Obama keeps promise to Portia
US president makes historic Jamaican visit
BY INGRID BROWN Associate Editor — Special Assignment email@example.com
JAMAICA recorded another chapter in its colourful history last night when the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama, set foot on local soil for a working visit during which he will engage in bilateral talks with the Jamaican Government and Caricom leaders today.
Yesterday, a beaming Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, after greeting Obama with her characteristic warm Jamaican welcome hug, told journalists that she had invited him to Jamaica when she first met him a few years ago and he promised that he would come..
According to Simpson Miller, he reminded her of his promise as he greeted her, saying: "See, I promised you and I am here".
Obama is the second sitting US president to have visited Jamaica since Independence, the first being Ronald Reagan in 1982.
At approximately 7:30 pm Air Force One -- the US Presidential aircraft -- touched down on the tarmac at Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston and approximately five minutes later Obama -- the first black man to be elected US president -- appeared at the door, waved and started his trek down the stairs to a greeting party of enthusiastic Jamaican and Caricom officials.
Chief of State Protocol Elinor Felix introduced Obama to Governor General Sir Patrick Allen, Prime Minister Simpson Miller, Caricom Chairman and Bahamian Prime Minister Perry Christie, Opposition Leader Andrew Holness, Foreign Affairs Minister AJ Nicholson, Senate President Floyd Morris, House Speaker Michael Peart, Chief Justice Zaila McCalla, Caricom Secretary General Irwin LaRocque, Jamaica's Ambassador to the United States Stephen Vasciannie, Chief of Defence Staff Major General Antony Anderson, and Police Commissioner Carl Williams.
Minutes later he boarded one the helicopters in the Marine One fleet that transported him to the Jamaica Defence Force headquarters, Up Park Camp, from where he travelled in the presidential limousine, nicknamed The Beast, to his hotel.
Earlier, the tarmac was buzzing with activity as several US Marine Corps helicopters, Secret Service agents and scores of US security personnel, some with sniffer dogs, prepared for the president's arrival.
At 7:20 pm, Simpson Miller arrived on the tarmac accompanied by other members of the receiving line. The prime minister displayed delight as the aircraft taxied to a stop.
The excitement at having Obama here lasted long after he left the airport as many persons snapped keepsake pictures of themselves with Air Force One in the background.
An indication of the thrill that Jamaicans feel at having Obama visit the island was evident earlier yesterday as curious onlookers watched the police-escorted buses transporting journalists and other personnel to the airport.
At Harbour View, a large crowd, from the very old to the very young, lined the streets, seemingly in the hope of catching a glimpse of the president. But security barriers kept them confined to one area with the Palisadoes stretch completely blocked off.
Motorists seeking to gain access to the airport and its environs had to declare their purpose for entering what had become a sterile area. Coast Guard vessels lined the water on either side of the Palisadoes road.
But even amidst the excitement of Obama's arrival, journalists would not ignore the opportunity to press Simpson Miller for a response on the road work which was done in preparation for the president's visit.
Quizzed about the wisdom of spending this money in a time of fiscal constraints Simpson Miller said nothing was wrong with it.
"My response would be, when we have our sisters, mothers, grandmothers, aunts and uncles coming we always clean up our house," Simpson Miller said, adding that this was no different.
In addition to the bilateral talks, President Obama will host a youth forum at the University of the West Indies and lay a wreath at the Cenotaph in National Heroes Park in honour of the Jamaicans who fought and died in World Wars I and II.
He is scheduled to leave Jamaica this evening for Panama to attend the Seventh Summit of the Americas.