DAVIE – Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding told South Florida residents last week that Jamaicans abroad serve as the island's “greatest ambassadors.”
Speaking to a standing-room only crowd at Nova Southeastern University, Golding, who was sworn in as Jamaica's eighth prime minister last year, visited South Florida last week as part of his first official visit to the United States.
“[Jamaicans] may be abroad for many years, but in so many respects they never left home,’’ Golding said at the March 28 town hall meeting. “Whenever we celebrate, they celebrate.
Whenever we face challenges, they face challenges, too.’’
Golding was invited to speak at the university by the Shepard Broad Law Center's Caribbean Law program.
Golding told the crowd of about 500 people that the island could not survive without the support of Jamaicans abroad, who collectively sent back $2.1 billion to the island in 2007.
An estimated 250,000 Jamaicans live in Florida, including at least 150,000 in South Florida, according to Census reports. Jamaican leaders say the statewide numbers are closer to 400,000.
“You work hard in an environment and a climate that is not your own,’’ he said, speaking to South Florida's Jamaican community. “Thank you for helping keep hope alive in Jamaica.
Without you, the flame may have gone out along time ago.’’
Golding, the leader of the Jamaican Labour Party, began his career in politics in 1972 at the age of 24, becoming the youngest person ever elected to Jamaica's parliament, a record that still stands.
During his hour-long speech, Golding spoke about a variety of topics, including eliminating tuition fees for high schools, strengthening early education, finding alternative sources of energy, lowering health care costs and targeting assistance for the poor. Golding said about 365,000 Jamaicans are currently living below the poverty line.
“Jamaica is too rich to be so poor,’’ he said, “too bright to be struggling so. We need to get ourselves structured. We need to get focused.’’
Golding said he’s working to eliminate tuition fees because too many students are being kept out of school because their parents can’t afford it.
“That's not an option,’’ he said. “Some things we have a duty to provide if people pay their taxes.’’
Speaking of the need for alternative sources of energy, Golding said: “We do not want to be the yo-yo at the end of the energy cartel string.’’
Jamaican Consul General Ricardo Allicock said the packed event proved South Florida's ties to Jamaica were strong.
“There is no doubt evidenced by the numbers in this room that there is great care and concern, love and hope for our dear nation, Jamaica,’’ Allicock said. “And you must know that just as you reach out to Jamaica, so does Jamaica reach out to you. Of all the Diaspora communities that there are in North America, our honorable prime minister chose this community to be the first to visit.”
Anthony Johnson, who serves as Jamaica's ambassador to Washington D.C., said he was proud of his country's great strides in the South Florida community.
“I have lived to see 400,000 of my country men packed up down here and not at the bottom of the barrel,’’ Johnson said. “Be good citizens of Florida, but never forget Jamaica.’’