Have you got questions for United States Ambassador to Jamaica Donald Tapia?
The Sunday Gleaner is giving readers an opportunity to quiz the US ambassador on topics concerning US-Jamaica bilateral relations, through its new feature, AskTapia. Email your questions for the ambassador to e firstname.lastname@example.org under subject AskTapia, or see our social media pages for more information.
How can the relationship between Jamaica and the US be used to improve the current situation in Jamaica to make it safer for returning residents?
– Elizabeth W.
Elizabeth W, thank you for this question. It echoes a similar question I got last week about the criminal justice system and the USA and Jamaica prisoner exchanges.
The USA and Jamaica do not currently have an agreement to allow convicted persons to serve out the remainder of their sentence in their home country. It is something I will look into more, but I believe this issue is part of a large evaluation that we need to do of the criminal justice system priorities.
Both President Trump and Prime Minister Holness have been making positive changes in how our respective countries address criminal justice issues. President Trump has already begun the process of sentencing and prison reform. Reforms that others were not willing to make the bold decision to so do.
Not just a ‘Commercial relationship’
Our embassy works closely with the Government of Jamaica on a wide range of criminal justice issues. Through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) we have committed millions and millions of dollars to a wide range of programmes in Jamaica. But, am I satisfied? No. There are issues where we as a partner, and I want to emphasise that, the USA is Jamaica’s partner based on shared values, and ours is not simply a “commercial relationship”, where we need to improve our efforts.
Policing reforms, improved cooperation between the police and prosecutors, judicial and court reforms, are just some of the areas that can be improved on. But these efforts can and must be led by Jamaica. I have said time and again, Jamaica for Jamaicans. Our advice is simply that – advice. When we offer caution or explanation, it is not as a ‘lecture’ as has been categorised by some but based on our own experiences.
Returning residents to Jamaica will bring much-needed capital and expertise. But that investment, both human capital and business capital, will not return if the environment is not safe. It’s as simple as that. I will be working with my embassy team to focus on the areas I noted above, but I want to do more because we know, safety is not simply about the police and the courts, it’s about the community.
Here is an example that really stands out to me. I was in Standpipe this week; the neighbourhood of Standpipe is the embassy’s neighbour and is important to us. We have been investing in the community because it is the right thing to do. I was standing on a basketball court. It needs to be refurbished. I will ensure that basketball court gets refurbished. Will this end crime in Standpipe? No. Will this give kids and adults a potentially healthy community activity? Yes! We, the US Embassy, make these commitments and we keep them. We are going to be in your communities as much as you, Jamaica, want us, and we are going to be working on the tough issues because those are our shared values with you.
Have a great week, Jamaica!