Rethinking and realigning our relationships

Al Miller

Sunday, May 27, 2018

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Bad relationships are like a bad investment. No matter how much you put into it you'll never get anything out of it. Find someone — or something — that's worth investing in. — Sonya Parker

In previous columns I examined some of the conversations that must become part of our national discourse for real change and new-era development — most recently, education, youth and sports. Another important conversation is the nature and depth of our alignment to other nations, wedded with our Diaspora, and their impact on our national development as they pursue their personal development in the various host nations.

Re-examining our alignment

It is a historical tradition for nations to have relationships based on security and trade. However, let's not just drift on in a historical relationship with other nations, just because of tradition.

Don't get me wrong, I am not advocating ditching our old friends and trading partners, but we should review, redefine and re-engage dialogue on how we will relate going forward.

I am calling for a review of our current relationships with a view to gaining a new understanding of mutual expectations. We should meet with the current leaders for mutual vision-sharing and set the parameters going forward. This may well be happening on some level, but certainly it is not a dialogue I have heard in Parliament or the public sphere for decades. We the people have not participated in such dialogue, nor do we really know who are our closest friends and what the expectations are on both sides.

I am also appealing to the powers that be not to continue the practice of signing binding contracts and treaties on our behalf without informing or consulting with us. We sometimes only hear by the way of treaties we have signed on to which bind us for generations. Nobody ever asked us. Many of them come with demands contrary to our culture, values and preferred direction. Some of these demands produce results that negatively impact our social fabric and contribute to our economic decline.

We sometimes see people of various shapes, colours and sizes across the country but are unsure of the nature of the arrangements made with them and how to relate to them. I have often wondered if the arrangements made on our behalf came out of expediency, economic colonisation, or whether they were planned, properly thought out foreign policy strategies and strategic alliances made for mutual benefit based on national vision and a mission to the world.

Although an uncomfortable topic for some, the dialogue about our relationships with other nations and whether Jamaica's interest is being served in our mutual relations is a necessary conversation to be had — not just in the confines of our public and private sector offices, but with our people.

The world is changing

It is necessary also because the world has changed and rapid changes are happening. We have to be clear on what we want, how to get there, and with whom to walk. The argument for non-alignment is impractical, given the new world trends of united blocs for trade and other purposes. Small developing nations like ours have to weigh all the pros and cons and choose sides. We also must bear in mind that it is not a perfect world with perfect people.

It is my view that, apart from our Caribbean neighbours, our strongest alliance has to be with the USA, Britain and Canada. In addition to history and geography, the reality is that most of our Diaspora are domiciled in these countries, with remittances from them as high as 17 per cent of our gross domestic product (GDP).

Our alliances, however, regardless of with whom, should never make us compromise on our sovereignty, values and beliefs. Our leaders of the new Jamaica must be as bold as lions and stand on principle above expediency every time.

We should not be developing by chance, default, or osmosis. We must, instead, be intentional and deliberate. We must have clear plans on a chosen path, along with unambiguous foreign policies which help our growth and fulfil the mandate of our founding fathers to advance the welfare of the whole human race.

Africa! Should we,shouldn't we?

Do we desire the development of good relationships with some of our African nations, or do we not want that? Why aren't we choosing to have ties with the African Diaspora in Britain and the USA? Could we not be pursuing them as export customers and courting their investments since we have similarities in diet, music and culture? Wouldn't they perhaps be more sensitive and amenable to our development needs in a way that works mutually for us and them?

Are our new-era leaders thinking like that?

Jamaica once had bold leadership that stood up against Western powers and allegedly committed Jamaican soldiers to the African liberation struggle. Why can't we in this time consider sending Jamaican economists and engineers to explore Jamaica-Africa relationships toward our mutual economic liberation?

Is it best for us?

We must face the fact that some investments available to us may not be best for us. Short-term economic benefits cannot be the only or even the primary consideration when we invite or negotiate investments. It's time we save the pride of place investments in our economy for those who share our vision and preferred development direction.

It is an accepted fact that one of the keys to personal and organisational success is networking and the solid relationships formed. Nations must equally apply this key for success. It is in this regard that I believe we must, as a nation, re-examine our international relationships and, with strategic intent, manage them for our socio-economic growth.

