KINGSTON, Jamaica, March 24, 2019 (CMC) – The Jamaica government says the decision to shut down its embassy in Venezuela should not be viewed as a “break down in diplomatic relations”, and that the decision was “not influenced by political pressure from any other country”.
Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister, Kamina Johnson Smith, said that the island has diplomatic relations with 162 countries, but only has a diplomatic presence in 21.
“The two things are not the same. Simply put, having diplomatic relations is not the same as having an embassy or High Commission. As stated in the release, we will continue to engage between Ministries, which has been the case for some time,” she said, as she responded to Lisa Hanna, the opposition spokesperson on foreign affairs and foreign trade.
Hanna had said that she found the move by the government to close the embassy in Caracas, as of April 1, to be shocking.
“Never before has Jamaica walked this road. Not only are we eroding our longstanding traditions of remaining objective interlocutors, able to assist with a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Venezuela, but we are setting a dangerous precedent, by doing what appears to be the bidding of other powers,” Hanna said in a statement.
But Johnson Smith said that the decision to close the embassy was “not a sudden decision”.
“We have been having difficulties, over an extended period, and have advised the public, on more than one occasion, that we have been monitoring the situation there, in the interest of the staff, as well as other matters, especially since the violent protests began in 2017.
“This is not a decision, influenced by political pressure from any other country. It might be helpful for the public to better understand some of the difficulties, affecting our ability to effectively operate the Embassy – such as the ability to remit funds to pay salaries of locally-recruited staff and to pay for goods and services, which form part of the operations of the embassy. It would shock Jamaicans at how difficult it has been to make simple payments and to maintain proper accounting,” she argued.
Johnson Smith said that it was important to “consider these matters, dispassionately”.
“The public should also note, daily realities already in the international news: availability of food and supplies is limited; some airlines have ceased operation of flights to Venezuela; utilities are unreliable; acquisitive crimes are high and foreigners, believed to be in possession of money, are likely targets. These are not matters of media propaganda, they are real.
“Several other countries have either closed or scaled down their presence, significantly. Barbados had scaled down their staff to one person and that officer left, last week. The majority of missions, some far better resourced than Jamaica, have either sent home dependents, or non-essential staff, and some have fully closed,” she explained.
The Foreign Affairs Minister said that she also wanted to address the concerns, expressed about Jamaicans in Venezuela.
“While the well-being of Jamaicans is always a priority for the government of Jamaica, the reality is, that for some time now, we have had very few requests for consular services – certainly not at a level, which could justify the maintenance of a resident mission, especially in these difficult circumstances.”