Thu | Oct 29, 2020

Coming with an agenda

Published:Friday | April 3, 2015 | 1:45 AMPeter Espeut

First, congratulations to the Calabar franchise and the Edwin Allen franchise for winning the respective titles at the Boys and Girls Athletic Championships held last weekend.  Those schools were able to attract an impressive array of track and field talent from all over Jamaica to compete in their colours.  I'm sure this will spur on the other athletics franchises we call 'schools' to improve their recruiting skills.

Barack Hussein Obama, the 44th president of the United States of America, will visit Jamaica next week. He is the fourth US president to visit Jamaica, and no doubt comes with his agenda.  

The first to visit us was Warren Gamaliel Harding, elected on November 2, 1920 as the 29th US president, and who arrived in Kingston on November 30, 1920 with an entourage of 40 people for a short visit. 

Harding landed at Railway Pier No. 2 in the USS Pastores, a vessel owned by the United Fruit Company (UFCo).  While the Hardings had their luncheon at King's House where they were the guests of the governor, Sir Leslie Probyn, and Lady Probyn, the rest of the party were taken to the Myrtle Bank Hotel (owned by the UFCo) for lunch.  The Gleaner (December 2, 1920, Page 2) reports "no efforts being spared by the hotel management to see that the visitors enjoyed themselves to the fullest".

UFCo provided a fleet of motor cars to transport the visitors to Castleton Gardens on the Junction Road where they had a picnic catered by the Myrtle Bank Hotel.  The Hardings travelled in a Pierce-Arrow luxury touring car belonging to Joseph Goodwill Keiffer, general manager of UFCo in Jamaica.  Picnic tables were placed under spreading shade trees near the Wag Water River, and the meal provided by the Myrtle Bank was: "Jamaican native oysters on the half shell, green turtle broth in jelly, sweet pickles, pickled beets, mango chutney, Jamaican shrimps, turkey, ham, chicken, avocado pear salad, ice cream, assorted cakes, iced coffee, cigars, cigarettes" (Gleaner, December 2, 1920, Page 3).

Afterwards, the party went on to the Titchfield Hotel in Port Antonio (built by UFCo; at the time the UFCo had a payroll exceeding that of the government). In the meantime, the USS Pastores had sailed around from Kingston to Port Antonio, and the party left Jamaica that same night.

I think sometimes we underestimate the influence multinational corporations have on politicians.

On December 5, 1940, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States, visited Jamaica on board the battle cruiser Tuscaloosa with two destroyers as security. The attack on Pearl Harbour had not yet occurred, and the US had not yet entered World War II, but FDR was visiting the US naval air station on Little Goat Island then under construction. The agreement between the USA and the UK (then at war with Germany) had only been signed on September 2, 1940, whereby the US gave the UK the use of 50 mothballed US Navy destroyers in return for the use of certain British colonies as military bases.

The British government had given to the US government rights to "the waters of approaches to Portland Bight - one and a half square miles", because the latter also had "exclusive administrative, legal and security control over 23,000 acres of Jamaican territory located at Pigeon Island",  "a tract of 19 square miles consisting of the Portland Ridge peninsula", "one a three quarter square miles near Old Harbour Bay" (Little Goat Island), "a portion of Hellshire Hills" and Sandy Gully, Clarendon.

At Sandy Gully, the US Army built Fort Simonds, and the US Army Air Corps built an air base called Vernam Field (the US Air Force had not yet been founded). On March 6, 1944, FDR's famous wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, visited Vernam Field to encourage the airmen and soldiers.

Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, visited Jamaica in April 1982.  It was his fourth trip overseas since his inauguration, and he was visiting to show support for Prime Minister Edward Seaga, elected after a bloody election campaign. Jamaica was a Cold War battlefield during the two terms of Michael Manley's experiment with democratic socialism, and President Reagan's visit took place shortly after Maurice Bishop had seized power in Grenada in 1979.  The visit emphasised the fact that Jamaica was solidly in the backyard of the USA.

Despite the geographic distance, today Jamaica and much of the Caribbean seem to be in the backyard of communist China, and the visit next week of the 44th president of the USA for a meeting with CARICOM leaders may seek to realign the region along the lines of the Monroe Doctrine.

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and environmentalist. Email feedback to