Columns

Questions for a second-term Obama

Concerns of CARICOM

BY RICKEY SINGH Observer Caribbean correspondent

Tuesday, November 06, 2012 | 6:40 PM    

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BARBADOS — Given all the poll-driven hype about a likely dead-heat result in the presidential contest between the incumbent Barack Obama and his challenger Mitt Romney, fervent hopes would be against a repetition of the agonising political fiasco of 2002.

Then, electoral malpractices in the state of 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 the former vice-president of ex-President Bill Clinton.

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 elections stealing and high-finance fraudsters.

The nature of the 2000 presidential campaign and its final outcome would also have further weakened the moral justification for iron-fisted opposition by successive administrations in Washington 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 today’s vote — regarded as one, if not the tightest, presidential contests in America’s history — will confirm a second-term for Obama 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.

China, Cuba & Venezuela

Will, for instance, a second-term Obama, eloquent in rhetoric on meaningful relations with the nations of this hemisphere, finally step up to the proverbial 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 and leading entrepreneurs and decision-makers in the private sector in 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 value to 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 political 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 & 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 President Chavez’s pre and post-re-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 in Trinidad and Tobago and Colombia respectively, the question remains: Will a second-term President Obama do anything differently and meaningfully, to improve US-Caribbean relations?

Vital rum trade

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

Will this and other concerns by Caricom over relations with the USA be matters for resolution by a second-term Obama or the first-time Romney?

We wait for the verdict, but my bet is still on Obama.

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