After the visit of the former US president Ronald Reagan in 1982, Barack Obama will become the first US president to step foot on Jamaican soil in more than three decades, on Wednesday. Arriving in Kingston for a meeting with the 15-member CARICOM Caribbean bloc, Obama visits as the United States bids to check Venezuelan influence in the Caribbean.
In hopes of putting an end to many of the region’s struggling economies, Obama will be keen to offer an alternative to cheap Venezuelan oil. Obama therefore has a duty to woo countries that while geographically close to the United States, sometimes feel politically distant
“We absolutely feel that the CARICOM region does deserve greater attention and engagement from the United States,” senior Obama advisor, Ben Rhodes said on the eve of the visit.
He highlighted a recent energy initiative led by Vice President Joe Biden.
“We are looking to continually deepen our relationship with the Caribbean and can play an important role in enhancing the energy security of the region,” Rhodes said.
He also added that the United States had “significant” energy resources and infrastructure.
The impact on the Caribbean was always stronger for Petrocaribe, an initiative by Caracas’ state-owned PDVSA – Petroleos de Venezuela, as the US has not made its presence fully felt in the region. Presenting an opportunity to defer payment for oil under low interest rates, the program was offered to the Caribbean and some Central American nations. But as Venezuela’s own economy has faltered as oil prices slid, Caribbean states have faced stricter terms and shorter supplies, leaving them unfortified.
A former advisor in Bill Clinton’s White House, Ted Piccone, said, Venezuela “has been reducing its subsidized oil exports to Petrocaribe and the smaller states that receive those subsidies including Cuba.”
Piccone, now of the Brookings Institution, said that the cuts presented to Petrocaribe are estimated to be anywhere between ten and thirty percent of supply.
“The goal of the United states now is to try to break up Petrocaribe and offer in particular the Caribbean states that are so vulnerable and so dependent on energy imports some extra special attention,” he continued.
Late today, Obama will arrive in Jamaica. He will hold talks with Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller before the CARICOM meeting, which will be held on Thursday.