US and the Caribbean: Brief summits not enough | Ronald Sanders| OPINION



PHOTO: President Barack Obama, center, and Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, third from right, are joined by Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders for a group photo during the start of their summit, April 9, 2015, in Kingston, Jamaica.)

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Thursday April 9, 2015 – US President Barack Obama and Jamaica Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller have pronounced his visit to Jamaica and their bilateral discussions to be a success. What is certain is that media coverage of Obama’s visit and his late night call at the Bob Marley museum where the President declared “I still have all his albums” will have enhanced the Jamaican ‘brand’ in the US. Jamaica’s tourism and investment prospects would have benefited.

Obama’s town hall meeting with young people at the Assembly Hall of the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies, televised live, was a resounding success. He established rapport with a young audience delighted to be in his company. His answers to their questions were fulsome and sincere.

But his meeting with leaders of the 14 Caribbean Community (CARICOM) nations is a different matter. It is doubtful that much came of that, primarily because the entire encounter was scheduled to last only 90 minutes. The effectiveness of a 90-minute dialogue by 15 leaders would have required extensive, comprehensive and detailed preparation by officials such that only ratification would be required. But, there appears to have been no such preparation.

The value of the meeting, therefore, seems to have been no more than an opportunity for leaders to raise issues in the hope of addressing them fully at a later time. The principal issues were: security, energy and competitiveness.

The US is concerned with security matters in the Caribbean insofar as they affect America. It is also interested in neutralising links between Venezuela and those Caribbean countries that benefit from special arrangements for paying for petroleum and petroleum products under Caracas’ Petro Caribe.

Evidence of the US concern about the Venezuelan influence on Caribbean governments resulting from the Petro Caribe arrangements was provided by US Vice President Joe Biden at a so-called Caribbean Energy Summit in Washington on January 26. In his remarks, Biden talked of “governments dependent on a single, increasingly unreliable, external supplier” and stated that “no country should be able to use natural resources as a tool of coercion against any other country”. The remarks were clearly directed at Venezuela and its supply of petroleum and petroleum products to several Caribbean countries that have come to rely on it because of the very soft instant payday loan component of its price.

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Data Source: Caribbean 360



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