President Obama is scheduled to visit Jamaica in a few days. Like a household expecting the vicar to come for tea, the government is busily trying to tidy up and make the place look presentable. The most noticeable evidence is a seemingly rushed and yet timely repairing of roads in areas where the presidential motorcade is likely to travel. However, as happens when you’ve had a history of not being frank and honest, the government’s comments about why these repairs are happening now are taken as being pure eyewash. (Maybe, many people don’t know about eye wash products like Optrex.) In typical fashion, too, the person having to face the music of public discord is a relative minion, a director from the National Works Agency, who make the repairs, not a ‘heavyweight’ like a Cabinet minister, who could justify a policy decision. The poor man looks like an about-to-be-slaughtered lamb. True, the ‘special works program’ might well have been underway already, and may just coincide with the State visit, but give the people some credit for doubting that.  

Coincidential special road repairs?

Of course, the government can’t stand up and take credit for wanting to show off the country because, so often, that pride of place is woefully absent. We can’t link everything to the Riverton Fire, but remember the place generally looks like a pig sty because we’ve underfunded our national garbage service and put no priority on environmental care and cleanliness. The debris in Kingston Harbour is not so visible from the air, otherwise, we might have seen more ‘special works’ there. But, the cruddy state of many roadsides is obvious to all but the blind, and surprise, we see a wave of clean-up in Kingston being hastily done in the past days. 

Naturally, we were due to badly embarrassed. But, better maybe, to spray some Breeze over everything rather than have to replace all the furniture on which the cat has peed. If the care people expect had been shown consistently this faffing around at the last minute wouldn’t be necessary. 

President Obama, like most dignitaries, know full well that his visit will generate sprucing up. He and American government agencies do the same. He’s normally a smart cookie so will be able to see the obvious ‘whitewash’ that lines his routes. We can just hope and pray that JPS are on the same page and don’t allow any outages to occur that will show the darker side of life Jamaican. The hotels that have been booked out for the visit all have generators, so should be able to work seamlesslessly, if JPS sneezes.

Sadly, the maintenance of good living conditions hasn’t been evident for most people for a long time. So, the white wash will soon turn yellow as we continue to deal with inadequate schools, poor medical facilities, disgusting environmental degradation, waste of public resources that don’t disappear because Marescaux Road looks spic and span. 

State visits don’t just emerge out of nowhere. Though we don’t know precisely what’s on President Obama’s mind, we can guess that matters to do with Jamaica’s role and policies relating to international drug trade, regional security issues, economic progress, and relationships with Cuba may be on the agenda. Looking back at recent comments by U.S. officials, one can see some possible ‘trial balloons’ sent up

The apparent claim by a senior military official that Jamaicans were among ISIS recruits sounds like a warning bell about concerns for weak oversight of possible terrorism breeding grounds. The quick rebuttal by security minister Bunting and his stressing how well we cooperate on security issues was significant. 

The IMF has its own agenda, though never forget who is the major shareholder. But, the way that Jamaica has put a gleam in its eyes is not trivial. The June 2014 visit to Jamaica by the IMF MD put icing on a cake that had been well baked. Jamaica’s continued passing of IMF tests is also putting it in a very good place as at last being credible as a potential economic pillar in the region. 

Comments were made in January by a US drug enforcement official about concerns for international rules when it was clear that Jamaica was headed toward loosening policy on marihuana use. We should know US concerns that we are an important conduit for illegal drug movements

Also, you don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to wonder about the incident last week with an ‘white man with an American accent’ creating a security scare at the U.S. Embassy in Kingston. We soon learned from CVMTV that he’d found his ideal nest with some of Kingston’s worst-heeled citizens. No hanging out on the beaches of Negril? You can’t make this stuff up. Or can you? 

The US worries about any country on its periphery that can be seen as a weak link in the region and thus a potential crack in the wall of regional stability. It should be no secret that we’ve been seen by the U.S. as too vulnerable on many fronts

Will the State visit give the U.S. the assurances it seeks? Probably. What will we get as a result of that, other than a pat on the head? That’s the other side of the equation. We have a long ‘shopping list’ of needs. We could do with more resources to help us fix roads, for sure. Investments? Sure, but where and in what? Those who feel uncomfortable with the growing footprint of Chinese involvement in the economy would probably welcome greater U.S. economic involvement. For their part, our American friends would probably think hard about raising such involvement without signs that accountability and transparency will feature more in Jamaican public affairs. Which brings us back to where we started. Tell us, honestly, why are these roads being repaired now. 

Anyway, as a one-time resident of Washington DC, I’m looking forward to seeing POTUS locked in combat with a handful of jerk chicken, with added pepper sauce, and ready to pass out as he takes his first bite of that and some festival. Pass the man a Red Stripe!

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