Letter from Minister Johnson Smith Regarding Temporary Closure of Jamaican Embassy in Caracas

As expected, the relationship between Jamaica and Venezuela continues to spark controversy. The Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Lisa Hanna, reacted to the closure of Jamaica’s Embassy in Caracas. And Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Kamina Johnson Smith has responded swiftly and emphatically to Ms. Hanna’s comments (as is her wont). Here is her explanation. Do read, as these are all points to consider.

President Donald Trump, right, meets with Caribbean leaders at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach on Friday. From left, Saint Lucia’s Allen Michael Chastanet, Haiti’s Jovenel Moise, Dominican Republic’s Danilo Medina, Jamaica’s Andrew Holness; and Bahama’s Hubert Minnis. (Carolyn Kaster / AP)

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump and his wife Melania met with Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness, as well as St Lucia Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, the Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina, Haiti President Jovenel Moise and Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida this afternoon. 


(March 22, 2019)

Dear Fellow Jamaicans,

To facilitate public understanding of the issues related to the temporary closure of the Jamaican Embassy in Caracas, I feel it important to respond to the ill-informed and irresponsible comments made by the Opposition Spokesperson regarding the Ministry’s announcement. In trying to score political points, Ms Hanna has done a great disservice to her country and our Foreign Service.

Jamaica will always remain friends of the people of Venezuela and wish for them peace and prosperity.

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Kamina Johnson Smith. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

For clarity, however, I must underscore that:

1. The closure is not a break in diplomatic relations. Jamaica has diplomatic relations with 162 countries and 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.

2. This is 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.

3. 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. As the responsible Ministry, we have to consider these matters dispassionately. The public should also note daily realities already in 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.

4. 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.

5. The final point I want to address is the concern 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.

The Jamaican public might be interested to know that in the last 6 months, for example, we have had only 5 queries and 1 application for citizenship and less than 5 visa applications. The last passport application was made in November 2018. These matters can be addressed by consular support from other locations including Kingston and the Embassy in Colombia. We used to have 50 Jamaicans registered at the Embassy, but many of them have already left Venezuela and are not in contact with the Embassy or seeking any services. There are 2 prisoners of which the Embassy is aware.

For 2018, the Embassy collected some US$1250.00 for consular services. The issue here is not the limited revenue, so much as its reflection of the low level of activity to be undertaken by staff, in relation to the cost of operating a mission overseas. The Embassy costs millions of dollars annually per year for this level of activity. It would be poor management to continue at this time in the totality of the circumstances and would not reflect value for money or proper consideration of the well-being of staff present.

At what point, therefore, does the Opposition think it appropriate for Jamaica to take a responsible decision in the interest of staff and taxpayers’ resources?

Yours Truly,
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator the Honourable Kamina Johnson Smith

A sparsely stocked supermarket in Caracas, last summer. (Photo: Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters)

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