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Answering anti-Americanism

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Jamaica, or rather its university-educated elite, long has had a love-hate relationship with the United States, rooted in the 1970s socialist and ardently pro-Cuba policies of the late Prime Minister Michael Manley.

It's the angry side of that bipolar relationship that Mr. Tighe, deputy chief of mission, encountered after becoming deputy chief of mission last July, serving directly under Ambassador Sue Cobb.

Mr. Tighe, a former U.S. Marine, maintained the embassy's diplomatic decorum as antiwar sentiment simmered over the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Jamaica's political leaders blasted the U.S. "unilateralism," and some influential newspaper columnists occasionally compared the U.S. actions to those of Hitler's Third Reich.

Facing an uphill battle to explain U.S. foreign policy, embassy officials gave even-tempered radio interviews and slipped opinion articles by Mr. Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, into Kingston's two daily papers. At one point, they even sent a Kingston newspaper editor on a U.S.-funded trip to Washington and New York, hoping to give him a better understanding of American foreign policy and perhaps soften his antiwar position. They didn't succeed.

Speaking out

Last month, however, Mr. Tighe cast aside the embassy's usual decorum to publicly criticize remarks by a popular Jamaican politician -- Bruce Golding, chairman of the center-right opposition Jamaica Labor Party.

Speaking at a church gathering, Mr. Golding had suggested that U.S. foreign policy was unjust and had provoked the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but that Jamaicans need not worry about terrorism here.

Mr. Tighe later complained that Mr. Golding's remarks, published on Feb. 8 by the Jamaica Observer, one of the two Kingston dailies, were "disappointing both in terms of substance and context." Jamaicans can't remember a U.S. Embassy official ever criticizing one of their political leaders.

"It is important not to use politics or religion as a camouflage for justifying or explaining a murderous agenda," said Mr. Tighe, whose remarks were confirmed by the U.S. Embassy.

Mr. Golding, his party's spokesman on foreign affairs, had addressed a forum that highlighted what the opposition called authoritarian features of antiterror legislation proposed by the government of Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, who heads the center-left People's National Party.

All members of the United Nations must enact such legislation under Security Council Resolution 1373, adopted after the September 11 attacks, to fight global terrorism. The bill, however, has proven controversial since it was introduced three months ago.

The Labor Party and several human rights groups in Jamaica have called it "draconian," a threat to civil liberties, and a power grab.

Opponents of the legislation fear that people could be arrested on terrorism charges, simply for participating in street demonstrations or because of unknowing encounters with terrorists or terrorist groups.

Blaming America

Some of the criticism, however, has been infused with anti-U.S. sentiments.

Organizers of the forum at which Mr. Golding spoke, for example, said the bill was "being pushed by the U.S.A. to help cover up their own terrorism." The legislation, they argued, "could make Jamaica less safe if we are seen as too close to the current policies of the U.S.A."

Mr. Golding argued that Jamaica is not hated abroad as the United States is, and Jamaicans thus need not fear a September 11-style attack.

"I don't believe that there are any terrorists in the world who hold such a grudge against Jamaica," he said to murmurs of approval from the audience of nearly 50 listeners.

"What business do we have jumping into a big-league game?" he asked, referring to the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

But Mr. Tighe, delivering what amounted to a rebuttal, warned that Jamaica easily could become a "soft target" for terrorists. He noted that more than a million U.S. citizens a year travel to Jamaica for business and tourism, that Jamaica's ports are regional centers for trade and transshipment, and that Jamaica shares a sea border with the United States.

"We tragically lost thousands of lives on 9/11, including Jamaicans and members of the Caribbean community. I don't think their loved ones would agree that Jamaica is immune to such atrocities," Mr. Tighe declared, noting that terrorist attacks had not been expected in places such as Bali, Indonesia; Nairobi, Kenya; Istanbul and other places where terrorists struck at Western-allied or Israeli interests.

Mr. Golding, whose party supported President Reagan in the 1970s, is widely regarded as a reform-minded moderate who would like to become prime minister after longtime party leader Edward Seaga, 73, steps aside. Some observers suspect that Mr. Golding's uncharacteristic criticism of the Bush administration simply was intended to woo the Jamaican audience.

In fact, his remarks reflected a welter of contradictions within Jamaica and much of the English-speaking Caribbean. The region seeks U.S. tourism and aid, but increasingly opposes Washington on trade issues and foreign policy, and it refuses to join the United States in condemning Cuba.

At the United Nations, Jamaica voted with the United States just 25.3 percent of the time in 2002, according to a State Department scorecard.

Mr. Patterson, the prime minister, heads the influential Caribbean Community, known as Caricom. Many of its leaders are reflexively distrustful of the United States.

In the "love" half of its symbiotic relation with the United States, on the other hand, tourism-dependent Jamaica assiduously promotes itself as a culture-rich tourism destination of reggae music and sunshine. It also relies on remittances from Jamaicans in the United States to keep its economy afloat. Not surprisingly, most ordinary Jamaicans like Americans and dream of obtaining U.S. tourist visas or work permits.

Pushing conspiracies

To be sure, this love-hate relationship existed in Jamaica and elsewhere long before the presidency of George W. Bush. The editor of Foreign Policy magazine, Moises Naim, recently coined a name for it: "Anti-Americanism Lite." And in Jamaica, it ranges from the highbrow to the truly kooky.

Nearly a year after the September 11 attacks, Shridath Ramphal -- at the time chancellor of the University of the West Indies -- complained that the United States was demonstrating an increasing propensity to act "unilaterally," and that this posed greater dangers than international terrorists.

"So September 11 is not the fons et origo (fountain and origin) of present dangers. It has provided a timely opportunity for a new imperialism to emerge with plumes of virtue and trumpets of righteousness," he declared at an academic conference.

Mr. Ramphal neglected to mention, or did not know, that media reports days earlier said a U.N. study had concluded that "al Qaeda is by all accounts 'fit and well' and poised to strike again."

As for kooky, Sultana Afroz, a lecturer in Middle East history at the University of the West Indies, suggested at a public forum that the September 11 attacks were carried out by Israeli's intelligence service, perhaps with a little help from the CIA.

Echoing a conspiracy theory popular in the Middle East, Ms. Afroz asked: "Where were the 4,000 Jews who used to work at the Twin Towers?" According to that theory, Jews who worked at the Trade Center were tipped off to an impending attack and stayed home on September 11.

"There has never even been an effort to investigate the terror attacks on 9/11," she told a public gathering of about 250 people in March 2003 at a church in Jamaica. They were attending an educational forum about the impending war in Iraq.

Ms. Afroz rattled off a litany of outrages she said the United States had committed against humanity, from the atomic bombings of Japan in the closing days of World War II to earthquakes in Afghanistan, supposedly caused by American bombing.

"It's high time the United States be taken to the Court of International Justice!" she said to strong applause. Given the prevalence of such talk here, political observers say Mr. Tighe has much work to do.

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