Opening a three-day trip to the Caribbean and Central America, U.S. President Barack Obama hopes to capitalize on mutual needs in the face of expanding Chinese influence and weakening power by Venezuela, once the energy juggernaut of the Americas.
Obama’s arrival Wednesday evening in Kingston, Jamaica, was low-key compared to the excitement he stirred in the Caribbean upon his election in 2008. Greeted at the airport tarmac by dignitaries including Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, Obama slipped into a motorcade that ran through mostly quiet, empty streets.
The visit comes amid a perception that Obama’s interest in the region has failed to materialize. Yet his travels — first to Jamaica, then to the Summit of the Americas in Panama — follow a year of increased attention to the region by the U.S. president. His immigration executive orders, his efforts to slow the influx of Central American minors to the U.S. border, and his diplomatic outreach to Cuba have put a foreign policy spotlight on U.S. neighbors to the south.
Obama on Thursday will meet with Simpson Miller and with other leaders in the 15-member Caribbean Community. He also plans to speak to young regional leaders in a town-hall setting, continuing a tradition of engaging new generations in foreign political and civil society institutions.
The president promptly paid tribute to the island’s cultural hero, the late reggae star Bob Marley, making an unscheduled visit Wednesday night to the legendary singer’s museum. He toured Marley’s former home as Marley’s hit “One Love” played through the building’s sound system.
In the Caribbean, energy security tops Obama’s agenda as the U.S. seeks to fill a potential void left by Venezuela’s scaled-back oil diplomacy. Earlier this year, Vice President Joe Biden hosted prime ministers and other top officials from all Caribbean countries except Cuba at the first Caribbean Energy Security Summit in Washington.
Meanwhile, China has steadily expanded its economic alliances in the Caribbean, providing much of the financing for new roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects.
Obama’s visit to Jamaica is the first by a U.S. president since President Ronald Reagan in 1982. Obama was last in the Caribbean region in 2009 when he attended the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad. His stop in Kingston comes ahead of his attendance at this year’s summit of the Western Hemisphere’s heads of government Friday and Saturday in Panama.
Report by the Associated Press.
US-Cuba relations could highlight summit in Panama
For the first time, all nations in the region will attend the Summit of the Americas, including Cuba. Its participation comes nearly four months after the normalization of relations with the United States.
CCTV America’s Michael Voss filed this report from Panama City, Panama.
Follow Michael Voss on Twitter @mvosscuba
US-Cuba relations could highlight summit in PanamaFor the first time, all nations in the region will attend the Summit of the Americas, including Cuba. Its participation comes nearly four months after the normalization of relations with the United States. CCTV America's Michael Voss filed this report from Panama City, Panama.
- Cuba’s presence in Panama has spilled onto the streets: with ugly scenes as Cuban dissidents tried to join a forum on Civil Society. Some of the official Cuban delegates reacted angrily and forcibly turned the opposition figures away.
- Another potential area of conflict involves Venezuela and the Obama Administration’s decision to designate Venezuela as a threat to U.S. National Security. It has provoked widespread condemnation throughout the region.
- Much of the attention is focused on how the historic meeting between Barack Obama and Raul Castro will go. But the 7th Summit of the Americas will also be looking at ways to tackle the regions many social and economic problems.
Summit of the Americas highlights thaw between US and Cuba
For the United States, the past Americas’ summits have rarely been meetings to embrace. But that may be about to change. The recent thaw in relations between the U.S. and Cuba could alter the regional dynamics. Nathan King filed this report from Washington, D.C.
Summit of the Americas highlights thaw between US and CubaFor the United States, the past Americas' summits have rarely been meetings to embrace. But that may be about to change. The recent thaw in relations between the U.S. and Cuba could alter the regional dynamics. Nathan King filed this report from Washington, D.C.
- It had been hoped the U.S. and Cuba would have reestablished full diplomatic relations in time for this summit- Havana had also wanted, by now, to be removed from the U.S. list of states that sponsor terrorism, too.
- But U.S. treatment of another regional player, and Cuba’s main ally, Venezuela, could overshadow the summit. Last month, the U.S. announced the political and economic situation in Venezuela warranted designating Caracas an “extraordinary” threat to U.S. national security and foreign policy interests and sanctions were imposed. Much of the region, including Cuba, relies on subsidized Venezuelan oil.
- The U.S. will be pushing member nations to sign on to the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal. But for some countries, Chinese investment is the driving force. Over the next decade, Beijing has pledged to invest 250 billion dollars in Latin America and the Caribbean. And it’s also investing in Venezuela’s oil-based economy – 20 billion dollars in projects was announced in January.
Mark Weisbrot on the main issues expected to be discussed at the Summit
For more on what we might expect at this year’s Summit of the Americas CCTV America spoke with Mark Weisbrot, the co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C.