Obama hype sweeps Trinidad and Tobago

April 17th, 2009 - 11:59 am ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama Port of Spain, April 17 (DPA) Obama-mania has struck Trinidad and Tobago like a hurricane - though the Caribbean country is set to host 34 country leaders from across the Americas, residents only seem to care about US President Barack Obama.
“I would like to shake his hand,” said Trinidadian Shanti McKenzie.

McKenzie was clad in a T-shirt with Obama’s face.

“It’s a good thing that he’s coming,” she said. “I wish he was our new prime minister here.”

Like many of her compatriots, McKenzie is convinced that Obama “will be a great change” for Latin America and the Caribbean.

“I hope he can also bring a change in Trinidad,” she gushed.

Shanti made her way toward the centre of Port of Spain, stopping at some of the many street stands selling all kinds of Obama-themed souvenirs.

Beyond T-shirts, badges, stickers and poster-sized inauguration photographs of the US president and his wife, Michelle, are on offer. Indeed, local media have expressed disappointment that the first lady did not join her husband for the Organization of American States (OAS) meeting.

Arestes Belford is selling more up-to-date memorabilia, including photographs with the coats of arms of Trinidad and the US and a reference to the Summit of the Americas.

Belford expects the island to give a warm welcome to all its guests but admits that there is special anticipation for Obama.

“Trinidad is a welcoming place. That is our symbol,” he said. “It is for everybody, but the thing is that (Obama) is the star of the show.”

Belford is from Trinidad and Tobago but currently resides in Brooklyn, New York. He could not miss an occasion like this to travel to his native country.

“It’s the first black (US) president and the first one to come to Trinidad in a very long time. I can’t remember the last US president who came to Trinidad,” he said.

Behind Belford, the giant screen over a fast-food restaurant between adverts showed music videos from local artists that are dedicated to Obama.

“Barack, Barack, it’s Obama, first black president in White House, yo. A moment I’m so glad to see,” raps local star Third Bass on the screen in the main avenue of the country’s capital.

Ishmail Ismad walks down the same avenue with a poster on which he demands that the summit pay attention to Haiti. As a slogan, he borrows one from Obama’s campain: “Yes we can.”

“Obama represents change, hope,” Ismad said. “He says change has come to America, that means it’s come to the world. I’m optimistic, and I like his mantra, ‘yes we can’.”

Albert, another man who sells Obama memorabilia on the street, is in no doubt.

“The big boss is coming, the big boss. After God, he’s the boss,” he stressed. “The world respects Obama, we also do.”

Beyond the international echo of the presence of the first black US president in Trinidad and Tobago, Albert rejoices about its more mundane aspects.

“In Trinidad, we need many things getting done, and nobody listens to us. Now Obama is coming, and we are getting everything done, the streets,” he said. “I wish he would come every six months, then everything here would be very nice.”

A large percentage of the Trinidad and Tobago population of 1.3 million are of Indian origin. Their forefathers came from India’s Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states to work on the sugar and cocoa plantations here between 1845 and 1917.

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