#COVID19Chronicles-203: October 31, 2020-The art of diplomacy-Tapia: “It wasn’t me!”

It could be a shaggy dog story if Shaggy hadn’t already made “It wasn’t me” the go-to excuse for men not named Guiliani caught with their pants down. But, how Donald Tapia found himself in hot water is a bit of a shaggy story. 

The US ambassador to Jamaica, Donald Tapia, is not a career diplomat; he’s a businessman rewarded for supporting the president. His profile is shown on the US Embassy in Jamaica website, stating he was chairman and CEO of ESSCO, the largest Hispanic-owned business in Arizona. He took up his appointment in July 2019. It’s no secret that he donated generously to Donald Trump:

‘Tapia is a big Trump supporter who, during the 2016 election, sported a Trump T-shirt at a baseball game and attended a Trump rally wearing a pro-Trump “Make America Great Again” hat.

Since 2000, Tapia has donated more than $1 million, almost exclusively to Republicans, a review of Federal Election Commission records show. More recently, Tapia gave $100,000 to Trump’s 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee.

Tapia said he has donated an additional $11 million since 2008 to charities…he became a powerful donor to Republican politics [in Arizona].

His political donations include $126,000 to former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and $125,000 to President Donald Trump.

U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the 2008 GOP nominee, took in $31,000 from Tapia over the years.’

Since taking up his post, he has frequently warned Jamaica about its relationship with China, prior to his latest warning this week about Chinese 5G technology, in August, he was critical of a new lottery company whose technology is backed by a Chinese company. This was overstepping the mark, in my view, getting into the business relationship of a local business, especially one that was not in a bilateral relationship with US government entity or enterprise, which might have given some excuse. Perhaps, the minister of foreign affairs should have called the ambassador in for a chat then. By not doing so, one could argue the precedent was set. You are what you tolerate!

In February, Tapia told a meeting of the Rotary Club of Kingston Jamaica that the Chinese Government does not share the values shared by the USA and Jamaica:

“The values include governance, free press, religious tolerance and respect for human rights.”

The Jamaica Observer reported he argued that Jamaica is being courted by the Republic of China, which has falsely claimed that it wants a relationship built on mutual benefits:

“Ask yourselves one question, why would a communist dictatorship want a democracy to thrive and prosper? This is a good question to ask.”

Tapia alleged that if unchecked, China would export some of its worst political practices to Jamaica, “including corruption, mass surveillance, and the repression of individual and collective rights.”

The US ambassador pointed to then-recent events in Hong Kong, where a mass protest has been taking place, as proof of the oppressive nature of the Chinese Government and charged that the Jamaican media has not highlighted these issues. This is actually untrue and to the extent that Jamaican media should respond to world events the way that another sovereign government does, then they have. But, even if they had not, it’s their business judgment about new coverage. 

It wouldn’t have taken a genius in politics to have pointed out that the US government is quickly getting a reputation for repressive attitudes towards its citizens protesting its actions, especially on anti-racism matters. It could easily have occurred to the ambassador to have at least acknowledged that his government’s reputation is far from lily white. Well, if he were trying to be objective, he would do that, but…

Back in November 2019, the ambassador warned Jamaica of the two-headed Chinese monster. The Gleaner noted then:

‘Tapia, who arrived in Jamaica in August, has shelved the diplomatic subtlety of recent US ambassadors, even using his Twitter account as a launching pad for invective against Chinese neo-imperialism at least four times last week, much in the mould of his boss, President Donald Trump.’

“China is a dragon with two heads. If China came to Jamaica presumably with no strings attached, then why did you negotiate 1,200 acres of the most prime real estate with them? Because they need a return on their investment,” the ambassador said during an exclusive interview with The Gleaner.

“There is no way that you will be able to fund that highway in 50 years. The negotiation was 1,200 of the most beautiful acres on the water that you gave to China, and they said they would develop it,” he added, referring to a land swap deal agreed under the predecessor Simpson Miller administration.

