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EDITORIAL: It’s time for action Mr Obama


EDITORIAL: It’s time for action Mr Obama

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA’S visit to Jamaica today and tomorrow for a meeting with Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders is welcome news for the entire region. It signals the United States is once again focusing on these small nations on its third border. The challenge is for CARICOM leaders to have a unified position on those matters of greatest concern and to let Mr Obama know exactly where they stand.   

For several years, the United States has not pursued sustained high-level political engagement with this part of the hemisphere. It is clear that other priorities had detracted its attention ranging from global terrorism, the world economic meltdown to the Middle East and the Arab Spring. Relationships, no doubt, are close between Washington and CARICOM on security issues such as drug interdiction and money laundering. The reality, however, is that CARICOM has clearly been overlooked by the Americans.

The ceding of America’s dominance and control in CARICOM opened the doors for others to gain some clout. The Chinese have become major economic providers in most of countries with visits by high-ranking officials, including President Xi Jinping two years ago. The Americans would have taken note. The Taiwanese, looking for legitimacy and acknowledgement, have also had a strong cheque book diplomacy with the few CARICOM nations which recognise it. The Caribbean Security Initiative launched by Washington at the start of this year shows the Obama administration’s intent to divert those countries in the decade-old Petrocaribe agreement away from Caracas. With the economy in Venezuela under pressure given the drastic decline in world oil prices, the Americans clearly understand this is the time to put a viable alternate energy programme on the table.

Given the worldwide focus on security, climate change and energy, the Americans appreciate that there is a common interest to advance whether it be in the fight against global terrorism or  to build prosperity. Now that the  US economy is on a strong growth  path, CARICOM should expect help to stimulate trade, investment, tourism and remittances that can provide a fillip to this region’s own recovery.

This is the second time Mr Obama will be meeting with CARICOM leaders. The first was in Port-of-Spain five years ago when he promised a new chapter in US-CARICOM relations. That promise has gone largely unfulfilled. His visit to Kingston comes just over three decades after a visit by President Ronald Reagan. The geo-political concerns were different then but the issues for CARICOM today are basically the same: security matters, the fight against illegal drugs, and the need for private investment.

CARICOM leaders should have a pragmatic engagement with the American president since time is of critical importance. They must tell Mr Obama it is his actions, and not just words, which now matter most.