Thirty-three years ago, US President Ronald Reagan visited Jamaica and told them: “We're pleased to find ourselves working together”. But no President has been back to Jamaica since, until this week.
US President Barack Obama arrived in Kingston on Wednesday with a message to win Caribbean governments back: go green.
Over the past two decades, US involvement in the region has been spotty at best, a fact even the president’s closest foreign policy adviser acknowledged. “At times people feel like the United States has not engaged these countries significantly as we should, given that they’re our close neighbours,” Ben Rhodes, White House Deputy National Security Advisor, told reporters before the trip.
As the Chinese woo Caribbean governments with cash and infrastructure projects and the Venezuelans provide cheap oil, the US is trying to re-assert itself.
The administration’s primary selling point is alternative energy, particularly as a way to counterbalance Venezuela’s subsidised oil to the region. Jamaica has a wind farm that provides a small percentage of its energy. In January, it announced a $43 million partnership with the US for another one, an example the Obama administration hopes other countries will follow.
“This region has some of the highest energy costs in the world,” Obama said at a meeting of Caribbean leaders in Kingston on Thursday as US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz sat next to him. “This is an issue in which we can make great strides over the short term and even greater strides over the long term.”
The US announced on Thursday it would pony up another $20 million to help “encourage investment in clean energy projects”.
But one analyst thinks Obama’s green vision for the region is short-sighted.
“These kinds of energy sources [wind, solar] have been a failure in the United States,” says Juan Carlos Hidalgo from the CATO Institute in Washington, DC. “The last thing these Caribbean nations need is for the Obama administration to be pushing this agenda on them.”
Instead, he suggests countries should be upgrading their infrastructure to support natural gas shipments from the US.