Happy birthday, Portia — Recalling your international bridges

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Happy birthday, Portia — Recalling your international bridges

AJ Nicholson

Thursday, December 12, 2019

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As we wish for Sista P rich blessings on her birthday, gliding as she does into her 75th year, it is timely that we remind ourselves that the former prime minister has much to be thankful for, and to celebrate.

In the still blossoming experience of Jamaica's millennials, the most immediately impactful of our foreign relations projects would surely have been the rescue and reversal of our country from bearing the mark of a near-pariah State at the time when the Portia Simpson Miller regime was ushered into power around the time of her birthday eight years ago.

Lisa Hanna was a member of the ensuing Simpson Miller Cabinet which was instrumental in effecting that historic rescue mission. Now, as the present Opposition spokesperson on foreign affairs, she would no doubt hasten to share in the recognition and the trumpeting of that transformative outcome.

In a recent news article addressing the manifest uninspiring approach of the present Government to the management of our international relations the spokesperson made reference, as she should, to some glowing initiatives of certain past (People's National Party) PNP Administrations.

Her article, quite rightly, pointed to the signal decisions of Premier Norman Manley's regime concerning apartheid South Africa; Michael Manley's revolutionary forging of traditionally unpopular alliances; and the strong leadership of PJ Patterson in relation to regional and hemispheric affairs, all of which have caused rich benefits to enure to Jamaica's fortunes.

Those are sturdy, historic examples of foreign policy initiatives of PNP Governments across the years, drawn from an extraordinary record. And yet, in targeting our younger Jamaicans who are still early on the governance learning curve and who would likely have been a primary focus of the spokesperson's article, wearing her political hat, we cannot cause ourselves to be dumb to certain other truths that matter.

Lest we forget, when the Simpson Miller-led PNP assumed the reins of power at the beginning of 2012, eight years ago, the Jamaican society had found itself caught in the vice grip of two most unwelcome predicaments. First, as a result of the previous Administration's reckless reaction to international monetary organisations and their requirements, our economic situation had, ominously, reached crisis proportions.

Second, arising from the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government's awkward handling of the “Dudus” extradition matter, Jamaica was considered to be a near-pariah State within the community of nations. Indeed, even our foreign ministry had come under scrutiny until it was able to extricate itself by cogent evidence provided by some of its senior officers at the commission of enquiry that came to take place.

In essence, these two draining challenges had come to be inextricably linked in the quite bitter designation of our Jamaica as a country to be shunned. To be sure, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had glaringly turned its back; and influential voices and media outlets on both sides of the Atlantic were scathing in denouncing the recent orgy of errors and omissions on the part of the powers that be.

A promising silver lining that presented itself, we are bound to recall, was the then fortuitous assignment to our shores by the United States of the former university professor and celebrated career diplomat, Ambassador Pamela Bridgewater.

The PNP has, over time, steadfastly refused to recognise publicly and to trumpet the quick, bold, imaginative move of Prime Minister Simpson Miller to address this seriously troubling twin problem.

It has been confirmed right here in New Kingston on different occasions by the then IMF President Christine Lagarde, and by California Congresswoman Maxine Waters, that the prime minister very early sought the urgent intervention of the US Congressional Black Caucus in approaching the authorities at the World Bank and the IMF for special consideration to be accorded to Jamaica, with full acceptance on all sides that the inherited problems had taken us close to the edge.

The rest is history. That sought-after urging for special consideration in Jamaica's case as we sought to repair the breach that had fallen into the lap of the new Administration proved to be a catalytic factor in our country coming to experience the strong acknowledgement of a dramatic economic recovery.

Coupled with that initiative, the prime minister's engaging nature within the external corridors and the manner in which Jamaica set about repairing that other breach, by a balanced approach to our foreign relations, went a far way in leading, in time, to the greatest number of visits of heads of state and government during any Administration.

The PNP has, since then, with legitimate pride, moved to extol the virtues of the recent positive trajectory of our economy. It has not escaped public attention however, at home and in the diaspora, that in the projection of that message, Sista P has not even been made to share in the trumpeted kudos with the thoroughly deserving finance minister, Dr Peter Phillips, now president of the PNP and leader of the Opposition.

There has been a hushed silence concerning the visionary bridging platform that was engineered by the then head of government, and the calmly led energy of our people as we struggled through some stormy times of harsh financial sacrifice.

There is every reason for the PNP to trumpet the welcome turnaround of respect for, and embrace of, Jamaica within the international community as evidenced by the visits to our country of the heads of government of the United States, South Africa, Venezuela, Nigeria, the United Kingdom, and Japan and also the leaders of the IMF and the Inter-American Development Bank, all within that short four-year span.

Full and fair projection of this kind of information concerning such signpost occurrences during that Administration easily exposes and reminds of the poor judgement of the JLP in these kinds of issues, and to which the present generation easily relates: President Barack Obama inna di place a shout out, 'What a gwaan Jamaica?'

Can it really be doubted that a timely reminder of the inspired engineering of that bridge by the prime minister is far more likely to resonate with, and prick the interest of, our people, in particular our young adults, than a recall of Jamaica's chairmanship of the Group of 77 and China or gaining a seat on the UN Security Council, neither of which can also ever be ignored?

All are left to wonder at the boundaries of the obvious question as to why we do not seem prepared to play the trumpet louder still, and to sound it more meaningfully.

For, with such a display of unwillingness if not outright resistance in these opportunities, is there any wonder that the leadership of the JLP, artfully, in brazen fashion, came to feel themselves confidently empowered to name the new North-South highway for Edward Seaga?

The truth is that, much to our country's benefit, all past Governments of the PNP, led by Norman Manley, Michael Manley, PJ Patterson and Portia Simpson Miller, have made marked contributions to Jamaica's respected place at the table within the community of nations.

And so, Happy Birthday, Sista P From everybody, Lisa and me!

— AJ NICHOLSON is Officer Emeritus of the People's National Party


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