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Obama, Caricom may meet Friday

A meeting between US President Barack Obama and all Caricom leaders is being organised "tentatively" for tomorrow night, after the opening ceremony of the Fifth Summit of the Americas, Government sources said Wednesday. The exact time is still to be decided.

Caricom leaders will also meet with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Saturday at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.

Obama, who is due to arrive in Trinidad and Tobago tomorrow, has also requested a meeting with South American leaders and the Chilean President, Veronica Michelle Bachelet Jeria, has been asked to arrange this.

Obama has reportedly said that time constraints would have made individual meetings with the various leaders difficult.

The opening ceremony starts at 5 p.m., but cocktails are to be served between 7 and 9 p.m.

Originally, Caricom leaders had planned to meet today before the official start of the summit. Prime Minister Patrick Manning had asked Caricom leaders to arrive one day early to have a meeting with the Canadian Prime Minister. The Canadian PM is expected to return to Canada via Jamaica, where he was due to pay an official visit. While some leaders are already here, others are still to come in. By tomorrow, everybody (all Caricom heads) will be here, sources assured, adding that it is understood that even Barbuda (which is not a member of Caricom) is expected.

Sources said the proposed Caricom/Obama meeting would be important because it comes at a time when Caricom economies are suffering from the global economic crisis, specifically the tourism failures, significant dropouts in remittances (from families living in North America), the contraction in employment in the bauxite companies in Jamaica, exacerbating their problems over access in the European market for their sugar and banana, arising out of US objections in support of American fruit multinationals operating in Latin America.

These problems have all led to serious internal adjustments, for example the significant ministerial pay cut in Jamaica as part of the institution of a pay freeze in an effort to save 22,000 public sector jobs.

Given Caricom's support for the lifting of the suspension against Cuba, it is likely that this issue may feature in these discussions. It is expected it would also be a subject of discussion in Obama's discussions with the South American leaders. Last December, Caricom renewed its call for the lifting of the suspension at the Caricom/Cuba Summit in Havana.