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Obama’s ‘Self-Interest’ Visit To Jamaica Hints At Providing Energy Needs to Caribbean Countries

President Obama gets a tour of the Bob Marley Museum from a staff member Natasha Clark in Kingston, Jamaica  REUTERS

President Obama gets a tour of the Bob Marley Museum from a staff member Natasha Clark in Kingston, Jamaica

KINGSTON, Jamaica — The Caribbean region collectively cheered when President Obama was first elected president in 2008. Calypso and reggae songs were written in his honor, the French Caribbean island of Martinique named a road after him, and Antigua’s highest mountain officially became “Mount Obama” as the small country saluted him as a symbol of Black achievement.

The first president to visit Jamaica in three decades, Mr. Obama arrived in Kingston Wednesday evening trying to rekindle an enthusiasm that has waned amid a perceived lack of attention from the American president.

Mr. Obama was greeted by Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica Luis Moreno and a dozen other dignitaries. He promptly embraced the local color and one of the island’s icons, making a late evening visit to the Bob Marley Museum.

Mr. Obama’s trip is more than just an effort in rebuilding popularity, though. His meetings Thursday with Simpson Miller and with other leaders in the 15-member Caribbean Community are weighted with self-interest.

China has steadily expanded its economic alliances in the Caribbean, and the region is seeking to reduce its dependence on subsidized oil from an economically struggling Venezuela. China is providing much of the financing for new roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects.

“China is running away with the gold in the view of many region watchers. Its footprint is visible and obvious through its ‘checkbook’ diplomacy in the Caribbean,” said Anthony Bryan, an international relations professor at Trinidad’s campus of the University of the West Indies, a public university system serving 18 English-speaking countries and territories.

“We, in looking at the region, saw that a number of the (Caribbean) countries had significant energy needs,” said Benjamin Rhodes, a White House deputy national security adviser. “At the same time, the United States has significant resources, not just in terms of our own energy production, but also in our energy infrastructure, in our ability to work with countries that have formed cooperative solutions to promote energy security.”

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