In direct relationship to this matter, a most necessary and relevant speech was given by former Prime Minister Bruce Golding in Queens, New York, over a week ago at a town hall meeting put on by GraceKennedy Money Services and Western Union. Excerpts were carried in the Jamaica Observer of Sunday, May 20, 2018.

It was a brilliant presentation — informative, insightful, and touching on a hot button issue in his usual honest and balanced way. I reference it because it speaks to the heart of the concern of this article.

The piece was titled 'Use your votes to protect yourselves and Jamaica'. One significant truth that he spoke was that Jamaican immigrants are an asset, not a burden to US development. He didn't hide the truth that there are a few Jamaican criminal elements that must be dealt with as such. Nevertheless, he challenged the Diaspora to take action regarding the proposed US immigration policy changes. He suggested that they practically engage by lobbying their congressional representatives and not leave it to the Jamaican Government to pursue diplomatic representation.

He encouraged them, drawing on statements on immigrants made by former US presidents, to present their case with strong arguments to foment change. Golding touched on three critical issues that affect us now and severely dampen our growth path:

• The future of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) in the light of possible policy changes: The CBI allows a wide range of Jamaican-made goods… duty-free or with preferential tariff entry into the US market. It expires at the end of next year.

• The current difficulties being experienced by what is called correspondent banking de-risking fuelled by money laundering and terrorism fears: Part of the effect of this is the unfair burden put on us when opening accounts at the local banks.

• The illegal guns coming to our shores from the US through Haiti and other channels.

This presentation by Golding is of such importance that we ought not to allow it to fade away as just a good speech. It must be a call to action that gets the requisite intentional push by a forward-thinking, new-era Government. It is the kind of assignment that should be given to our consulates as part of their urgent activities. They should be asked to mobilise the advocacy of the Diaspora and consistently press the diplomatic channels to get all we can in the best interest of our immigrants and nation. It's time to negotiate boldly! We often receive not because we ask not. (James 4:2b)

Jamaica first!

We must tighten our relationship with the US — a long-standing ally. We need the USA and the USA needs us. We should use both diplomatic and internal agitation to send this message and get agreement on it.

I am not convinced that US President Donald Trump and the US Government aresimply trying to disenfranchise countries like ours. We have to honestly and objectively face the fact that we are living in a different world than that which existed 50 years ago. This is certainly painfully true for the US since 9/11 and the sad events of the twin towers.

The US is gripped in fear, hence the tendency towards fear-based decision-making which will always have negative effects. We have the tendency to do the same thing in our knee-jerk reaction to our own crime crisis here at home.

At no point, in neither our personal nor national life, is fear a reliable guide. Fear must inform, not guide. Decision-making should be on sound principles and values informed by all the knowledge available, then supported by faith in God. He alone is able to empower us to build and effectively watch over the homes and cities we build.

Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. (Psalm 127:1)

The Americans have to be careful not to be overcome by fear and forget to apply the inscription on their currency, “In God We Trust”. As our friends, we, where necessary, must be bold enough to speak a word of wisdom in keeping with what we believe to be right and correct their error. That's what friends are for.

We, with sensitivity and understanding must empathise with the US as they grapple with the reality that, although they are an immigrant society — for that's what built and made them great — now that they are great, those same immigration policies could be their downfall if not revisited and managed in the context of a rapidly changing world.

Any country or organisation that does not do this periodically will self-destruct. Evaluating, redefining and repositioning is a developmental necessity.

Let us, in our assessment, be fair — not just considering only our side but also the other party's side. The USA has its own tough challenges to contend with locally and internationally.

President Trump's inauguration speech gave rise to the phrase “America first”. We must likewise push for the best welfare of our people and our “Jamaica first” growth agenda.

I am not advocating national selfishness, for we must always bear in mind that what happens to our allies impacts us. Hence the call to revisit and reaffirm our primary and secondary strategic alliances in our foreign policy and intentionally work for our sustainability and to make Jamaica great.

Rev Al Miller is pastor of Fellowship Tabernacle. Send comments to the Observer or

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