Not much to gain from Obama's visit
When the photographs are taken, when the friendly hugs are done, when the congenial hang-out is over, questions remain as to what Dominica and the rest of the Caribbean got out of their meeting in Jamaica with the US president, Barrack Obama, with the Barbadian political scientist, Peter Wickham warning that the region should not get "too excited".
"…we should therefore not expect this meeting to be much more than a photo opportunity," Wickham was quoted in the Barbadian media as saying.
It is widely believed that part of Washington's motive for the visit was to try to curb China's influence in the region. Dominica has depended on Beijing for much of its aid since Prime Minister Skerrit crossed the Black Ditch and ditched Taiwan for a relationship with China in 2004.
The American president confirmed his suspicions about China's relationship with Dominica and the region when he stated at a youth forum during his Kingston visit that Caribbean countries should check for any strings attached to aid and investment coming from Beijing.
"If China is making investments that are building infrastructure, improving education or helping the people, then we welcome that; we think that is great. The only thing is you've got to make sure you look at what strings may be attached," the American leader said in response to a question from one of the young people in the audience.
Energy and security were the main agenda items for the talks, bringing Venezuela's relationship with Dominica and the other ALBA countries into focus. These countries have benefitted from cheap oil from
Venezuela, which is currently the bane of Washington's life in the Caribbean region. The Americans would like Caracas' influence reduced by replacing it as a supplier of energy, one US-based Dominican foreign policy expert told The Sun. However, he said, this is not a workable alternative.
"There was the meeting on energy, but what the US was offering was to replace oil from Venezuela with its own oil," said this expert in reference to the Caribbean Energy Security Summit held in Washington, DC in January and hosted by the vice president, Joe Biden. "The region doesn't need that, what the region needs is to increase its renewable energy."
Obama announced at the Jamaica talks that the US would launch a US$20 million facility to encourage investment in clean energy projects to provide early-stage funding "to catalyze" greater private and public sector investment in clean energy projects. The leaders also agreed that the US will partner with Caribbean and Central American countries in a task force "to evaluate progress in our cooperation and identify concrete steps" to advance energy sector reform, regional integration, and clean energy development.
However, the environmentalist and hotelier, Athie Martin, is convinced that Dominica will not make much progress in its renewable energy drive because, he says, the approach is wrong. Martin accused the government of "latching on" to a single product, geo-thermal, instead of adopting a multi-pronged approach which includes wind and solar energy.
"I believe the sequencing of actions to get a sustainable resource from geo-thermal has become messed up. In the meantime, I think we've lost momentum on solar… the same thing with wind, the same thing for hydro," says Martin, a vocal critic of the Skerrit government.
"The question is what is the policy? I don't see the energy policy in coherent terms; I don't see how it is connected to the economy. The real story is yet another smokes and mirrors type of operation. You can go out there and make the world see you as a leader in renewable energy while at home we have a mess, we have a stinking mess," he adds.
According to Martin, with the meeting over, the talking done and the photographs taken, with business returning to normal at home, Dominicans still has nothing to celebrate from the Obama talks.