Prime Minister Andrew Holness (second left), engages US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan (second right), in bilateral talks at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, the White House on Tuesday, December 5, 2023. Supporting the prime minister (from left) are Jamaica’s Ambassador to the United States, Audrey Marks; Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith; and minister counsellor at the Embassy of Jamaica Alicia Taylor. (Photo: JIS)
IT now appears that security concerns — including the increasingly fractious dispute between Guyana and Venezuela — were at the top of the agenda during Prime Minister Andrew Holness’s just concluded visit to the United States.
Holness, who left the island on Monday, did not give any indication of the purpose for his “working visit” before he departed, but addressing the monthly discussion forum ‘Let’s Connect with Ambassador Marks’, in Washington, DC on Wednesday, he left no doubt that his trip had a key security component.
“There are many threats emerging in the region so it is important that Jamaica makes our position known and we used our offices to communicate what those threats are, but more importantly, to reaffirm the partnership [with the US],” said Holness.
He pointed out that the Jamaican delegation held talks with key American security officials including Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Attorney General Merrick Garland and critical committees of the US Congress.
According to Holness, the trip was part of Jamaica’s strategic mission to ensure that the country remains “front of mind” in foreign policy for the US which is a critical partner of the Government.
“It is all about the peace mission and the productivity mission,” added Holness as he pointed out that the US is a key partner with the Jamaican Government in its “Plan Secure Jamaica”, which covers all elements of making Jamaica a safe place.
The prime minister also indicated that he will be attending a meeting of Caricom Heads of Government today to discuss the Guyana-Venezuela dispute over the Essequibo region.
Holness said his Administration firmly believes in the principles of sovereignty and the territorial integrity of countries.
“We could never support any country that violates the territorial integrity of another; that’s in our national interest as a small island developing state. So, whenever that happens, we speak out strongly against that.
“We believe in the sovereignty of a country and non-intervention in the…internal affairs of a country. Jamaica’s voice has been consistent and loud in this regard and respected internationally,” said Holness.
He pointed out that Jamaica continues to build capacity to be a strong partner in ensuring peace in the Caribbean.
In the meantime, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Kamina Johnson Smith told the forum that the Government welcomes the unanimous ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that Venezuela should refrain from taking any action which would modify the situation that currently prevails in the disputed territory.
According to Johnson Smith, the court’s order strongly supports the position of Guyana, which is shared by Jamaica, that the Government of Venezuela should refrain from any action which would seize, acquire or encroach upon, or assert or exercise sovereignty over the Essequibo region or any other part of Guyana’s national territory.
“Jamaica stands in support of that position and continues to hope for a peaceful resolution of the issue within international law and as determined by the ICJ. The matter was sent to the ICJ by the United Nations (UN) years ago.
“Venezuela has not acknowledged the jurisdiction of the ICJ in that matter, but they have been present and we continue to hope that calmer heads will prevail and that the circumstances, which do seem to be becoming more tense and more frictional, that they can be solved,” said Johnson Smith.
She noted that the matter is to go before the UN Security Council today when Caricom heads will also be meeting to discuss the issue. The Security Council will meet in a closed session.
“We will hear from [Guyana’s] President [Irfaan] Ali at that time and also hear what would have come of the UN Security Council meeting,” added Johnson Smith.
The US on Thursday announced joint military flight drills in Guyana in what is seen as the latest sign that Washington is alarmed at the threat from the Venezuelan Government.
“In collaboration with the Guyana Defence Force, the US Southern Command will conduct flight operations within Guyana on December 7,” the American embassy in Georgetown said in a statement.
It said the flights are part of “routine engagement and operations to enhance security partnership”, with Guyana.
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