Above: US President Barack Obama in Jamaica
By the Caribbean Journal staff
United States President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to visit Jamaica in more than 33 years with a visit to Jamaica this week.
Obama arrived on Wednesday for short meetings with US Embassy staff, although he made a late-night visit to the Bob Marley Museum that evening.
On Thursday, Obama met with a group of CARICOM Prime Ministers for what was billed as a CARICOM-US Summit.
While Obama met some criticism in the region for what was perceived as a lack of attention, the President has recently made a renewed push in the region.
That began in December with his historic rapprochement with Cuba, followed by a major Caribbean energy security summit convened in Washington and hosted by Vice President Joe Biden.
Speaking to the CARICOM summit at the University of the West Indies Regional Headquarters, Obama urged the region to work together to address the high cost of energy, with an audience of leaders from Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie, among others.
“This region has some of the highest energy costs in the world,” Obama said. “Caribbean countries are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and we have to act now.”
He pointed to the US-led Caribbean Energy Security Initiative as examples of already-existing cooperation on the issue.
“This is an example of large countries and small countries having to work together, because without collective action, we’re not going to be able to address these challenges,” he said.
During talks with Caribbean leaders, Obama discussed new partnerships, including a potential fund to mobilize private investment in clean energy projects in the Caribbean.
“I am confident that given the commitment of the Caribbean countries, and the US commitment, that this in an issue in which we can make great strides over the short term and even greater strides over the long term,” he said. “Expensive, often unreliable and carbon intensive energy is going to be one of the greatest barriers to development in the Caribbean.”
Obama also spoke to young leaders in a town hall-style event on Thursday (notably addressing them with “Wah Gwaan Jamaica.”
along with convening high-level talks with the government of Jamaica at Jamaica House.
Also Thursday, the governments of the United States and Jamaica signed a statement of intent on a planned energy cooperation agreement.
“Jamaica has attempted, for many years, to implement a liquefied natural gas (LNG) project, but we have been hindered because we just did not have access to liquefied natural gas and so one of the important achievements is the American support for our accessing natural gas,” said Jamaica Energy Minister Philip Paulwell, who signed the agreement along with US Energy Secretary Dr Ernest Moniz.
Following the talks, Jamaica Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller said the two countries were uniquely positioned as partners in the hemisphere.
“Our dialogue today reaffirms our strong partnerships and signals our desire to take CARICOM-US relations to a higher level, capitalizing on the gains of the past and exploring new opportunities for the future,” she said. “We anticipate fruitful and productive exchanges at our meeting today to move the development process forward in the Caribbean Region and the hemisphere of the Americas.”
Simpson Miller also noted the US-Cuba rapprochement, commending Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro for “this bold and courageous move to renew USA-Cuba bilateral relations for the common good of all our peoples.”
Obama departed Jamaica Thursday for the upcoming Seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama.