The compelling evidence of pride displayed during the observation of Jamaica’s 54th independence in the Tri-State area was the paradigm of a people strongly rooted in their culture and history. Culminating the 54th independence also was the overwhelming and strong performance of the Jamaicans at the 31st Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
However, in the midst of this celebration was the noticeably absence of a Jamaican consul general for New York and the Eastern states, with further investigation we learnt also that there was no fixed appointment for a Jamaican ambassador in Washington DC, since April 2016, as well. The absence was not unusual but what triggers the anxiety is the lengthy absence. The general election was held on Feb. 25, 2016 in Jamaica. The trajectory is not uncommon for any new government to replace its top diplomats in its new administration. What should not be accepted though is the government’s unpreparedness in dealing with this matter. The government did not groom any representatives to fill the vacant positions. It is almost six months since the former Jamaican council general to New York resigned and so too did the Jamaican ambassador in Washington DC. These changes are not mandatory, but for obvious and obnoxious reasons party loyalists would have it no other way.
The Consul General’s office in New York has a wide community to serve; its role is to be the government for its people in a foreign country. However, a consul general should be prepared or be on standby for replacing vacant positions when there is a new government. An announcement was made a few months ago for the evacuation of some Jamaican diplomats from their positions among them was the Jamaican Council General for New York and the Jamaican ambassador in Washington DC. Someone in the Foreign Affairs Ministry could have spearheaded a planning committee to replace the consul general. There is a community of over two million Jamaicans on hand waiting to be represented and served unequivocally. How do you feel when you telephone the Jamaican Consulate’s office and no one wants to speak to you, obtaining our passports is not the only reason why some of us Jamaicans call the office of the consul general. We call for numerous reasons, to verify issues that are of serious concerns to us in Jamaica. Even more disappointing is after 15 to 20 years of attending the Jamaican independence church services in New York City you come to know what kind of crowd to expect. Not so this time there was a low turn out of fellow Jamaicans. You wondered why and asked what work was done to reach the thousands of Jamaicans in New York City? You ask where was the outreach personnel and you realized that the position is also currently vacant. The Jamaican community needs to be informed on the official events relating to Jamaica that is taking place in a foreign country. Please give us the choice of choosing whether or not we should participate in these events. Did this lapse in the community affairs outreach caused a lack in effective communication? A consul general should be in place for many reasons. Life is also unpredictable and a few years ago when hundreds of Jamaicans were misplaced or affected by hurricane sandy, in Brooklyn and Queens, New York, the then consul general visited sites, as several of the homes affected belonged to Jamaicans. The Jamaican Consul’s General office could not do much, as Hurricane Sandy hit Jamaica as well. The then government of Jamaica was asking us to help the victims in Jamaica, but a consul general on site could let the government know what was happening with some Jamaicans in the United States as well. This is just an example of the important and effective work of the consulate office. We are also in another hurricane season, as Jamaicans we need someone to always stand shoulder to shoulder with other leaders, representing our people and our government.
The former advisor for the Jamaican Diaspora, Patrick Beckford, expressed his opinion on the issue, “…it is the first time in thirty four years that I can recall us having to wait this long for an ambassador or a consul general in New York. The government should have prepared someone to step into this community which is a population of over two million. Some names should have been submitted by now,” Beckford reasoned.
In the midst of this can we asked the question why the government made such an early announcement for the removal of the ambassador in Washington and the consul general in New York. I am certain there are suitable individuals in the Foreign Affairs Ministry to take these positions. As questioned on so many occasions, did the election victory take Mr. Andrew Holness by surprise? “Couldn’t the government asked the diplomats to stay in office until they find suitable replacements,” Mr. Patrick Beckford asked.
Former Provost of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Professor Basil Wilson, said the absence of leadership could have stemmed from many reasons. “The processing of the ambassadorship has to go through the U.S. State Department. They have to accept the process and the credentials of the individual and that could slow the process down, these appointments are important,” Dr. Wilson noted. Professor Wilson also reminded us that the government is currently negotiating with the International Monetary Funds (IMF) and that could also be a central reason the government did not direct its attention elsewhere. “You could have missteps, when you move quickly sometimes,” the former Provost acknowledged.
Should we wrestle with the thought that the government is focusing on economic development and has put the Jamaican Diaspora (foreign affairs) on the side line. In trying to come to a better understanding of why these two positions are not yet filled I reached out to the New York Consulate office this proved futile, as the acting consul general did not return any of my calls. Several other Jamaicans that I have spoken to in New York City and New Jersey saw this as total neglect of a people, “the Foreign Affairs Ministry should have made a replacement, and this shows lack of respect for the Jamaican Diaspora,” President of the Jamaica Progressive League, Mrs. Sadie Campbell remarked. The population in the Diaspora is over two million we need representation.