By Alex Scott
Recently the Prime Minister took time out of the budget debate to scoff at suggestions that he is a ‘lightweight’ on the international stage. In doing this he stated that gone are the days when Jamaica was tied to ideology and instead it operates on the world stage in order to secure what was in its interest. As an example he cited the recent vaccines gifted by India.
It is clear that the PM was hurt by the comments and utterances which come not simply from a People’s National Party (PNP) that would act in much the same way. Whether the PM is a coward or not in personal terms is immaterial, the facts of the matter are that when it comes to international politics, he and his administration have been cowardly. That being said, so was the last PNP administration, so the debate about which party is or is not cowardly is immaterial at this point.
What should be asked is why are both parties beholden to such cowardly policies, how do they impact us and what would a world where our leaders act without fear on the international stage look like? Would we be eaten alive as has often been said, or could it possibly be the avenue which we have been looking for spurs equitable growth in the nation?
First off, both parties are beholden to the dictates of Washington because of its strong military, its financial might and the added bonus of our politicians doing overseas banking in the US. With the fall of the USSR and with China taking a strong non-interventionist policy (until recently as was seen with the Alaska summit), our parties, primarily the PNP, believe that they have no other option than to give in to any American whim and fancy. With no peer power to offset American aggression and with a real reluctance again from both parties to truly engage in regional integration, we find ourselves in lock step with the US even when we may disagree.
The impacts on the nation of this zombie-like following of the Washington consensus are varied and almost all negative. Again, leaving ideology out of the picture, as there is no longer any USSR seeking to remake the world into a workers’ paradise, let us look at the impact this policy has had on our mining sector. A major player in our bauxite sector is UC RUSAL — a company which is listed on the Russian exchange and operated by Russian citizens, oligarchs even, who are close to State power in their home nation. The head of this company was sanctioned by the US, heavily impacting the ability of the company to finance the running of its Jamaica operations. In the end the consortium removed the individual sanctioned in order to smooth operations.
This incident preceded the near collapse of our bauxite sector as it came before the cost of bauxite plummeted. The company, bereft of one of its biggest backers, was and remains unable to modernise the plant at a decent speed and the workers — well-paid skilled workers, mind you — are now unemployed and simply waiting for the plant to reopen at a date unknown.
Russia, the last time I checked, is avowedly capitalist. It has no wish to revive the USSR which voted itself out of existence in 1992. What it does aspire for is what we claim to also aspire towards — a world which is free from imperial domination and sees nations getting along respecting international law and the integrity of those nations. Russia, like ourselves, seeks to make capitalistic deals which benefit its companies and the nation as well as our companies and nation if we negotiate right.
We, in an effort to please the Americans, have not put as much pressure on them over this issue as we have for say issues affecting tourism and this move in the end leaves Jamaica poorer, for while it is true sanctions were lifted, there is now deep discussion at the State Department to resume such sanctions which, as noted, directly impact us.
The same can be seen with our dealings with Venezuela and PDVSA specifically. True, Venezuela is a country run by a socialist Government enacting socialist policies at home, but PDVSA was and remains a business. This company and the Venezuelan Government were supposed to upgrade our petroleum holding facilities at rock bottom rates but still profitable to PDVSA because we are friends sharing a historic bond.
Due to US unilateral sanctions, which are akin to a blockade, they have been strangled for funds unable to feed their citizens without jumping through hoops let alone having enough in the bank to build the promised facilities. As a result, our fuel costs continue to increase thereby hampering any effort to build a manufacturing base in the nation, and while the private JPS is and has built out new facilities, that company alone cannot manage and, as a private entity it is beholden only to the interests of its shareholders, which means the ever-increasing electricity costs we face.
Now, as opposed to vocally opposing this set of sanctions which have hurt us directly, we have decided to cut adrift the ally that is Venezuela, harm our oil sector and short medium-term industrial prospects all in an effort to remain in the good graces of the Americans. As opposed to calling out this aggression which directly affects us, we have abandoned Venezuela and are now seeking a new partner who will possibly charge more to upgrade facilities.
To go against the US in this instance would not be communist or socialist, it would be standing up for our national interests and ensuring that international law is maintained, something that is difficult to do and that our politicians were not up to. Instead, what they could muster up the courage to do is flout international norms and unilaterally nationalize the PDVSA shares in Petrojam, seriously setting back relations with the petroleum giant Venezuela.
The same actions are mimicked when it comes to interactions with Cuba. An avowedly socialist state run by a communist party, Cuba, much like China, does not seek to mould the world in its image, rather it seeks to live and let live and provide solidarity with the needy where and when it can.
Cuba, as we all know, has been under blockade for 60 years, and for a great span of that time we, along with other regional countries and nations further afield, have called for the lifting of the blockade. During the current pandemic Cuba has managed to come up with not one but three viable vaccines of which it aims to have 100 million doses by year’s end and will therefore have itd population fully inoculated with millions of doses to spare.
We are currently experiencing difficulties getting our hands on vaccines. Internationally we are seeing where India is temporarily halting exports and the rich countries are still refusing to guarantee the ease of access of these vaccine to poorer nations and nations with limited supplies such as ourselves. Our health minister has flatly rejected the idea of accepting any Cuban vaccine and the reasons behind it are clearly a smokescreen to hide the fact that the Government is following US dictate to the point of putting our health at risk
The minister states the vaccines won’t be used in Jamaica until signed off by the USDA and the Canadian equivalent, but with Cuba under blockade from the US what is the likelihood that this drug will be approved? We all know the answer is nil, and just like that the foreign policy bereft of ideology sees us hurting.
Nobody is saying or expecting the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) to resurrect the foreign policy of the Manley Administration. No one is looking for the JLP or the PNP to become raving reds or to go out and pick fights against what is, at the end of the day, our largest trading partner and who holds the handle in this relationship. What we do expect however, is for the Government, whichever party is in power, to represent our interests on the world stage and seek to get the best deals for us regardless of who it comes from. It also means not needlessly tying oneself to any sole country to the point that we are forced to forgo opportunities because it pisses off another country.
This country has been run by lightweights for some time, and it crosses administrations. Illegal wiretapping of Jamaican citizens, the running out of town of a Jamaican telecommunications company simply because it had Chinese tools, the forced seizure of assets (something we used to decry), the deafening silence as it relates to issues coming from Haiti and the refusal to engage in full and open trade with Cuba all highlight the lightweight nature of our politicians. They are the quintessential neighbourhood bully — tough at home and soft the second they leave their hood — and the people are not pleased, they are not buying it.
Will we get anything other than what we have been served for the past few decades? Possibly, but not in the immediate future. I believe we will be returning, even if it’s only in how we say things, to the ideas of mutually beneficial deals and a world free from imperialism. We see this in the fact that the PM even took time to address the issue, showing that it has really hurt him, and with the USA set to continue its terminal decline as the pre-eminent superpower I expect to see this and future governments slowly easing out of their orbit.
For the time being, though, we must make do with the lightweights that we have, but the tectonic shifts taking place in geopolitics will mean that sooner or later either Andrew or someone else will have to grow a pair and step up to the big league. The new world, which has yet to be formed and Jamaica which will be thrust head first into, will demand it.