Obama Tours Bob Marley’s Kingston With Cuba Policy in Limbo

When President Barack Obama leaves Jamaica Thursday night, his brief visit will have included a guest-book signing, a university town hall, meetings with 13 Caribbean heads of state and a trip to the Bob Marley museum.

The stop in Jamaica -- where the president will be for less than 24 hours -- precedes Obama’s attendance at the Summit of the Americas in Panama, at which diplomats and dissidents will watch his interaction with Cuban President Raul Castro. Obama’s visit to Jamaica, where he plans to discuss energy and security, has been overshadowed by steps to remove Cuba from a list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Obama on Thursday said the State Department had completed the review of Cuba’s terrorist links, and sent it to the White House. He didn’t say what the department concluded.

“Our emphasis has been on the facts,” Obama said after meeting with Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. “Our interagency team will go through” the review and “present it to me. That hasn’t happened yet.”

In April 2014, the State Department’s Report on Terrorism found Cuba’s ties to a Basque rebel group had become more distant, and the Havana government relocated about eight of two dozen ETA members in Cuba with Spain’s help. Cuba also hosted and brokered peace talks in Colombia between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces, according to the 2014 report.

Marley Museum

After arriving in Kingston Wednesday night, Obama and top aides toured the Bob Marley Museum. The reggae singer’s “One Love” song played on overhead speakers as Obama glanced at images of Marley’s albums and awards. The singer died in 1981.

“Bob Marley is a legend and I love his music,” U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice said in a Wednesday Twitter post. “Great fun to visit his house in Kingston with President Obama.”

Obama said the museum visit was “one of the more fun meetings that I’ve had since I’ve been president.”

Obama hugged Simpson Miller as he arrived early Thursday for his bilateral meeting. He has praised her for how the nation navigated a debt crisis and drought in the last year.

After restructuring debt in 2013, Simpson Miller’s government cut tax deductions, limited wage growth in the public sector and last year generated the first budget surplus since 1995.

IMF Praise

The moves won accolades from the International Monetary Fund. “There has been significant progress in implementing the needed reforms,” the Washington-based lender said in a June 5 report.

Meeting with heads of state in the Caribbean Community and Common Market, or CARICOM, Obama unveiled an initiative to replace “expensive and often unreliable” energy for cleaner, more affordable sources. He said high energy costs are a barrier to economic development.

The effort includes a fund to lure private investment in clean-energy projects in the region, the president said.

“I’m confident that given the commitment of the CARICOM countries and the U.S. commitment, that this is an issue in which we can make great strides over the short term and even greater strides over the long term,” Obama said.

Venezuelan Oil

In advance of a summit at which Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro plans to confront Obama over recent U.S. sanctions, the Caribbean meeting sought to emphasize the administration’s push to limit Venezuela’s influence in the region.

Venezuela, which has used as much as $50 billion in subsidized oil in the past decade to win allies from St. Lucia to Cuba, has struggled with a shrinking economy and 69 percent inflation.

Cuba could also come up at the Caribbean meeting, said Damion Blake, a former consultant for Jamaica’s Ministry of National Security who teaches political science at Elon University in North Carolina.

“With the thawing relations between U.S. and Cuba, many Caribbean nations are asking: What will this now mean for our tourism and economy?’” he said.

Before leaving Kingston for Panama, Obama plans to host a town hall with young Caribbean leaders and participate in a wreath-laying ceremony to honor veterans at National Heroes Park.

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