Sun | Dec 4, 2016

‘As smooth as silk’ - US officials applaud Jamaica for Obama's welcome

Published:Sunday | April 12, 2015 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
William Brown holds a copy of The Gleaner while awaiting President of the United States of America Barak Obama to pass on his way to the University of the West Indies last Thursday.
A small portion of the massive crowd which gatherd around Heroes Circle, awaiting the arrival of United States President Barack Obama last Thursday.
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United States Ambassador to Jamaica Luis G. Moreno has voiced the absolute delight which he says both the White House and US State Department have for the level of preparation that was made for the hosting of President Barack Obama last week.

During an exclusive interview with The Sunday Gleaner, Moreno said the US president was touched by the expressions of love from Jamaicans, and was particularly impressed with the professionalism of the security forces during his less than 24 hours stay.

"I can tell you that many of the visitors from Washington - both the White House staff and from the State Department and even from our local embassy here - people were very, very touched by the outpouring (of love). Simply, the outpouring was magnificent," he said.

"In every one of these trips, there is always a little thing that goes wrong, a little detail or two, but you know what, unless you are intimately involved in the preparation and those details, you might notice it, but no one else does. The public doesn't notice it, the president doesn't notice it, and I can tell you that this went as smooth as silk," said the career diplomat.

Scores of Jamaicans lined the designated travel routes for the president last Wednesday and Thursday, some waiting for hours with no shelter from the sun, hoping to get a glimpse of the first black man to be elected president of the United States.

Jamaica's love for Obama was then reinforced by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller during talks at her office last Thursday, and hours later at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus, hundreds of students clamoured to shake his hand and possibly secure a selfie, despite the heavy presence of Secret Service officials.

Moreno said while he was personally touched by all of this he was not necessarily surprised.

"I totally anticipated that. Everyone knows how popular President Obama is in Jamaica. Everyone recalls seeing the images of people cheering in the streets and dancing and carrying on when he was elected and when he was re-elected.

"Just speaking to people from all parts of society, from all parts of Jamaica, from the prime minister to the people working in the supermarkets, the hotels and barber shops, the popularity of President Obama and what he represents for hope and for equality is really very clear," said Moreno.

 

MUTUAL RESPECT

 

"One thing that President Obama did was show how in touch he was with the people of Jamaica, and that was a feeling that was kind of mutual. You could see the mutual respect and affection between the president and the Jamaican people. I think it was an amazing thing to watch and certainly one of the most privileged things I have been able to participate in during my 30-something-odd years of diplomatic services," said Moreno, who met Obama for the first time in Israel some years ago.

He said the security forces hit the biggest home run during the president's visit.

"I was speaking with a lot of the Secret Service guys who I have known for years and they said that working with the Jamaica Defence Force and the Jamaica Constabulary Force was among the best they have ever worked with, and their levels of professionalism were simply outstanding. The president even mentioned this to the prime minister," confided Moreno.

The ambassador believes Obama's visit to Jamaica has reinforced the importance of the country's leadership role in the Caribbean.

"I know there were some criticism about some of the things that happened, but remember, there were almost 700 people here supporting this trip that were here for almost a week or more, that actually contributed greatly to the local economy. They patronised all the restaurants; they were spending money in hotels and really helping the local economy quite a bit. I think people have a tendency to forget that," said Moreno.