Foreign policy principles and consistency


Sunday, January 20, 2019

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Criticism has been levelled at the Government for its recent vote in support of an Organization of American States (OAS) resolution to withhold recognition of the Nicolas Maduro Government. The criticism seems to be driven by a sentimental attachment to Venezuela on which Maduro should be entitled to rely in claiming legitimacy, with little concern for the basis on which he claims to hold power, and even less for the people of Venezuela or its obligations in its inter-governmental arrangements.

In December 2017 I criticised the decision of the Jamaican Government to abstain from the vote on a United Nations (UN) resolution condemning the unilateral action of the United States in recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

This was against the background that Jamaica had previously, consistently and correctly, supported the UN position that the legal status of Jerusalem was inextricably tied to a peaceful settlement of the territorial conflict between Israel and Palestine. I had seen no change in the material circumstances to justify a shift in our position.

The context of Jamaica's vote in the OAS is completely different.


OAS membership obligations

The most important tenet of the OAS is contained in the Inter-American Democratic Charter that was adopted in 2001 and to which all member countries are required to adhere. It is the same charter that was immediately invoked by the OAS in support of Hugo Chavez in 2002 when there was a failed attempt to overthrow his Government.

The actions of the Maduro Government are in clear violation of the provisions of the charter. For Jamaica to have abstained or voted against the resolution, given all that has transpired in Venezuela, would have been contemptuous of the charter.

If Jamaica is to give Maduro a pass based on our friendship and gratitude, what position will we take if the Government of another member country claims power by strangling judicial independence, neutering the elected Parliament, using the military as a political enforcer, terrorising journalists, and jailing its opponents?

The OAS resolution stopped short of suspending Venezuela from membership, which is the ultimate sanction that it can impose and which is what was meted out to Honduras in 2009 after its Supreme Court and the military unconstitutionally removed the duly elected president. Jamaica supported that resolution as the actions were in clear breach of the charter.

No country is compelled to be a member of the OAS, but if it holds membership it is obliged to abide by, uphold, defend, and insist upon adherence to the principles that define the organisation. It is not without significance that Cuba has chosen not to rejoin the OAS after its suspension in 1962 was rescinded in 2009, and even during the Barack Obama period when relations between the US and Cuba had improved significantly.

Former Prime Minister PJ Patterson has expressed the view that the OAS has been used as an instrument of hegemonic control. It is a view that I share and on which I commented in an OAS publication last year marking its 70th anniversary. That has been reflected many times in the past in the differential treatment applied to political situations that arose in different member countries and, more than anything else, has undermined its credibility, reputation, and effectiveness.

However, to abandon or treat with scant regard its declared ideals and values would be to behave in the same way that the purveyors of hegemony have done.

In relation to Venezuela, or any other issue, we cannot allow ourselves to be scared off from adopting a principled position just because it may coincide with that of others who may have less principled objectives.


The situation in the Commonwealth

The situation in the OAS is no different from that of the Commonwealth, which requires its members to adhere to the principles set out in the Harare Declaration of 1991. It was pursuant to those principles that Zimbabwe was suspended in 2002 for one year based on the scale of irregularities and political violence which marred the elections that returned Robert Mugabe to power for a seventh term.

Patterson, himself, was the chairman of a special committee that in 2003 recommended the continuation of Zimbabwe's suspension until it had taken appropriate steps to restore democratic rule. This was notwithstanding Jamaica's strong emotions toward Zimbabwe, the pivotal role played by Michael Manley in the Lancaster House Agreement that paved the way for its independence in 1980 and our being fully aware that the non-fulfilment of the financial commitments given to Zimbabwe at Lancaster House had contributed to the crisis. I do not recall any outcry against Jamaica's participation in that decision.

In 2007, Jamaica supported the suspension of Pakistan from the Commonwealth after President Pervez Musharraf replaced the entire membership of the Supreme Court in order to secure ratification of the results of his flawed election. Nigeria and Fiji have also been subject to suspension from the Commonwealth for contravening the requirements of the Harare Declaration.

In both the OAS and the Commonwealth it is not just the violations that trigger sanctions but the unwillingness or failure of a government to give the commitment and take the appropriate steps to correct them.


No inconsistency in recognition of other governments

The argument has been put forward that Jamaica's position toward Venezuela is at variance with its recognition of the governments of Cuba and China (and there are several other countries that could be added, especially in the Middle East) whose systems of government fall far short of the democratic principles that we espouse.

We do not share with these countries membership in inter-governmental organisations that requires promotion of and adherence to these principles. We share bilateral relations with them in the context of the politically pluralistic world in which we live. We also share membership in the United Nations, which encourages these principles but does not make them requirements for membership and whose charter defines its main purpose as maintaining world peace and fostering good relations and cooperation among nation states.


Diplomatic relations vs

The Government has also been tackled on the appearance of a disjuncture between refusing to recognise a government and still maintaining diplomatic relations with the country. Our diplomatic relations are with countries, not governments.

In 1991, Jamaica refused to recognise the Government of Raoul Cedras after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide had been ousted in a coup d'état but we didn't sever or suspend diplomatic relations with Haiti.

In 2004, Jamaica refused to recognise the interim Government after Aristide was again removed from office and flown out of the country in circumstances that still remain questionable and troubling. However, we maintained diplomatic relations with Haiti.

Diplomatic relations did not require the attendance of a Jamaican representative at Maduro's inauguration which we have voted not to recognise. That one continues to baffle me.


The situation in Nicaragua

Jamaica may well soon face another vote at the OAS, this time in relation to the deteriorating situation in Nicaragua which seems to be following the Maduro playbook. Popular protests against the Government of Daniel Ortega resulted in over 300 persons being killed last year — the vast majority at the hands of the security forces.

Security personnel have raided several media houses, closing down a number of them. Political opponents and journalists have been jailed and reportedly tortured. Last week a judge of the Supreme Court resigned in protest against the Government's dictatorial actions and its disregard for the rule of law.

In his letter of resignation he referred to the situation in Nicaragua as “a real state of terror” and stated that “there is no longer any right being respected, with the inevitable consequences of the installation and consolidation of a dictatorship... leaving the same judicial power to which I belong reduced to its most minimal expression”.

Nicaragua has refused to grant access to a special OAS commission appointed to investigate the situation, and it is likely that the Permanent Council will consider invoking the provisions of the Democratic Charter. This may not generate here, in Jamaica, the same emotions as in the case of Venezuela, but the fundamental principles are no different.


Respect for Jamaica's foreign policy

Jamaica has earned international respect for the principled way in which it has conducted its foreign policy, being bold and independent — not a crowd follower or line-toer — and often standing against powerful forces when those principles so require. Because of this, we are consulted by many countries before they sign off on their own positions. Our vote in international and regional fora must never be taken for granted based on political or transactional relationships. Our foreign policy must never be built on blind comradeship or “eat-a-food” diplomacy.


Bruce Golding is a former Prime Minister of Jamaica

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