While stressing its half-century-old foreign policy principle of not being a puppet of powerful nations, Barbados has sought assurances from the Donald Trump administration that Washington still values its friendship with Bridgetown.
And in response, the US, through a career diplomat just four months into her new post of supervising US foreign policy in the Americas, has sought to counter indications of a lapse in attention to Barbados and the region. But the American envoy also turned a notch up on the simmering tensions between the US and the Caribbean Community over the Venezuelan question.
“I know there may be a perception of our absence, but we have been looking at ourselves, reflecting on this and there is a commitment to that. The US is here, we are not leaving, and we are not going anywhere,” US Department of State’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Western Hemisphere Affairs, Julie Chung, was quoted in a Barbados Government statement as saying.
She was speaking during a courtesy call on Foreign Minister Senator Jerome Walcott, accompanied by US Ambassador to Barbados, Linda Taglialatela, and head of the US State Department’s Office of Caribbean Affairs, Katherine Dueholm.
Chung said the US planned to revive its engagement with the region through “Caribbean 2020”, a multi-year strategy to increase security, prosperity, education, energy, diplomacy and the well-being of the people of the US and the Caribbean.
While noting that the US is an important tourist source market, trade partner and home to a growing Barbadian diaspora, Senator Walcott queried the pace of deepening ties under the Trump administration, as President Barack Obama signed into law the United States-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act of 2016 (HR 4939).
He acknowledged the ongoing assistance by the US through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), which he described as one of the most visible and productive areas of cooperation between the US and the region .
Chung sought to stress the US’ commitment to the CBSI, and disaster mitigation and management.
During the courtesy call, the officials also engaged in frank discussion on a number of political and diplomatic matters, the Government statement said.
The vexed question of US-Venezuela relations, now at their lowest-ever ebb, was also discussed as Senator Walcott repeated Barbados’ call for dialogue and fresh elections in Venezuela to end the crisis in that country, according to the release.
Echoing the foreign policy principle, first announced at the United Nations by a newly independent Barbados, the foreign minister said: “Our position is clear; we are friends of all, satellites of none. We believe in non-intervention and respect for human rights. There is need for dialogue as is being done in Haiti to avoid escalating tensions. We are against armed intervention because of the humanitarian crisis. We are speaking about fresh elections…. It should not be seen as for, or against, at this stage.”
But echoing another popular phrase within the Trump administration, Chung called on Barbados and CARICOM to rethink their position on the “humanitarian crisis” in Venezuela. Calling on Bridgetown “to look objectively at all factors”, she suggested that the crisis in the South American nation could affect regional security.
Said Chung: “It affects the whole region…. Barbados has a long history of democracy and should speak up at CARICOM. We urge you to do more. This is a time for choice; neutrality may be turning a blind eye to the humanitarian crisis…. It is not a time for dialogue; we see it as a delay tactic. It is not a neutral matter,.
In response, the minister told the American diplomat: “While we differ in some things, we must know that happens amongst friends. The best of friendships have differences, but we must proceed with diplomacy and dialogue.”
Chung took up the post of Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the State Department’s Western Hemisphere bureau last November. Apart from stints largely in South and Southeast Asia, she has served in Colombia where she “managed the U.S. government’s largest extradition programme, including paramilitary and narco-trafficking cases” and served as the US representative to the G24 in Bogota, according to the State Department website.