Tapia also cast Chinese financing at a rate of two per cent, through its Export-Import Bank, as contrived, arguing that no bank in capitalistic societies offered such uncompetitive rates. He also denounced as unfair the Jamaican Government’s concessions to China Harbour Engineering Company – and other construction firms aligned to Beijing that engage in major infrastructure projects – a missive that will hit the Holness administration and find favour with local engineers and developers who have lamented that they are often unable to bid for contracts because the Chinese have a leg up on the market.’

If the Gleaner had done its homework, it could have pointed out to the ambassador that US Ex-Im Bank has minimum ‘commercial interest reference rates’ are under 2 percent. Tralala! 🎶🎶🎶

Tapia warned Jamaica about Chinese 5G technology at the start of the week. Again, some would see this as overstepping the mark as far as diplomacy goes. 

The remarks drew the ire of the Chinese Ambassador:

It also rankled some Jamaicans, who vented on Twitter. Then the stuff hit the fan. Tapia’s Twitter account was trading insults and this was picked up by Reuters, and then some other media houses:

It had the smell of a hacking job. But, it wasn’t.

The Account of US Ambassador to Jamaica Insults Jamaicans on Twitter

On Thursday morning, foreign minister, Kamina Johnson-Smith, let the public know that she and her government did not like what they had seen and she issued a terse ‘dressing down’ on Twitter:

Quick off the mark, Cliff Hughes and Nationwide arranged an interview with the ambassador to get more insight to what had happened. Well, he quickly fessed up that it was one of two assistants who had access to ‘his device’ and offered a full some apology.

That said, he was back on the bashing Huawei track within hours of leaving the interview:

Maybe, I should hold off and make sure it was the ambassador himself, this time.

My tweets during Cliff’s interview are below–I found the interview fascinating as Mr. Hughes didn’t hold back in trying to set the ambassador straight that he needed lessons in diplomacy:

🙂

@cliffnationwide and @AmbassadorUS_JA sparring over “objective”, which Tapia misunderstands (ie objective as aim vs being objective). Tapia: “Do your social distancing…” (is that shade? If so, not bad). They kiss and are BFF again  Score: Cliff 7 Tapia 3 (10 points to share)

— DGJ “I’m speaking…I’m speaking.” (@dennisgjones) October 29, 2020

The Chinese embassy hit one more time on Friday, basically saying that Tapia should have been told to pack his bags by his home government (if not by his host):

https://twitter.com/nationwideradio/status/1322190256951709697?s=21

A funny thing happened on the way to the Embassy.

In any country, many things occur that are not seen by many yet may affect many. Today, I got a glimpse of some of these in Jamaica, which I will mention in no particular order.

Good morning, Jamaica. Here comes breakfast. My day started really early: I’d agreed to play golf at about 6am, but needed to get my partner from his house first, so was at his door at 5.40. “Man, this is early!” We headed out westward, and were on the course within a half hour. Traffic was light, but the usual bustle of early morning Kingston was evident: men riding on bicycles carrying machetes and lawn strimmers; school children heading to bus stops; vendors setting up stalls; workers walking up hills towards ‘uptown’ homes, where they would do a day’s work. No other players were on the course when we started; Monday is caddies day, when they can play for free. The course was being maintained, as usual, with men and women clearing dew from greens, replacing flagsticks (they change the style if tournaments are played over the weekends), and raking bunkers. No cutting was going on, as this is not usually done on Mondays. We were quickly reminded why humans are weak: mosquitos began to chomp on our arms. We grabbed our various repellents and started applying them vigorously. The bloodsuckers were fast at work and a few blood-gorged bodies were being slapped on arms and calves. We heard the hum of fogging machines and saw their smoke as we started to play. As the sun came–later today, because of the cloud cover–the mosquitos showed they were in for a real feast and did not back off till around 10am. After several holes, my friend and I stood puzzled and looked up at a tree that was humming. It’s purple flowers hung like mini-orchid petals; we did not know its name. “What’s that sound?” asked my friend. “I think it’s bees getting pollen,” I replied. So, it was. We noticed it for the next hour as we walked through a stretch that had more of these trees. Bees-are bizarre. We should be thankfully that, at least somewhere in Jamaica we have bees ‘working, working, working’. We continued playing and enjoying our many contacts with nature. The course is filled with fruit trees–mainly mangoes, but some other specialities, such as cashews. It’s more than worth the early wake-up.

