Monday, January 22, 2018

Questions for US president


Mark Fraser

GIVEN all the polls-driven hype about a likely deadheat result in the presidential contest between Barack Obama and his challenger Mitt Romney, fervent hopes would be against a repetition of the agonising political fiasco of 2000.

Then, electoral malpractices in Florida made necessary an intervention by the US Supreme Court to declare victory for the Republicans’ George W Bush over the Democrats’ Al Gore. That highly controversial ruling was fatal to the political aspirations of Gore who was Bill Clinton’s vice president.

It was to result in one of the most widely referenced and highly acclaimed books in investigative journalism—The Best Democracy Money Can Buy—by Greg Palast, and to heighten Americans’ watch against election-stealing and high finance fraudsters.

The nature of the 2000 presidential campaign and its final outcome, as documented by others as well, would also have further weakened the moral justification for iron-fisted opposition by successive administrations in Washington (Democrats and Republicans) against governance systems elsewhere, none better known in the Latin American/Caribbean region than official United States’ obsession with Cuba.

However, on the assumption that the declared results of what’s regarded as one, if not the tightest, presidential contest in America’s history, will confirm a second term for Obama—possibly by a majority of the popular votes as well as the decisive ballots of the electoral colleges—there is an immediate question of interest for the governments and peoples of our Caribbean/Latin America region:

Will, for instance, the second-term Obama, eloquent in rhetoric for meaningful relations with the nations of this hemisphere, finally step up to the plate with new initiatives on trade and economic benefits, as well as for ending the hostility with Venezuela and the age-old economic blockade against Cuba?

We know of Mitt Romney’s obsession with China as an emerging economic superpower, and why he so glaringly scoffed at US-China relations under Obama as he eyed the White House as the likely new tenant for the next four years.

But governments as well as leading entrepreneurs and decision-makers in the private sector of the Caribbean, including Trinidad and Tobago, would have a more realistic view of China’s growing interest as a sympathetic trade and economic partner in this region.

Equally, they would be conscious of the benefits for this region if an administration in Washington could better demonstrate an understanding of how lessening the tension in relations with Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela and matured responses to Cuba under Raoul Castro could result in significant gains for all interested parties.

Both Venezuela and Cuba are generally regarded as valuable partners to the Caribbean Community countries.

In the case of Venezuela, its flagship Petro-Caribe project has emerged over the years as quite vital to Caricom states coping with constantly rising fuel prices and a stubborn economic recession. The two exceptions with Petro-Caribe are Trinidad and Tobago — known for its largely energy-based economic sector — and Barbados.

But all of Caricom, with varying reasons, from Jamaica in the northern sub-region to Suriname and Guyana in South America and across the Eastern Caribbean, understand the pluses for improved Washington-Caracas relations. Hence, the positive embrace given to Chavez’s pre- and post-election gestures to President Obama last month. So far as Cuba is concerned, successive US administrations from John Kennedy in the 1960s to that of Obama’s know only too well of the historical political and cultural bonds that bind the government and people of Cuba with those of Caricom, and underscored by negotiated accords fashioned over three decades.

Therefore, beyond the admirable rhetoric uttered and the public relations gestures displayed during the Fifth and Sixth Summit of the Americas he addressed respectively in T&T and Colombia, the question remains: Will a second-term President Obama do anything differently and meaningfully, to improve US-Caribbean relations?

At this time while, on the one hand there are concerns over secret initiatives for the United States to engage in the politics of unmanned drones criss-crossing the Caribbean in a new strategy to combat drug-trafficking, there are now open protestations in this region over a Washington administration’s discriminatory treatment of this region’s critical rum trade with America.

Just Monday, while the long and bitter Obama/Romney battle for occupancy of the White House was heading for yesterday’s ballot counting, Barbados’ Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Dr David Estwick, went public with a warning that his government would team up with Caricom partners in filing complaints against the US to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in order to save their vital rum exports.

Will this and other concerns by Caricom over relations with the US be matters for resolution by a second-term Obama or the first-time Romney? We should have the verdict by the time you read this. My bet is still on Obama.