Let Us Talk

April 16, 2009

President Obama Visits Trinidad and Tobago

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In advance of his trip to Trinidad and Tobago, President Obama wrote an op-ed that ran today in 15 Caribbean, Latin American and United States newspapers, promising the other nations of the western hemisphere “a new day” in their relationship to its most powerful member the US of A.

“Choosing a Better Future in the Americas” appeared in the St. Petersburg Times and Miami Herald, both of which serve substantial Cuban American readerships, in El Nuevo Herald – an American Spanish language newspaper, and in newspapers in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, Venezuela and the Trinidad Express of Trinidad and Tobago, where Obama will attend the Summit of the Americas Friday April 17 through Sunday, April 19.

Michelle Obama will not be accompanying the President.  She’s staying home with Malia and Sasha who are home on Spring break.

Below is the op-ed in its entirety:

Choosing a Better Future in the Americas
by President Barack Obama

As we approach the Summit of the Americas, our hemisphere is faced with a clear choice. We can overcome our shared challenges with a sense of common purpose, or we can stay mired in the old debates of the past. For the sake of all our people, we must choose the future.

Too often, the United States has not pursued and sustained engagement with our neighbors. We have been too easily distracted by other priorities, and have failed to see that our own progress is tied directly to progress throughout the Americas. My Administration is committed to the promise of a new day. We will renew and sustain a broader partnership between the United States and the hemisphere on behalf of our common prosperity and our common security.

In advance of the Summit, we have begun to move in a new direction. This week, we amended a Cuba policy that has failed for decades to advance liberty or opportunity for the Cuban people. In particular, the refusal to allow Cuban Americans to visit or provide resources to their families on the island made no sense – particularly after years of economic hardship in Cuba, and the devastating hurricanes that took place last year. Now, that policy has changed.

The U.S.-Cuba relationship is one example of a debate in the Americas that is too often dragged back to the 20th century. To confront our economic crisis, we don’t need a debate about whether to have a rigid, state-run economy or unbridled and unregulated capitalism – we need pragmatic and responsible action that advances our common prosperity. To combat lawlessness and violence, we don’t need a debate about whether to blame right-wing paramilitaries or left-wing insurgents – we need practical cooperation to expand our common security.

We must choose the future over the past, because we know that the future holds enormous opportunities if we work together. That is why leaders from Santiago to Brasilia to Mexico City are focused on a renewed partnership of the Americas that makes progress on fundamental issues like economic recovery, energy, and security.

There is no time to lose. The global economic crisis has hit the Americas hard, particularly our most vulnerable populations. Years of progress in combating poverty and inequality hangs in the balance. The United States is working to advance prosperity in the hemisphere by jumpstarting our own recovery. In doing so, we will help spur trade, investment, remittances, and tourism that provides a broader base for prosperity in the hemisphere.

We also need collective action. At the recent G-20 Summit, the United States pledged to seek nearly half a billion dollars in immediate assistance for vulnerable populations, while working with our G-20 partners to set aside substantial resources to help countries through difficult times. We have called upon the Inter-American Development Bank to maximize lending to restart the flow of credit, and stand ready to examine the needs and capacity of the IDB going forward. And we are working to put in place tough, clear 21st century rules of the road to prevent the abuses that caused the current crisis.

While we confront this crisis, we must build a new foundation for long-term prosperity. One area that holds out enormous promise is energy. Our hemisphere has bountiful natural resources that could make renewable energy plentiful and sustainable, while creating jobs for our people. In the process, we can confront climate change that threatens rising sea levels in the Caribbean, diminishing glaciers in the Andes, and powerful storms on the Gulf Coast of the United States.

Together, we have both the responsibility to act, and the opportunity to leave behind a legacy of greater prosperity and security. That is why I look forward to pursuing a new Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas that will help us learn from one another, share technologies, leverage investment, and maximize our comparative advantage.

Just as we advance our common prosperity, we must advance our common security. Too many in our hemisphere are forced to live in fear. That is why the United States will strongly support respect for the rule of law, better law enforcement, and stronger judicial institutions.

Security for our citizens must be advanced through our commitment to partner with those who are courageously battling drug cartels, gangs and other criminal networks throughout the Americas. Our efforts start at home. By reducing demand for drugs and curtailing the illegal flow of weapons and bulk cash south across our border, we can advance security in the United States and beyond. And going forward, we will sustain a lasting dialogue in the hemisphere to ensure that we are building on best practices, adapting to new threats, and coordinating our efforts.

Finally, the Summit gives every democratically-elected leader in the Americas the opportunity to reaffirm our shared values. Each of our countries has pursued its own democratic journey, but we must be joined together in our commitment to liberty, equality, and human rights. That is why I look forward to the day when every country in the hemisphere can take its seat at the table consistent with the Inter-American Democratic Charter. And just as the United States seeks that goal in reaching out to the Cuban people, we expect all of our friends in the hemisphere to join together in supporting liberty, equality, and human rights for all Cubans.

This Summit offers the opportunity of a new beginning. Advancing prosperity, security and liberty for the people of the Americas depends upon 21st century partnerships, freed from the posturing of the past. That is the leadership and partnership that the United States stands ready to provide.

President Obama’s visit to Trinidad and Tobago (T & T) is also a good time to revisit the relationship between the United States and Trinidad and Tobago that goes way back.

During the War of 1812 the Corps of Colonial Marines was a military regiment composed of runaway slaves and free blacks. The Corps was formed to help the British fight a war against the United States. The United States had declared war on Britain because the British had been seizing American ships and forcing the sailors into servitude and because the Americans wanted to take Canada from the British.

Once the British reached American soil in 1812, many slaves ran away from their owners and went to meet them, hoping that the British would free them. The British told these runaways that if they en­listed in the British military and fought against the Americans, they would be freed and could return to England as soldiers or receive their own land in other British colonies once the War was over. This new regiment of runaway slaves was called the Colonial Marines.

In 1814, British Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane landed in Georgia. He issued a proclamation that stated “all those who may be disposed to emigrate from the United States” should join British ships and enlist in the Colonial Marines. Approximately 1,500 slaves ran away from their owners and joined the British. These new soldiers were given the same pay and rations as the white British soldiers.

The Treaty of Ghent was signed in December 1814. It declared peace between England and the Unit­ed States. The War of 1812 was over. Many slave owners demanded that their slaves be returned. The British refused. They said that the slaves were on board British ships and those British ships counted as “British soil” which meant that the slaves were free.

Once the British sailed away from the United States, many of the Colonial Marines were relocated to the British colony of Trinidad where they settled as free citizens and their descendants still live today.

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