President Barack Obama and Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller (credit: abcnews.go.com)
United States president, Barack Obama, touched down at Jamaica's Norman Manley International Airport on Wednesday evening, April 8, for a short visit on his way to the Sixth Summit of the Americas in Panama.
Security and energy were at the top of the agenda for the first visit of a sitting U.S. President since Ronald Reagan visited Jamaica, then lead by Edward Seaga, in 1982. Whereas security concerns between the U.S. and Jamaica used to be about drug smuggling, the US is now worried that Caribbean countries could be producing radical Islamists who go to fight in the Middle East.
Obama's visit is also part of a US initiative to reengage the Caribbean and Latin America, a centerpiece of which is the Obama's administration's effort to normalize relations with Cuba. But it is also an attempt to counter the initiatives by China which now plays a leading role in infrastructure building and investment in the Caribbean Basin.
A few weeks ago, the Bahamas opened a brand new $35 million stadium, a gift from the Chinese government. China has been involved in building schools, stadiums, a power plant and the official residence of the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago. In Jamaica, a Chinese company has invested heavily in sugar estates, and the Chinese government has loaned Jamaica several hundred million dollars in loans for infrastructure.
Shortly after arriving Wednesday night Obama paid homage to Bob Marley by making a a brief, unannounced trip to the Bob Marley Museum, in Bob Marley's former home, in Kingston. Obama, a longtime fan of Bob Marley was guided on his tour by Natasha Clark, whose husband is the drummer for the famed reggae band Steel Pulse.
According to Clark, as the song Exodus started playing, Obama started to dance and sing along and turned to one of his Secret Service bodyguards and said, "Hey, that's the album we were listening to on Air Force One on our way here." He told Clark that Exodus is his favorite Marley album. He also sang along, word for word, to Marley's Ambush in the Night.
Obama was accompanied by aides including National Security Adviser Susan Rice, whose maternal grandparents were Jamaican. "I still have all the albums," the president said, as he checked out a wall of framed records and awards. On Thursday, Obama said, the nighttime visit to the Bob Marley museum visit was “one of the more fun meetings” he has had since becoming president.
After a meeting with Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller earlier on Thursday, President Obama met with more than 350 young leaders gathered at Assembly Hall of the University of the West Indies, Mona campus in Kingston. Obama greeted them in Jamaican style with: "Greetings massive, wah gwaan Jamaica?" The audience responded with loud screams and cheers. The lengthy question-and-answer session was a kick off for a $70 million youth initiative Obama's administration is starting in the region.
One of the questions was about the merits of legalizing marijuana."How did I anticipate this question?" Obama said, laughing. Obama said legalizing marijuana is not a "silver bullet" and said doing so would raise questions about the relationship between marijuana and other drugs.
Jamaica's Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Mille, who exchanged hugs throughout the day with Mr. Obama as they cycled through official events, said he was “very loved” by Jamaicans. “You’re on the right side of history,” Ms. Simpson-Miller told the president of his effort to establish normal relations with Cuba, calling it “a bold and courageous move.”
On the eve of the the Seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama where the US President will meet with 34 other leaders and come face to face with the Cuban president, Raul Castro, Mr. Obama said the State Department had completed a review that he had ordered of Cuba’s status on the list of states that sponsor terrorism.
A result of the trip is that Jamaica's Energy Minister Philip Paulwell and Dr. Ernest Monitz of the US Department of Energy signed an energy co-operation agreement that could lead to the island becoming a hub for the distribution of liquefied natural gas (LNG), from the US to the rest of the Caribbean.