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Cashews, not yet ripe

Chinese workers are popping out of the bushes. I write that not to frighten the average Jamaican, who may be getting the feeling that the country is being run by Chinese enterprises, but to remark on a simple fact. Some major engineering projects are going on, including to run a new water pipeline in St. Catherine, and to construct a new highway. The Chinese Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) is up to its elbows in getting this work done, along with a host of other projects. They even lent a hand two weeks ago to help control the fire at Riverton landfill/dump.

CHEC engineers are an integral part of redeveloping Jamaica
CHEC engineers are an integral part of redeveloping Jamaica

Several days a week I encounter some of their workers, carrying hoes, and pickaxes, measuring equipment and water bottles, wandering around the Caymanas Park Golf Course, which abuts both projects. They wander across the course, and then disappear into bushes.

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Chinese workers walking off to their bushes

Sometimes, from the elevated tees, I can see what is going on in the bushes. Some areas have been cleared and look quite naked. In some places, people have taken the clearing of forest to start making charcoal–for sale, I presume. Then, some of the Chinese workers reappear; they wander in the way of flying golf balls and after a warning I tonked three of them last week. They were excited by what they saw–myself and two ladies playing golf–came closer to take pictures of us playing. China is a fast growing market for golf, so these men may well be a new wave in Jamaica if they could get some clubs in their hands and take a few lessons.

Entrepreneurs are everywhere. My wife and I needed to renew our US visas, and visited the US Embassy in Kingston to do that. The Embassy does not allow visitors to carry cell phones within the building. I forgot to leave mine in the car, so went out to find if I could leave it with one of the security personnel. I took it that the shaking of the head meant no. “Cooeee! Here, mister!” I then heard, as a woman with bleached skin waved at me from the central median on Old Hope Road. She waved at me a clear plastic bag that she ripped from a strip. I walked over to her. “Me cyan tek yu fone. Gimme a four bills.” (Translation: it costs J$400 for her to look after the phone.) I gave her the phone, she gave me a one inch square laminated plastic card with ‘Nadine’ printed on it and her telephone number.

Jamaicans wait in line at the US Embassy in Kingston, and a 'Nadine' is on hand to hold valuables
Jamaicans wait in line at the US Embassy in Kingston, and a ‘Nadine’ (with hat and umbrella) is on hand to hold valuables

My wife had gone ahead through security, and I followed soon after. “Belt? Take off your watch. Any cell phone?” Syllables were in short supply, as the guard offered a plastic tray for my belongings. I’d already had the no-belt treatment last week, so had not bothered with one this time. “No cell phone?” I said no. After, we’d had our application taken, we headed back out to the street. Nadine’s associates, or other freelancers, were handing back phones to others leaving the Embassy; Nadine was a way off, talking to some people. She came to meet me on the median, and was unwrapping my phone. “$300?” I said. She scowled at me. I smiled and she took the J$500 bill from me. “Lemme keep di change, nuh?” she asked. I told her I had many mouths to feed; so did she; she gave me my change. We talked about kids and their expenses, and I went back to stand to wait for my wife’s driver to come back. Eureka! I had my phone, so I called him to rush him back. It was a mistake to keep my phone, but that was not too costly. “That’s a quick way to make $400,” my wife said. I just said it was a good service and power to Nadine and her like. Some people hustle with hand carts, some hustle to hold your phone and hand you plastic cards. This is yet one more clear market solutions that Jamaicans seem to find, simply and effectively.

