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Obama comes today...Holness to get his moment with the president

Published:Wednesday | April 8, 2015 | 12:00 AMGary Spaulding
Aerial view from The Gleaner's drone of the New Kingston business district where United States President Barack Obama and several CARICOM heads of state are expected to stay.

AFTER A week of frenetic activities, Jamaica's capital city of Kingston is well positioned to embrace the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama.

The Jamaican Government is proclaiming its readiness to host the leader of the free world, while members of the security forces have boldly pronounced that all is in place.

Information Minister Sandrea Falconer rushed from a prolonged Cabinet session late yesterday to finalise details of Obama's visit with members of the media.

Falconer refused to engage in an eleventh-hour debate over the type of visit being undertaken by Obama.

"We have referred to this as a visit by the president ... . He will have a bilateral meeting with the prime minister (Portia Simpson Miller) and will also engage in a meeting with CARICOM," said Falconer.

When pressed, Falconer added: "I think that the important thing is that the president is visiting Jamaica, and I think that it is an honour for us."

Falconer disclosed that with Obama scheduled to meet CARICOM heads of state tomorrow, regional leaders had been arriving in the island since yesterday.

"The official engagement will include a bilateral meeting between the president and the prime minister," said Falconer.

Not only will Simpson Miller and other regional government heads grasp the opportunity to meet Obama. Falconer told journalists that Opposition Leader Andrew Holness would be given the opportunity as well but declined to elaborate.

This should come as positive news for the parliamentary Opposition, which has been grumbling that there was no space in the arrangements for Holness to engage Obama.

Falconer disclosed that the meeting involving Obama and CARICOM leaders would be co-chaired by Prime Minister of The Bahamas Perry Christie, who is the chair of the regional body for a six-month dispensation, and Simpson Miller.

She also noted that Obama would participate in a brief wreath-laying ceremony of veterans of World Wars I and II at the National Heroes Park and a town hall meeting with young Caribbean leaders.

There was emphasis that specifics of the plans being unveiled to the public were not being released due to security concerns.

Although the closure of some public thoroughfares will be a reality, Jamaicans will not be prevented from witnessing the historic processions from vantage points throughout Obama's visit.

"Members of the public are certainly welcome to view from along the verges of where the pedestrians would normally walk except in instances where we have restrictions," said Lieutenant Colonel David Cummings, representing the Jamaica Defence Force."

At the same time, Deputy Commissioner of Police James Golding echoed a warning from Falconer that members of the public were being urged to exercise caution as Obama's motorcade would be travelling at very high speed.

However, Cummings emphasised that the rights of Jamaicans would be observed during the 24 hours Obama is in the island.

"We have a fair level of satisfaction and we are relying on the Jamaica people to abide by the guidelines that are laid out, and we have no doubt that they will not fail us," said Cummings.

He added: "With respect to the operations, we try to strike a very careful balance in respecting the rights and privileges of Jamaican citizens, balancing that with the need to protect visitors."

Cummings said it was important to remember that it is not just the president of the United States who would be visiting, but 14 other heads of state of CARICOM, Jamaica's regional partners.

"All the measures that we have put in place are for the collective mutual security of our visitors as well as the protection of our citizens," he said.