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BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Where is the beef?


BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Where is the beef?

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IT’S 1984, Tom Adams is Barbados’ Prime Minister and Ronald Reagan is in the White House in Washington. That’s not all.

A popular catchphrase is “Where’s the beef” and it is deeply embedded in a popular television hamburger advertisement with a national audience, so much so that Walter Mondale, a former United States vice-president running for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination is using it to distinguish himself from his prime opponent, Gary Hart, contending that Hart’s campaign promise of “new ideas” was all fluff, no substance.

The “where’s the beef” slogan was resurrected to ask about President Barack Obama’s  CARICOM-US summit in Kingston, Jamaica, earlier this month.

“The president’s trip to Jamaica was great for Jamaica where he is personally popular but I am not sure what else you can say about the US-CARICOM summit,” argued Sheila Brathwaite, a Bajan in Florida.

“There was glamour and enthusiasm in Jamaica, which we welcomed and admired. His meeting with the students at the University of the West Indies was great, but what else? We don’t know much about the talks with the CARICOM prime ministers and presidents.”

And that’s where the “beef” catchphrase comes in.

Actually, during the talks with Jamaica Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, and later during a CARICOM-US summit that preceded the Seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama, Caribbean leaders and Obama endorsed a clean energy initiative designed to spur “economic development, security and good governance,” according to a White House statement after the talks.

But when Caribbean immigrants and independent analysts in and out of New York assessed the Kingston summit, they couldn’t pinpoint many significant results, apart from the energy programme, that would help trigger economic and social development at least in the short and medium term in CARICOM.

“The summit [in Panama] produced a good rapprochement between the United States and Cuba and it showed up President Obama’s vision for the Western Hemisphere,” said Dr Carlos Russell, a political science professor emeritus of Brooklyn College of the City University of New York.

“The move by the United States and Cuba to normalise relations augurs well for the Western Hemisphere and in a sense that was the substance of the summit in Panama.”

As for the summit in Kingston? Russell, who was born and raised in Panama by West Indian parents, didn’t mention anything about those talks. Actually, the meeting culminated in the approval of an energy strategy that included a US$20 million clean energy facility for the Caribbean and Central America; an energy investment strategy for the region; the formation of an energy security task force to evaluate progress in US-Caribbean cooperation; the formation of a dedicated financing and insurance team to advance development of the Caribbean renewable energy sector with the Overseas Private Investment Corporation playing a key role; and a US-Jamaica collaborative effort to “advance our shared interest in sustainable energy”.

Dr Basil Wilson, executive director of Monroe College’s King Research Institute in New York agreed that Obama’s visit was a source of pride for Jamaicans of walks of life.

“This was really a whirlwind tour but for the president of the United States to visit a predominantly black society and to pay homage to the Jamaican people in the way that he did, I think it gave a tremendous lift to the Jamaican people,” said Wilson, a prominent Jamaican academic in the United States.

But not everyone viewed the trip that way. For even before Obama landed in Jamaica, Mark Weisbrot, an analyst for Al Jazeera and the Huffington Post, insisted that if Obama really wanted to make a difference in Jamaica, he could assist with the restructuring of Jamaica’s mountain of debt.

“President Obama could direct the US Treasury – and therefore the IMF – to put an end to the self-defeating austerity in Jamaica and allow the economy and employment there to grow,” argued Weisdroit.

The Center for Economic Policy and Research, in a policy paper written by Jake Johnson, chastised Obama for causing some of the economic problems Jamaica was facing . . . contending that “through its leadership role in the IMF, the US is imposing unnecessary pain on Jamaica through harsh austerity and a debt trap”.

As a matter of fact, the paper complained that the IMF-inspired austerity in Jamaica was the “most austere in the world”.

Yes, the energy initiative is needed, no questions asked. But there should have been more to the visit than that. After all, CARICOM is going through a rough time of high unemployment, rising debt, severe austerity and it needs a helping hand. The region would certainly have welcomed action on the rum situation with the United States, the United States Virgin Islands and CARICOM.

Hence, the question: “Where’s the beef?”