The good, the bad, and the ugly (December 1)

Good

The JLP ‘soap opera’ of political infighting, though likely to have more episodes, took a little breather of sorts. The Supreme Court did not accede to a request by one JLP senator, who objected that his leader allegedly used undated letters of resignation to oust him and another JLP senator from their Upper House positions, to give an injunction against their posts being filled by new JLP-chosen replacements. The JLP leader–who could soon be renamed “His Holiness”?–is keeping his focus clear, and building the team he wants, so announced his replacements for the two senators and they got down to business by week’s end.

CARICOM finds its voice and chastises the Dominican Republic. It suspended the Dominican Republic’s bid to join the 15-member regional grouping. This follows a court ruling in September that would potentially render stateless thousands of Dominican Republic people of Haitian descent.

Bad

The refusal of entry and subsequent deportation of 13 Jamaicans by Trinidadian Immigration officers led to heightened feelings of resentment in the land of wood and water. Many Jamaicans called for retaliation–eg, denying Trinidadians entry to Jamaica, or boycotting goods from Trinidad. Meanwhile, the Jamaican government has offered to have diplomatic talks with Trinidadian foreign affairs officials, who are due to arrive in Kingston on December 2.

Ugly

Two policemen were among three would-be robbers arrested Friday morning, after they allegedly attempted to rob an individual at a service station in uptown St Andrew, Jamaica. The incident occurred sometime in the very early morning, but quick action by motorists led to a subsequent chase, which resulted in the men being apprehended. Remember, this is Police Week, which began with ‘Police High Visibility and Public Interaction Day’. A bit sick.

Mind sets

Perhaps, I come with an obvious bias, but I was shocked when a diplomat, who’s been living in Jamaica commented that without golf being available, life here would be difficult because “there’s not much to do”. I thought briefly before offering a response.

I accept that, compared to some large cities like London, Paris, or New York, Jamaica has fewer museums, theatres, sights of historical renown, large parks, castles (though NYC draws a blank there, too), huge rivers, trappings of regal splendour (sorry, NYC, you lose again, too), fancy and famous restaurants (yes, London stands up proudly), glitzy bars (Jamaica has lots of bars, but glitz costs a lot of moolah), swanky shopping arcades, sidewalks filled with name-brand stores and associated celebrities…

Perhaps, I’m too content thinking that exploring a country that, although physically small, has so much land that is hardly well-known to even its oldest residents, holds sufficient interest to keep so-called ‘busy’ people enthralled.

Assuming–and it does not seem an heroic assumption–that the average workaday person is spending between 8-12 hours a day doing their job, spsending about up to two hours a day commuting, spends about 3 hours communing with family, loved ones and domestic servants, and between 6-8 hours asleep, that’s much of most weekdays filled. Of course, each of those days could have a good slug of free time to browse around stores, or museums, or bars, etc., or to take in a show. But, more ‘free’ time comes at the weekend.

Alright, if golf is your passion, then bang goes maybe six hours over the 48 hours of the weekend. You’re religious, or even if not truly a believer in God or some supreme being, it’s better in Jamaica to pretend that you believe because explaining non-believing will take up much of what’s left of the precious weekend. So, that means about 3-4 hours of time in places of worship, and that’s without any socializing, which may be important if you truly want to gauge the temperature of a country that is foreign to you. That’s 10 hours gone, already. Time for sleep? Forget lying in, because you want to
max out on doing things, so figure on 16 hours over two days so that batteries are fully recharged. So, 26 hours gone.

What’s can you do in 22 hours? If you want to explore, you would have to allow a good 2-4 hours driving to get somewhere interesting, and that’s without any road problems because the marl patch up has been washed away by the latest rain squall. So, 18 hours to ‘do stuff’.

