We’d better make Obama’s visit count
Well, unless your hypocrisy is bigger than the occasion itself, the arrival of American President Barack Obama last Wednesday and his meeting with Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller Thursday are historic. True, it was nothing in comparison with the arrival of Jah Jah Emperor Haile Selassie I almost 51 years ago. I didn't see Selassie myself, but I saw Obama with my 'four eyes'.
Marcus Garvey had prophesied that we should "look to the east for the coming of a black king", and when Selassie landed on the tarmac at the same Palisadoes Airport, there were about 12,000 Rastafarians and other supporters. And despite the billowing marijuana smoke that would have eliminated the recent chikungunya threat and dwarfed the Riverton City emissions today, Obama's visit is a defining moment in our future.
It is an indication of how good the relationship between both countries is because this is only the second time in our 71 years as a parliamentary democracy, and 53 as an independent nation, that a sitting American president has touched down on this soil. One can, therefore, perhaps forgive the exuberance of the mayor and her puerile postings that translate as "neh ne ne ne neh! And a bey!" One can even try to understand that she might have got the same information that her predecessor had, and thought that the presidential entourage would have actually driven past the crab vendors at National Heroes Circle and used his approach to 'Nicodemusly' destroy their stalls.
Never mind, thousands got it wrong, too, as they lined up along the Palisadoes road. Not even a glimpse of the armoured vehicle. Nothing! Because moments after Prezi landed, he was ensconced in the helicopter, Marine One, and scuttled to the garrison, Up Park Camp. Not even the former residents of Shoemaker Gully - the homosexuals emboldened by the promises of their enfranchisements made by our prime minister and the pro-gay stance of Obama - were spared the sterilisation of environment. They had been removed months earlier.
ROADS, COPS AND GARVEY
More upsetting are the videos of security forces and public servants rounding up the homeless, as the Government suddenly seems to have found a place for them. If the footage is accurate, I want to know upon what legal basis the cops acted. Nonetheless, I agree with Sister P that the city needed cleaning and roads needed repairing for our visitor.
I even choose to overlook her unscripted remarks, and blame her advisers, because she has clearly not read any of the comments in the press on the Marcus Garvey exoneration issue. After all, why would she have paid attention to the rantings of a 'blackademic' on the subject when he was only speaking at a government-hosted event commemorating his birth; the 100th anniversary of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League in the parish of his birth?
Hidden in full view of the press and carried in the Government's own Jamaica Information Service, I warned, "Next time I hear anybody ... in any official position say anything about the American government's failure to pardon Garvey ... let's focus on what we should do here! We need to clean Garvey's record ... . Garvey went to prison for doing nothing wrong. We have a lot to apologise to Garvey and his legacy for."
Governor General Sir Florizel Glasspole did sign pardons for both his convictions on August 16, 1987. But a pardon is not a statement of innocence, and more than anyone else since the founding president of the People's National Party, Norman Manley, figured in both cases, the Government must go the next step and expunge the criminal record.
But back to the Prezi's arrival. We know that from as far back as the 1820s, with the Monroe Doctrine, Latin America and the Caribbean were the frontyard of the USA and no nation should wield more influence here than Uncle Sam.
It is for that reason that there was so much hostility to the increased Cuban (and Russian) influence in the island during the 1970s, and the recriminating measures taken against the Michael Manley administration then. Obama's visit is to reinforce not only the mutual bonds between us, but more important, to reassert American leadership while repelling the creeping hegemony of another nation that is less friendly with the US. This time, it is Venezuela, whose PetroCaribe dollars and cheap oil might appear to be undermining the US's influence.
The World Bank's Doing Business Report just labelled us the best country in the Caribbean for doing business, and we have passed seven consecutive International Monetary Fund (IMF) tests. Last year, IMF chief Christine Lagarde gave Finance Minister Peter Phillips two big thumbs up.
If history is a good teacher, then the 1982 visit of Ronald Reagan should tell us that great things are in store for us. Like the early 1980s, the ousted administration had turned the blood of Uncle Sam into bitter gall. But when Reagan came, last week in 1982, he was like Santa Claus. Reagan, spurred by a shrewd Prime Minister Edward Seaga, initiated the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), putting thousands to work and stirring up the manufacturing sector.
America increased its regional aid with Jamaica being the largest beneficiary. In fact, by 1983, Jamaica was the third-largest recipient of US aid, falling only behind Israel and El Salvador on a per-capita basis. At the end of 1982, US economic and military aid jumped to US$140.7 million, almost double the 1981 total and approximately 10 times that received by the Manley government in 1980. All this was direct aid and doesn't take into account the CBI trade benefits or the agreement to buy 1.6 million tons of bauxite for the US military stockpile.
Yet, with all this blessing and endorsement, we still failed IMF tests, didn't deliver the goods, and didn't balance people's lives.
Obama has promised US$70 million for education and other projects and has indicated support for the IMF policy, but the question of debt forgiveness and more favourable loan terms has to be on the agenda - long after the talks.
With the positive evaluation of the Jamaican economy and governance, Portia and the Government have a gold spoon, and I hope it is put in the right place. Now, the Government has no reason or excuse to fail.
n Dr Orville Taylor, senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host, is the 2013-14 winner of the Morris Cargill Award for Opinion Journalism. His just-published book, 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets', is now available at the UWI Bookshop. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.