PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA IN JAMAICA …..The not so obvious reasons
By Jason Walker
Now that the dust has settled and the whole world has been enamoured with Obama’s Jamaican greeting “Wha a gwaan Jamaica!” we can start looking at the historic visit through a different lens. This was the first visit by a sitting president in over 30 years. It was about time since Jamaica has shown a consistent love affair with President Obama since his “Yes You Can” speech that led to the historic victory in 2008, a love affair so powerful one might have been fooled into thinking that Jamaica was the 51st state. Of course with so many Reggae songs over the decades referring to a black man in the White House it only makes sense that the home of Reggae would be a place that would embrace President Barack Obama.
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In response to that adoration Obama did not disappoint, he was charismatic at every stop, some Jamaicans even saw him as inspirational. He topped off the very tantalizing moves by visiting Bob Marley’s museum where he would recount a historic and heroic moment in the Reggae King’s life. Obama hit all the right notes in all his public appearances, even when he met with the Prime Minister and other members of the Jamaican government, making sure to meet with current World and Olympic Champions Shelly-Ann Fraser and fastest man alive, Usain Bolt. Everything culminated with a Town Hall meeting with young leaders of Jamaica at the University of the West Indies.
The visit led to a historic facelift in Kingston when the Jamaican government found from scarc limited resources to improve infrastructure throughout the capital city where the President was slated to travel. The visit also set a new platform for the new drastic change in US / Cuba foreign policy. The visit was also the precursor for the upcoming Caricom Heads of state meeting where the historic encounter between Presidents Raul Castro & Barack Obama occurred, an encounter that was preceded by Prime Minister Portia Simpson telling the most powerful leader in the world that Obama is “on right side of history in US-Cuba relations”.
The visit came with promised advancements in the areas of economic reform, cooperation on security and human resource development; improved trade and economic relations, energy security, climate change and renewable energy. All very lofty and important issues. However none of these quite got the attention, platform and lobbying as certain other issues.
SHOWCASING LOCAL ACTIVIST
Issues that were heavily lobbied before the President arrived included a movement by the LGBT community to have the President pressure the Jamaican government to change the anti-buggery laws that are in place and to change the anti-gay climate in Jamaica. The President decided to address this by spotlighting Angeline Jackson an LGBT and Human rights activist in Jamaica and did it in a manner that was not confrontational at the Town Hall.
Obama also made sure to showcase Jerome Cowans who from the age of 13 became a very effective anti-poverty activist whose work has spread to other countries. Now in his 20s he already received the Nelson Mandela Graça Machel Innovation Awards. The aforementioned issue was handled by the President in probably one of most effective yet noncontroversial ways possible, bringing it up at the youth summit and pairing it with antipoverty activism.
Another issue that got a lot of attention was the issue of the decriminalization of Marijuana. Jamaica, a country known for creating a well sought after strain of the plant, had just recently began the process of decriminalizing the plant. In the United States 2 states, Washington and Colorado had also begun such a process. At the Town Hall by one of the youth leaders named Miguel Williams aka ‘Steppa’ asked the question of “How are the US and Jamaica pushing forward on the decriminalization and legalization of the hemp industry”. The president answered with a lot of information about the tragic history of the US war on drugs and the victims that were created in that war. Obama spoke on where the process is. Obama made sure to make it clear that in the US that the law becoming a national law will not happen any time soon as opposed to where it is as a test in 2 states. Obama did warn that if Marijuana is fully legalized, there will be big multinational corporations that will swoop into the Caribbean and probably take over the Marijuana industry, (a warning that has been echoed by DJs in the Dancehall community ever since Peter Tosh’s hit “Legalize it” was released). He did end with a request for cooperation in ending the transnational drug trade to hopefully strike a healthy balance and smarter approach.
ENERGY & INVESTMENT
However I really do believe that all but one of the aforementioned reasons was the real reason. That reason being energy and the second reason being the aggressive investment penetration that China is doing throughout the region.
Recently fossils that could extract large supplies of oil have been found around Jamaica, Haiti and Cuba, potentially leading to a new source for this most prized resource, right on the US’ doorstep. The US government along with business interests are very interested in any areas that can yield large deposits of oil. Interestingly this is some of what Obama warned Steppa and the rest of Jamaica of if Marijuana became a legalized product on the world stage.
As for China, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean since 2010 the communist nation has invested 50 billion dollars in and around the Caribbean. In Jamaica Chinese businesses have been doing major construction and investing. This manifestation of the Chinese operations in Jamaica has had some hiccups though, there have been questions of danger to the environment, the lack of hiring Jamaican workers amongst other issues. An integral pillar of the Obama foreign policy has been to show the US presence anywhere in the world (India, Pacific, East Africa etc) that China has shown an interest and I do believe that this visit is some of the same.
However the visit was not without its positive aspects. Obama visiting the home of Bob Marley and saying appropriate things about Marley was on time; the manner in which he interacted with government officials and youth; the research and presentation done on young Jamaican activists; Jamaica and the Jamaican government stepping up in putting together such a smooth operation to pack in so many activities in such a short time, the set up for the change in relations between Cuba and Jamaica and who could forget the hilarious memes and video that went viral on social media around the visit. Finally as Obama was about to board Air Force One to leave the island, he waved and a rainbow stretched across the sky at the same time. Farewell Mr. President