On the eve of his departure from Washington, Jamaica’s Ambassador to the United States, Seymour Mullings, has characterized his tenure in the American capital as one marked by significant advances in deepening bi-lateral relations between Jamaica and the United States, as well as forging of new relationships with Jamaican community organizations and philanthropic groups across the country.
Ambassador Mullings returns to Jamaica after a two-year assignment in Washington, where he also served as Jamaica’s seventh Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States.
Expressing satisfaction with the gains made by the mission, the Ambassador attributed these accomplishments to the “strong support by embassy personnel, including representatives of Government agencies such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, National Security and Justice and the Jamaica Information Service.”
Jamaica’s outgoing Ambassador to Washington, Seymour Mullings and wife Leleith, greet former Jamaican Organization of American States (OAS) official and philanthropist Dorel Calendar (left) and Ritz Carlton Montego Bay principal, Michelle Rollins
“It was a collective effort, with staff going beyond the call of duty to ensure that our Government continues to enjoy the most capable representation in Washington,” he said. “In fact, my transition into the Washington diplomatic community was a comfortable one, due in large part to the very thorough orientation I received from our Embassy staff. This has helped to keep Jamaica’s agenda alive in Washington and to protect our nation’s interests.
“In addition, I must state that my fellow CARICOM diplomatic colleagues were also extremely helpful in familiarizing me with the issues that were of importance to the Caribbean both within the context of our region’s relationship with the United States as well as within the hemispheric context of CARICOM’s interaction with our Latin American friends in the OAS,” stated further.
Ambassador Mullings recalled that upon his arrival in Washington, in November 2001, six weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks, he encountered a capital that was, understandably, still tense and dealing with a whole new slew of security protocols.
In contract to the sense of insecurity and foreboding in the American capital, the Embassy’s staff was “calm, focused and fully attentive to issues that affected Jamaica and our priorities within the CARICOM context,” he said.
On a personal level Ambassador Mullings observed that his posting in Washington afforded him a chance to broaden his familiarity with the American political and economic system and developing relationships with Americans from all walks of life.
From greeting President Bush at the White House to holding discussions with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, to exchanging stories of life in the immediate post-independence period with peace corps workers who had served in Jamaica in the early 1960’s, the Ambassador described the Washington diplomatic environment as a “learning experience like none other.”
Noting that some of his most memorable moments related to his interaction with ordinary American citizens, Mr. Mullings recalled the goodwill of two 17 year-old students from the Brunswick School for Boys in Greenwich, Connecticut, who donated $232,000 to the Saint Patrick’s Foundation, the Mustard Seed Communities, and the Hope for Children Foundation in Jamaica.
He also spoke of other philanthropic groups from diverse locations in the American heartland, who had for years, adopted schools and communities in rural Jamaica, and had used their vacation time, year after year, in assisting deserving causes in the island.
He admitted that his obligations in Washington were in some ways even more challenging than overseeing a distinct ministerial portfolio, and noted that the effective representation of Jamaica’s interests meant that a mind-set of “creativity, diligence, and the capacity to identify and create opportunities” were of foremost importance. It also meant pursuing non-traditional issues, such as the fight against HIV/AIDS, which has become an issue of significant importance to Jamaica and the wider Caribbean in the past decade.
“The prevalence rates of this catastrophic disease was what initially caught our attention,” Mr. Mullings disclosed. “With the realization that our infection rate (in the Caribbean) was second in the world only to sub-Saharan Africa, it took no prompting for me, on a personal level, to place this issue at the very top of our agenda while in Washington,” he noted.
Consistent with this conviction, the Embassy of Jamaica sought to place the issue of HIV/AIDS at the very centre of its advocacy in Washington. In July last year, Ambassador Mullings and the Embassy, along with other colleague CARICOM missions, successfully lobbied the United States government for the comprehensive inclusion of all of the Caribbean states in the Emergency Programme for AIDS Relief (EPAR), which was announced by President Bush in his February State of the Union address. The original Bill had listed only the Caribbean states of Haiti and Suriname as eligible recipients.
Ambassador Mullings also designated the Spanish Town-based Dare to Care Home for Children Living with HIV/AIDS and the Paediatric-Prenatal HIV Programme at the University of the West Indies (UWI) as the beneficiaries of an annual donation by the Embassy of Jamaica and the Washington Jamaican community, to charitable causes in the island. Over $290,000 was given to UWI’s Paediatric-Prenatal effort and $150,000 was donated to the Dare to Care Home.
