Ned Brown | Jamaica-US relations: Where are we after 75 years?
A few weeks back, Western countries came together for the Munich Security Conference. While Davos deals primarily with economic and finance matters, the Munich conference examines the state of democracies, free markets, security, and global trade.
The Munich attendees are primarily from Europe, the UK and North American countries. And what is the current relationship among countries in the West? Fraying, and inward-looking is the takeaway. Whether it be Boris Johnson and Brexit, Donald Trump and nationalism, or many European countries dealing with a new realignment of political parties. A coherent West no longer exists.
What does all of this have to do with tiny Jamaica and the big power players of the West? It could be said that when the West sneezes, Jamaica catches the cold. Let’s examine the relationship between the US and Jamaica, and some historical context.
The relationship between Ja and the US was likely at its strongest point just after World War II (1945-1946). As soon as the war ended, Joseph Stalin tried spreading his communist philosophy to Latin America. The US countered with massive amounts of aid being sent to South America, and peppering the news media with stories on the virtues of democracy. Jamaica was strategically important to the US, as the US military cargo airplanes had to refuel at the Palisadoes Naval Air Station, now Norman Manley Airport in Kingston.
A second period when the Jamaica-US relationship was strong was the (less than) three-year term of President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy came to Jamaica to holiday as a young bachelor in 1948, and returned often. After he married Jackie, they became regulars at Round Hill in Hopewell, where they became friends of the owners, John and Liz Pringle. And even before Jamaica’s independence in August 1962, President Kennedy hosted separate meetings in the Oval Office with Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante to discuss Jamaica’s needs leading up to its independence. Unfortunately, after Kennedy’s assassination and Lyndon Johnson became president, LBJ had a visceral dislike for Jamaica. He felt that HRH Princess Margaret got more attention than he as vice-president during the Jamaica Independence celebrations.
Circumstances have changed in the world that have impacted the relationship between the US and Jamaica over the past 50 years. Russia has taken an expansionist role in Cuba and Venezuela, with Jamaica sandwiched between the two countries.
China has greatly expanded its economic role in Jamaica over the past five years, and always with an eye to one day have a military naval presence – think South China Sea expansionism. Many Americans, particularly those in power centres like New York and Washington, DC only perceive Jamaica through one lens: the ubiquitous Sandals and Beaches commercials on television. They do not view Jamaica as a country trying to be a mainstream diverse international economic player.
So what lays ahead for US and Jamaica relations? First, start with the reality that the Trump administration has no visibly coherent foreign policy. Second is the fact that the US State Department is hollowed out, and there simply are not the personnel to work with Jamaican officials, or assist the US Embassy in Kingston. And finally, the Trump fiscal budget for 2021 has already announced that it will have further cuts to the State Department and United States Agency for International Development.
The only answer for Jamaica to navigate these turbulent and unclear times is to forge new relations with key players who can assist with its economic, health, education and social needs.
Ned Brown is a Washington, DC political adviser based in Charleston, South Carolina. His forthcoming book, ‘The Caribbean Golden Era: Jamaica 1946-1962’, will be released in fall 2020. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.