom’s best interests.

Given the extraordinary disruptions currently taking place geopolitically, cowering in the face of bullies is NOT courage, and will not take us forward. We must never allow our pride, self-respect, and integrity as peoples of this great region to be bludgeoned into acquiescence by veiled or unveiled threats.

Retreating from taking decisions on principle has never been our preferred option.

In the absence of any public explanation for the sudden volte face, Jamaica’s recent vote at the United Nations on Jerusalem can only be taken as a retreat from principle; a retreat from courage.

Abstention (physically or verbally) cannot be the basis of a sound, strategic, and principled regional foreign policy direction.

Jamaica has always shown assertive, courageous and enlightened leadership in our foreign policy and diplomacy. The Rt Excellent Norman Manley led the world when, even before our independence, he took the position that Jamaica would not trade with apartheid South Africa.

Since then, the policies of PNP administrations have been founded on: (1) respect for the sovereignty of ALL nations (2) respect for human rights and the citizens of ALL countries and (3) a non-aligned stance.

When it was deemed detrimental to support Cuba after 1962, Michael Manley showed unrelenting support and led a united front with Barbados, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1972, being the first to do so in the western hemisphere.

We did the same with China. Now China’s aggressive global growth strategy has resulted in China being Jamaica’s main source of bilateral loans and foreign direct investment, and almost certainly prompted the celebrated visit to Jamaica by President Barack Obama in 2015 — the first such since Ronald Reagan’s visit 35 years ago.

That Obama visit was undoubtedly a by-product of Jamaica’s courageous stand on foreign policy issues such as relations with Cuba, China and Venezuela which sent the unmistakable signal to Washington that little Jamaica was strategically crucial to US interests and needed to be courted, NOT threatened.

It was a sign of the times — a confirmation that the basis upon which China and the USA deploys their capital and political might is inexorably changing, especially since the USA holds more Chinese debt.

It’s clear that the China Silk and Belt Road initiative has the potential to increase China’s dominance in the Asian Pacific and quietly turn the global axis of trade dominance towards China. In the meantime, USA’s response to changing world realities appears isolationist, protectionist, and inward-looking.

In the USA of 2017/18, bullyism trumps diplomacy and friendship, and exclusion trumps inclusion. These policies can only assist China’s increased geopolitical influence in global politics and reduce that of USA. Is this the bandwagon that Caricom nations wish to jump on?

The current American president’s pronouncement that climate change is a man-made phenomenon has serious implications for small island developing states (SIDS) in Caricom. Climate change is a real and potentially destructive issue for all of us who call the Caribbean our home, and we must tackle it with courage and realism or we could well be facing the total annihilation of economies.

I know the extensive work of Dr Denzil Douglas in this area to protect the coastlines of St Kitts and Nevis.

They say “he who feels it knows it” and “rain don’t fall on one man roof”. Back to back category five hurricanes are now our reality in the region and we ALL felt the devastation by Irma and Maria.

Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit’s emotional pronouncements at the UN last year should serve as a chilling reminder to urgently brace for this year. In this fight We must not only survive but we MUST prevail.

To do this we MUST speak as one voice and have the courage to press for the complete removal of the failed US-imposed embargo on Cuba which has deprived the us from valuable trade with one of our closest neighbours.

We MUST have the courage and speak as one voice to bend the reluctance of international lending agencies to grant concessionary loans at lower interest rates to our member states in the aftermath of natural disasters, in spite of our GDP per capita.

We MUST have the courage and speak as one voice to take the risk and bet on Caricom —one for all and all for one. If you threaten one, you threaten all!

The world has changed significantly since our respective independence. If we are realistic, acting individually as nations will easily marginalise us and lead to us ultimately being globally irrelevant. As Caricom we are a strong voice at the table.

The recent UN vote, where we had some countries voting for, some abstaining and some just absent from the room, does not project a unified front. We appeared spineless in the face of an offensive threat.

As a region we’re bonded by so much more than West Indies cricket. When Usain Bolt or Kimani James compete internationally, they run not only for their respective countries but on behalf of all of us bonded by history, climate and economic circumstances.

Let the world not only see our beaches and our music but our spirit, our courage, and our fervent value system that doing what is right is far superior to might.

Many of you in this room were a part of a generation that gave the world true examples of regional activism, and you did it in step with your Caribbean brothers and sisters in leadership.

What will my child and your child take from our generation of leadership on their behalf? Abstention should never be our legacy. Our only option is to show them our courage.

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