What Obama’s Visit Meant to Jamaica

By David Rowe
Op-Ed Contributor

What first came across from last week’s visit to Jamaica by United States President Barack Obama was the pride.

Jamaica was proud to host what was the first visit to the country by a sitting US president in 33 years.

Despite Jamaica’s continued challenges, they did not stop most Jamiacans from donning their best and showing an effervescent countenance to their distinguished American visitor.

But was also became clear was a new level of US interest and engagement with the Caribbean.

While this new interaction ceremonially began with the US-Cuba paradigm shift, it’s been a long time coming: in large part due to the continued and rising influence of China in the region, something that the US was bound to take more seriously. And now is.

In recent years, Jamaica has largely been a strategic oversight for most US presidential administrations.

But this visit meant something different: this was the White House’s stamp on Jamaica, a sign to the country that a new relationship might bloom.

Perhaps one day Jamaica might become the “Caribbean” Oval Office.

But that will depend on a number of things, from the completion of a long trek to fiscal solvency, a reduction in crime and a more inclusive economy.

It’s likely Obama and his host, Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, discussed these things, from debt to crime, in their talks, along with the issue of youth development that Obama addressed at his speech at my alma mater, the University of the West Indies.

These are the biggest issues, not just for Jamaica but the wider Caribbean region, and the way Jamaica deals with them will be a lesson (or a warning) for the whole Caribbean Basin.

But that was one of the major takeaways of the visit: Obama was effectively telling Jamaica it would need to lead, without saying so.

With the Chinese knocking on the door, transnational crime posing a constant threat, and the economic light at the end of the tunnel still unseen, Jamaica can use this visit as a starting point.

From pride to prosperity.

David P Rowe is an attorney in Florida and Jamaica and an adjunct professor of law at the University of Miami School of Law.

Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal op-eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.