Let’s assume that you are health-conscious. Hiking, biking, running, kayaking, rafting, swimming, in some beautiful and challenging terrain is an option. I understand that an enormous amount of people pay hard-earned lolly to go to Jamaica to do this, and some have it year round. Imagine.

Health-conscious but activity challenged? How about the beach? Jamaica has some very nice spots. Eighteen hours hanging out at some of those would seem a good thing to try. True, the sun may be intense and so may be the heat, and though there’s shade in many places, the heat has no ‘off’ button. Plenty of people seem to make a living catering for these problems, though, and someone to lather your body with oils, whether natural and no-name but produced by Ras Rubbup in the hills or a brand that has so much printed on the label that you could use that as reading while relaxing.

So, 18 hours of body bronzing with or without some oily TLC pampering. That’s the stuff to make your friends on Facebook send a stream of comments and emoticons indicating that they love you, but… BFF no more, maybe?

But, you must get hungry during that time. Well, body bronzing places and good eating places are not necessarily close together, though they need not be too far. The food things won’t be hard to work out, but you may have to think ahead.

If you are a fishist, then Little Ochi or Border are not just a spin around the block if headed off to Portland or Negril or just some little sweet spot on the north coast. But, slickened with herbal oils, you may be able to slide easier and get there for a good fish feed.

If you are a porkist or just meatist, then finding your poison will be easier, unless our mind is set on jerk at its finest and you had to get to Boston. But, let’s just say that you are adventuresome.

Roadside food is never too far away. Oh, the soup doesn’t have a fancy name? Problem, in the land of “No problem”. Look, janga and mannish are about as fancy as it’s going to get, so just roll with it being called ‘chicken’ or ‘corn’ or ‘cow cod’. We don’t do bouillabaisse. We don’t do broth, unless you’re sick. We do tea, made with fish, but you don’t drink it with your pinky pointing northeast; you put it to your head and slurp slowly, if not quietly. Watch for bones. Watch out, too, for ‘the food’: a dumpling or piece of yam falling onto your face from a short distance is still a shocking experience, though not as traumatic as when the food falls to the ground. Then, the true power of latent learning comes as you utter words heard from the mouth of the gardener but not understood, till now. “Wha wrang widisya piece a yam, man!” (Notice, the Jamaican question is rhetorical and declarative.) Like the soup, you may have to season your contempt for the inconsiderate morsel with a “to r*%^” (speak to a Jamaican for clarification, here :-)).

So, you’re bronzed, oiled, and your belly full. Did we get drinks, at all? Cha! How we could forget? Notice, how a day out in Jamaica has somehow changed the way you think and form speech. Me better grab one a disya jelly cokenut di man ha pon di kyart. Like Elisa Doolittle, there’s a “By Jove, she’s got it!” moment coming. If life were a musical, then all the street vendors, and people working in nearby fields would suddenly appear and throw on straw hats carefully hidden under their stalls, wave machetes and hoes, and break into some spirited singing and dancing, flinging themselves and their wares all over the place is well choreographed moves. “Mi sehhh, day oh!”

What a way to end the day. Time to roll into bed and take a few winks before another workaday week presses the weary soul.

My wife and her colleagues were planning their annual picnic and produced a list of places on which staff could vote; she did not have a veto. They opted for somewhere on the north coast, based around some all-incisive hotel. We’d wanted to go to Chukka Cove, which sounded like a lot of fun. Maybe, we had the wrong idea of what would be fun to do. Not everyone is into zip lining or snorkeling or anything that doesn’t involve an iPad or Kindle. But, that’s what makes life interesting.
I’m intrigued that the choices did not include any spots off-island. There’s so much more to do abroad, I hear. Maybe, cost was an issue, and then there are those annoying visa restrictions to get into other countries. Cha!

Better get myself ready to be bored out of my mind for a couple of days. But, wait. My cousin’s suggested I play golf at Runaway Bay on Satday. Saved!

One love 🙂

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