KINGSTON: U.S. President Barack Obama has announced that hundreds of young people from the Caribbean and Latin America will benefit from a US$70 million education investment initiative proposed by the United States.
Obama made the announcement during a one-day visit to Jamaica last week, where he discussed socioeconomic issues with youth, held bilateral talks with Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller and met Caribbean Community (CARICOM) heads of government at the U.S.-CARICOM summit.
Obama announced the education initiative during a town hall meeting with young people at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus last Thursday.
The U.S. President also launched a Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative to build on an exchange program he started years ago.
“Four years ago I launched an initiative called the hundred thousand strong in the Americas and the goal was to have a hundred thousand U.S. students studying in this region and a hundred thousand of this region’s students studying in the United States at the end of this decade.
“And we are on track to meet that goal, so I’m proud to launch the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative right here in Kingston; this is not your traditional exchange. We are going to seek out the most innovative young entrepreneurs and civil society leaders in the Caribbean, Latin America and we are going to give them a chance to learn, and the capital to make a difference,” he said.
Addressing the international drug policy of the United States, Obama said more discussion and the full co-operation of Caribbean governments is needed.
“Our current policy continues to be to decrease demand, we need to focus on the public health approach to decreasing demands and we have to stop the flow of guns and the flow of cash into the Caribbean, Central America and Latin America and at the same time, they have to co-operate with us to decrease the power of the transnational drug organizations which are vicious,” he said.
Obama said the focus should be on treatment, not mass incarceration. He said that economic development and alternative opportunities for youth can help reduce the youth crime rate.
Obama also discussed his country’s immigration policy during the town hall meeting. He said part of the issue is dealing with undocumented immigrants living in the U.S and providing them with a pathway to earn legal status. He emphasized that the U.S. does not want to separate families from undocumented relatives.
Prior to meeting the CARICOM leaders, Obama met Prime Minister Simpson-Miller at Jamaica House, where he signed Jamaica’s guest book.
“It is a great pleasure to visit Jamaica, known for its beauty and the extraordinary spirit of its people,” he wrote. “May the deep and abiding friendships between our nations continue for generations to come.”
Simpson-Miller said she hoped Obama understood how important the occasion was to the people of Jamaica. Obama’s visit was the first time a U.S. President has visited Jamaica since Ronald Reagan in 1982.
Simpson-Miller told Obama that people from across the region followed both of his presidential campaigns with “heightened interest”, particularly the 2008 campaign that made him the first Black man to be elected president of the United States of America.
“Your slogan ‘Yes we can’ was repeated at every opportunity,” she said. “Your photograph has pride of place in living rooms. Your victories have been ours.”
During the meeting with the U.S-CARICOM Summit leaders, Obama announced a US$20 million effort to jumpstart private and public sector investment in clean energy projects in the Caribbean and Central America.
“If we can lower these costs through the development of clean energy and increased energy efficiency we could unleash, I think, a whole host of additional investments and growth,” he said.
In remarking on the relationship between the Caribbean and the United States, Obama said the bonds are strong.
“We are bound by friendship and shared values and by family and we have a great stake in each other’s success,” he said.
CARICOM Chairman, Prime Minister Perry Christie of the Bahamas, said the meeting was significant because “it reinforces the symbiotic relationship between the U.S. and the region. We are joined by history, by migration, by commerce and geography.”
Christie said people of the Caribbean look to the U.S. to reinforce the message of social mobility, the promise of societal growth, economic development, equity and fairness.
After laying a wreath at National Heroes Park in honour of the thousands of Jamaicans who died in World Wars I and II, Obama departed for Panama, where he attended the Summit of the Americas.