Under the ambassador’s leadership, the Embassy also reached out last year to several Jamaican community organizations, such as the Jamaica Nationals Association, as well as other groups including the Jamaican Women of Washington (JWOW), that have increasingly directed their focus toward the HIV/AIDS pandemic and its growing impact on Jamaica. For its part, the Jamaican Women of Washington recently contributed over J$600,000 to the Jamaica AIDS Support Foundation.
Ambassador Mullings stressed that the contributions underscored a “deepening awareness on the part of Jamaicans in Washington and throughout the United States of the debilitating and adverse impact of HIV/AIDS and the considerable drain on resources and productivity that has resulted from the spread of this disease.”
The Ambassador also mentioned that his wife, Lileith Mullings, was also deeply involved in acquainting the Washington community about the impact of HIV/AIDS in Jamaica, while serving as the honorary chair of the Jamaican Women of Washington 2004 HIV/AIDS fundraiser for the Jamaica AIDS Support Foundation.
Pointing to the multi-dimensional nature of his functions, Mr. Mullings stressed that the task of aiding Jamaica’s economic growth and enhancing its competitiveness remained a central component of the Jamaican mission during his tenure. “One of our more important mandates in Washington is to continue to raise the economic profile of our country by embracing American business interests, as well as commercial and trade entities with an interest in investing in Jamaica, and also facilitating the building of relationships that can lead to greater economic and joint venture initiatives in our country,” he said.
Mr. Mullings noted that, under his leadership, the mission was encouraged to adopt a “can do attitude” which meant that the Embassy was committed to “creating possibilities” and attending to Jamaica’s welfare, despite existing challenges. “Notwithstanding Jamaica’s size or resources, our Washington Embassy has always been committed to an activist type of advocacy in support of our Government’s objectives,” he sad.
“When we consider priority areas such as trade, including the negotiations leading to the establishment of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), when we look at other mechanisms, which can serve to foster economic and social development in our region, such as the Third Border Initiative, these are all of critical importance to our future and as such have to remain at the centre of our work in Washington,” the Ambassador observed.
Turning to the role of the Jamaican Diaspora in advancing Jamaica’s policy priorities, Ambassador Mullings said that he was proud that during his tenure, there was a renewed effort, on the part of the Embassy, to involve Jamaicans living in the United States in the mission’s lobbying efforts.
He noted that in order to acquaint the community with economic opportunities that would ensue from a future FTAA trade pact, the Jamaican Embassy staged (with support from other CARICOM colleague missions in Washington) two successful seminars in Washington and Miami over the last two years, which allowed for the participation of hundreds of Jamaican as well as other Caribbean nationals.
“The point is that we all have an important role to play. Not just on the governmental level or simply on the mission level in Washington, but there is an equally important role for Jamaicans, who have become US citizens, to press the issue regarding equity in the negotiating process, with their US government representatives. Our nationals do have the potential, in real terms, to assist us in influencing the process,” Mr. Mullings asserted.
Mr. Mullings also reiterated that the Embassy’s work in promoting the need for proper funding and support for the Hemispheric Cooperation Programme should remain an area of high priority. The Programme is designed to increase the ability of small and developing countries to meaningfully participate in hemispheric trade negotiations, through capacity-building and the transfer of appropriate technology, while also improving mechanisms, which will effectively respond to economic shocks resulting from the eventual elimination of trade barriers.
Mr. Mullings noted that while increasing Jamaica’s ability to access new markets was of significant importance, it was also necessary for Jamaican missions overseas to work more closely with Jamaican businesses to take advantage of niche market opportunities that may exist for specific local products in urban centres, both in North America and in Europe.
He observed that the expansion of Jamaica’s tourism product and the patronage of the Jamaican market by thousands of American tourists each year, allowed for “further potential penetration into the American market”.
“It is clear that the fascination with our food and music does not end when these tourists return to the US. This reality certainly implies that with effective marketing and outreach, many of our local industries can continue to benefit even after these visitors leave our shores,” he observed.
Turning to his future public role in Jamaica, after his return, Ambassador Mullings emphasized that he intended to play a meaningful part in whatever area his services were required. “After a few weeks integrating myself, I will then assess where my contributions and my influence can be best utilized,” he disclosed.
In the meantime, according to Mr. Mullings, he would be fully occupied with an issue of even greater importance. “During my stay in Washington,” he recalled, “perhaps my greatest regret about being away from Jamaica was my inability to be in constant touch with my granddaughter. This gives me a chance to remedy that. And I am wholeheartedly looking forward to it.”