Obama promises much - Summit of the Americas begins today - US president advocates better relations

Published: Friday | April 17, 2009

Arthur Hall, Senior Staff Reporter

President Barack Obama waves upon his arrival to the Los Pinos presidential residence in Mexico City yesterday. - AP

A new day in the relationship among the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean could dawn today when the Fifth Summit of the Americas begins in Trinidad and Tobago.

US President Barack Obama yesterday signalled his intention to start this improved relationship with a declaration of his administration's commitment to "renew and sustain a broader partnership between the United States and the hemisphere".

"Too often, the United States has not pursued and sustained engagement with our neighbours," said the president.

"We have been too easily distracted by other priorities and have failed to see that our progress is tied directly to progress throughout the Americas."

With the decades-old US economic embargo on Cuba expected to figure prominently when the leaders meet in Port-of-Spain, Obama also indicated a willingness to improve relations with the Communist state.

"This week, we amended a Cuba policy that has failed for decades to advance liberty or opportunity for the Cuban people," said Obama in reference to thedecision to allow visits to the island and the lifting of restrictions on the direct transfer of money.

He also announced that the US was willing to provide support to the region to face the global economic crisis which has left many small states reeling.

In addition, the US president signalled that key issues such as climate change, energy diversification and crime were areas which his administration would be willing to discuss measures for increased cooperation.

"Security for our citizens must be advanced through our commitment to partner with those who are courageously battling drug cartels, gangs and other criminal networks throughout the Americas.

"Our efforts start at home. By reducing demand for drugs and curtailing the illegal flow of weapons and bulk cash south across our border, we can advance security in the United States and beyond," Obama said.

That should be good news for Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who is leading Jamaica's team to the summit.

Golding is accompanied by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Dr Kenneth Baugh and Anthony Johnson, Jamaica's ambassador to Washington, DC, and the country's permanent representative to the Organisation of American States.

Summit schedule

  • The Summit is being held under the theme 'Securing Our Citizens' Future by Promoting Human Prosperity, Energy Security and Environmental Sustainability'.

  • The working session will begin tomorrow with bilateral discussions to be followed by the first plenary session which will address the topic of 'Human Prosperity'.

  • The region's heads will continue discussions during lunch, examining the topic of 'Environmental Sustainability'. Plenary session two will address 'Energy Security'. This will be followed by plenary session three on 'Democratic Governance and Public Security'.

  • On Sunday, the heads of government will be in retreat, after which it is expected that the Declaration of Commitment for Port-of-Spain will be signed.