Jamaica’s message to President Obama, “we’re ready”
MONTEGO BAY - The roads have been paved, beautification of the main thoroughfares completed, security heightened and even stalls demolished as Jamaicans eagerly anticipate Wednesday’s arrival of Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States.
With preparations now in high gear, the police have also suggested that some persons may want to remain indoors as restrictions on vehicular traffic will be enforced in areas that may be used by the president’s entourage.
According to the police, some of the areas to be affected temporarily include sections of the business district of New Kingston and roads in the vicinity of the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), where Obama will meet with regional leaders for their summit on Thursday.
Head of the Police Border and Security Branch, Deputy Commission of Police James Golding told reporters that business owners would be advised of closure of their businesses as the second United States president ever to visit Jamaica continues his visit.
Information Minister Sandrea Falconer said due to security concerns, the details could not be revealed immediately.
“What we will be doing is contacting the business owners on Knutsford Boulevard, in addition to all the mass media announcements that we will make and they can make that determination as to how they will treat it”, she said.
Head of the Traffic Division, Senior Superintendent Calvin Allen said members of the public who wish to watch the presidential motorcade can do so from sidewalks and other pedestrian areas, except in instances where there are restrictions such as police barricades and service vehicles.
National Security Minister Peter Bunting added that given the nature and size of the operation, more resources have been brought in from across the island to boost security in the Corporate Area
In the midst of all the activities, however, the government has been criticized for tearing down the stalls of vendors located on the outskirts of National Heroes Park, one of the venues that will be visited by the US President.
On Monday, the food vendors – known for selling boiled crab, roasted and boiled corn, roasted yam and saltfish – demonstrated to protest the removal of their stalls by the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC).
The stalls were removed as part of cleanup operations ahead of Obama’s visit. But Kingston’s Mayor Angela Brown Burke said plans were already being made to remove the vendors and the vendors were aware of the plans.
“I am not even annoyed or angry about their behaviour, I understand that it is natural and I have scheduled a meeting with the Member of Parliament…….”
On Tuesday, the vendors were told that they would be allowed to return to the area following the president’s departure.
Town Clerk, Robert Hill, said the vendors were removed due to security concerns along with the KSAC’s stance of clamping down on illegal vending. He said despite these reasons, a solution has been found.
“A concessionary and temporary consideration was given for them to return – be it not in the same fashion, on Friday. They are not to erect any permanent structures, they are to take their wares to the respective vending spots and remove them when finished. This is a commitment, and we will have discussions with them as to the way forward, next week,” he said.
In seeking to clarify the issue, Falconer told journalists that the authorities did not intentionally destroy the stalls, stating that according to information received, some of the structures crumbled as a result of being weak.
“When a president visits anywhere, there is a bubble in which the president operations and I’m sure you understand that we have to keep areas sterile, I am told that the vendors will be allowed back there as soon as the visit is done,” she said.
Security around National Heroes Park will be heightened.
Lieutenant Colonel David Cummings of the Jamaica Defense Force (JDF), who is in charge of operations and security for the visit, said residents in areas adjacent to the park will not be confined to their homes while the president in participating in the wreath laying ceremony.
“We are not insisting for anybody to stay in the houses, all we are doing is creating a security zone in and around National Heroes Circle. The park itself will be a sterile zone , but persons will be allowed to stand on the periphery…..We would never want to insist on Jamaicans staying in their homes and not have an opportunity to come out and view the ceremony,” he said.
The president is scheduled to lay a wreath at National Heroes Park to honour veterans of the first and second World Wars.
Obama will also have bilateral talks with Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, with the state of the economy high on the agenda, he will then meet with CARICOM leaders at the UWI before attending a town hall meeting with young leaders from the Caribbean.
Obama’s visit is being hailed as significant by Christine Cummings, a lecturer in the Department of Government at the UWI.
Cummings pointed to Obama’s meeting at the region’s premier tertiary institution that in the past, hosted meetings involving the late United States Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King and the former anti-apartheid fighter and former South African President Nelson Mandela.
Meanwhile, the Jamaica government has said that President Obama’s visit is no longer being designated a State Visit.
It said the change takes into account the time constraints of the short duration of the visit and the established nature of a State Visit in the Jamaican context.
“Throughout the planning of the visit there has been, and continues to be, continuous dialogue between counterparts in the Government of Jamaica and the Government of the United States,” according to the official statement issued by Jamaica House.
It said both Kingston and Washington were committed to ensuring a successful and productive visit.