See all those languages up there? We translate Global Voices stories to make the world's citizen media available to everyone.

Learn more about Lingua Translation  »

President Obama's Visit to Jamaica Wasn't All ‘Irie’

President Obama in at Keehi Lagoon Beach Park in 2008. Photo by Justin Sloan, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

President Obama in at Keehi Lagoon Beach Park in 2008. Photo by Justin Sloan, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

United States President Barack Obama was in Jamaica last week to meet with Caribbean Community (CARICOM) heads of government to discuss pressing bilateral issues — including crime and security — prior to his attendance at the Seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama City. It was the first visit to the Caribbean island by a sitting U.S. president since Ronald Reagan over 30 years ago.

Falling oil prices and the fallout from the 2009 global economic crisis have left many regional economies, including Jamaica's, flailing — and therefore dependent on the economic might of other superpowers like China and vulnerable to oil alliances like the Venezuela-led PetroCaribe. Caribbean outreach is a strategic move for the United States as it seeks support in the face of threats from extremist groups around the world.  

The Jamaican blogosphere could not contain its excitement in the prelude to Obama's arrival, with bloggers lauding the U.S. president's positive example and the Jamaican media extensively covering the visit.

Other netizens, however, criticized authorities for making last-minute repairs — such as conducting road work at night — ahead of his visit. On Twitter, users suggested that the whole thing was superficial window dressing:

The sentiment was echoed in a meme on Jamaican Jokes’ Facebook page:
new kingston

Blogger Emily Crooks mused about issues that Jamaica was grappling with — controversial topics like gay rights, for instance — and suggested that the manner in which government officials were falling over themselves to make Jamaica Obama-ready while they ignored such concerns was an insult to the citizenry:

In the debates leading up to the 2011 general elections, Portia Simpson Miller in her bid to appease the gay community, promised that she would bring the provisions under the Offences Against the Person Act which criminalize sex between consenting adults of the same sex to the parliament for a conscience vote. […]

The Prime Minister demonstrated her intention not to move on her promise when confronted by gay rights activist[s] in New York. […] I hope for the sake of minorities the world over that the gay rights activists refuse to back down. I hope they picket every and any venue in which the Prime Minister or any other person who has made an unfulfilled promise to the electorate speaks. I hope they are not prepared to resile from their positions especially since the electorate in Jamaica has long lost its fire.

Jamaica has an international reputation for homophobia.

Cucumber Juice penned a letter to the U.S. president in which she drew attention to all the hardships Jamaicans regularly face, noting that Obama would witness none of them:

The visible preparations for your visit began about 3 weeks ago when Prime Minister Simpson-Miller appeared in Parliament to make the announcement. I must admit it was strange to see her there as around the same time a large fire was ripping through our main garbage dump (despite many announcements and pronouncements we do not have a landfill) turning the air for almost 50% of the island’s population living in three parishes into a toxic smoky soup, and she’d been strangely mum about it. […]

Your view from Air Force One and Marine One as you arrive and move about should be breathtaking. Jamaica is a verdant, hilly, paradise. Often I worry that we do not take its unique and breathtaking landscape seriously…we don’t care for it as we should. We have not quite gotten around to declaring national parks (and meaning it) and enjoying them or holding steady about our endangered and protected areas but, you know, we trudge along to the IMF tune. […]

Unfortunately you won’t be able to nip over for crab or roasted corn or roasted yam when you visit National Heroes Park. The crab vendors usually do snappy business, especially on Friday nights. Although Friday night crab business should be roaring and lively with tales of who saw President Obama visit National Heroes Park, that is doubtful because the crab and other vendors’ stalls are gone; they say it is temporary…I have learned to mark deeds not words.

Other blog entries, like this one from Active Voice, offered a more humourous take on the president's visit:

Who knew how much Jamaicans love Barack Obama? I didn’t until he arrived yesterday and the country went into full One Love mode. […] Others noted that POTUS’s arrival had displaced the live draw of Cashpot, a national lottery, that never yields its airtime not even for the Olympics. Obama has managed to stop Cashpot and NOTHING stops Cashpot tweeted @jomariemalcolm in awe while Alison Stuart said: What! He stopped Cashpot!!!!! He mus really be a powerful man!!!!!!!

Regional bloggers contributed to the humour in the form of memes. This post, by satirical blog The Late O'Clock News, invented a story about Obama going missing in the company of a young man called “Steppa”, who asked the president about the United States’ policy on the decriminalisation of marijuana:

Steppa explained the incident to our reporters:
‘I and I had to show di president how di real Jamaican experience is. He tell me how stressful it is managing a big and powerful country like the U.S., and how dem Republicans ah give ‘im nuff fight down. So dat is when me say ‘Me have just the right thing to ease di stress’. After some deep meditation, we went looking fuh some ital to satisfy the cravings.’

Before falling into a deep sleep on the couch at his hotel room, the President of the United States had this to say:
‘I am humbled and thankful for this experience. I realise now that I am the leader of a wicked, Babylon system but not for much longer. I am a child of Africa, like my father Haile Selassie and…and…wait, what was I saying again?’

Obama was warmly welcomed in the Caribbean, humour and all, but there were still some that were sceptical of his motives for the visit. Barbados Underground posted a blog entry that suggested Obama cannot be trusted:

A few days ago he came bearing gifts. A paltry Trojan horse to the Jamaican people. Today he is being quoted in the media as promising not to interfere in the internal affairs of countries in South & Central America and the Caribbean. […]

This is the same sneaky fellow who, less than weeks ago, believed he had reason to designate The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela as an existential threat to the United Stated. Of course, he has since backed off so as not to create the type of isolation he faced at his last meeting with this regional grouping. […]

We are encouraged that countries like Venezuela, Ecuador, Cuba and Bolivia will form a vanguard against American hegemony, presented under any guise. Unfortunately, sycophantic countries like Barbados and Jamaica will always revel in the notion that a titular Black man, as president of the United States, means less viciousness, is one of us.

Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the best of Global Voices
Email Frequency

No thanks, show me the site