It has been a long election season since George Bush was returned to the White House for a second term. The Democrats took control of the Congress in 2006. In August that year Guyana’s Bharrat Jagdeo retained the presidency, leading his PPP-Civic coalition. In September 2007, Jamaicans went to the polls after a relatively short but fierce campaign, that brought Bruce Golding’s JLP to power after 18 years in the wilderness. In November Trinidad and Tobago also endured a grueling campaign that returned the PNM’s Patrick Manning to the prime ministership of the oil rich south Caribbean republic.
Barbados’ Prime Minister Owen Arthur, over the Christmas season announced a January 15 poll to seek an unprecedented fourth straight term for his Barbados Labour Party and in Belize Prime Minister Said Musa gave exactly a month’s notice for a general election February 7.
And now there is in progress the mother of all democratic elections in what is supposed to be the mother of all modern democracies. You might be excused if you’ve never heard of Arthur or David Thompson his Democratic Labour Party challenger; their only ambition is to lead a 166 square mile island with fewer than 300,000 people with mainly sand for tourism, offshore financial industries sugar and rum as a claim to fame. …we need to have a White House that will focus on the economic developmental needs of the region
Or who knows of the collapsed economy with a plethora of unregulated, unregistered investment schemes that the Jamaican Golding has inherited with soaring unemployment, spiraling crime and minuscule social services?
It’s the big show that we’re all attuned to, the wide-screen, high def contest for leadership of the besieged empire, battling European Union and Russian challenges for economic dominance and global influence, Chinese stealth industrial revolution and Islamic jihad.
It is almost redundant to ask what is the relevance of the US electoral process to the Caribbean region, its nationals in the States and first generation Caribbean Americans.
“The United States is the world’s largest/most powerful single economy,” said Garfield Whittaker, Adjunct Professor, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, California State University at Northridge, Los Angeles, when we posed the question to him.
“…The smaller nation-states within the neighboring much poorer Caribbean region needs to pro-actively solicit its economic attention – a reality compounded by the fact that tourism, the largest non-mineral money-earner in the region, depends heavily on American visitor arrivals. Further, most consumer goods trade (good or bad) within the Caribbean tends to be conducted with the USA. With this in mind we need to have a White House that will focus on the economic developmental needs of the region.”
In Whittaker’s view, “it is rational that Caribbean-Americans seek to vote for candidates with a favorable Caribbean political/economic agenda.”
So AbengNews Mag polled a group of publicly aware Caribbean nationals in North America and the region on the questions they’d like answered by the front runners in the US presidential primaries. In addition we perused the agenda issues being touted by the contestants.
The questions were submitted to the Barack Obama campaign and to the Hillary Clinton team through their Web sites where media requests are addressed:
On the assumption you could be successful in becoming US president we would appreciate your responses to the following Caribbean issues:
1. Caribbean countries have been largely ignored economically by the US with the end of the “Cold War”. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez is courting the region with oil through his PetroCaribe initiative and Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), a new regional economic integration body. ALBA threatens the US sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas. How will you address the issues of a US economic development role in the region and the perceived threats to US influence?
2. The lease on Guantanamo having expired since 2000, how soon would you move to withdraw American military from Cuban soil and what is your position on ending the economic blockade against the country?
3. How will you work to alleviate the economic and political instability in Haiti?
4. How will you work to stem the flow of illicit drugs destined to the USA and illegal gun exports from the USA that threaten the security and stability of islands such as Jamaica?
5. What is your view on the matter of independence for Puerto Rico?
The Obama campaign declined comment saying: “Thanks for your patience with an answer on this. Unfortunately, this is not something that we are going to be able to participate in.” Participate in?
Huckabee’s Secure America Plan, which would Discourage Dual Citizenship and: Inform foreign governments when their former citizens become naturalized U.S. citizens; Impose civil and/or criminal penalties on American citizens who illegitimately use their dual status e.g., using a foreign passport, voting in elections in both a foreign country and the U.S.
However, we did receive separate emails purportedly from Michelle Obama and Barack Obama seeking contributions.
The auto responder from the Clinton camp, signed ”Hillary”, promises a reply and solicits a donation, but had an endnote that would interest some Caribbean political contenders: “Corporate contributions are prohibited by law.”
So, how important is the region to US interests and are the issues relevant to the region being addressed by the candidates in the primaries?
Professor Whittaker believes that the region has lost some strategic military importance with the passing of the Cold War era.
“With the possible exception of oil rich Venezuela and Mexico, the Caribbean holds little economic value to the USA as a crucial trading partner,” he notes. “However the so called “War on Terror”, which is a conflict based significantly on stealth/covert operations, has presented a potentially new strategic front/opportunity for engagement in the Caribbean.”
Whittaker believes that the candidates will make pitches to Caribbean voters depending on whether those states where Caribbean voters live in sufficiently large numbers (e.g. New York and Florida) do hold influential numbers of electoral college votes.
“I will continue President Bush’s policy of pursuing indictments against any Cuban officials, including Raul Castro, responsible for crimes against U.S. Citizens.”
Huckabee As it stands, John McCain’s is the only platform which seems to offer a hand of mutuality towards the region. On the issue of border security, McCain proposes to, “Recognize the importance of building strong allies in Mexico and Latin America who reject the siren call of authoritarians like Hugo Chavez, support freedom and democracy, and seek strong domestic economies with abundant economic opportunities for their citizens.”
At the other extreme is Mike Huckabee’s Cuba policy: “As President, I will enforce and implement all provisions of U.S. law governing policy toward Cuba including the Libertad Act. I will continue President Bush’s policy of pursuing indictments against any Cuban officials, including Raul Castro, responsible for crimes against U.S. Citizens.”
Jamaica, which has been having a lively debate and constitutional cases on citizenship and eligibility for running for national office, will be particularly interested in point number eight of Huckabee’s Secure America Plan, which would “Discourage Dual Citizenship” and “Inform foreign governments when their former citizens become naturalized U.S. citizens; Impose civil and/or criminal penalties on American citizens who illegitimately use their dual status e.g., using a foreign passport, voting in elections in both a foreign country and the U.S.”
And for those huddled Caribbean masses, intent on eloping to the American paradise, the word from the former Arkansas governor is, “My number one priority is to secure America’s border. I opposed the amnesty bill that was defeated by the Senate in June.”
NAFTA and its potential were oversold to the American people. Obama will work with the leaders of Canada and Mexico to fix NAFTA so that it works for American workers Obama’s seems to be a protectionist agenda which will “pressure the World Trade Organization to enforce trade agreements and stop countries from continuing unfair government subsidies to foreign exporters and non-tariff barriers on U.S. Exports.” He would also seek to amend the North American Free Trade Agreement as he believes that “NAFTA and its potential were oversold to the American people. Obama will work with the leaders of Canada and Mexico to fix NAFTA so that it works for American workers,” according to his site.
If the contenders are distant from Caribbean interests, Professor Whittaker is not prepared to speculate on whether Caribbean voters are sufficiently engaged in the process.
“I am not sure because I have no hard data on our voting numbers/trends across the nation at this time,” he said. “We lack comprehensive census data on the number of Caribbean-American citizens who vote. Part of that reality is due to the fact that the US National Census Bureau does not break out data under the Caribbean classification, except for those from Puerto Rico and Cuba under the heading of Hispanic/Latino etc.”
No doubt there are domestic issues being addressed by all the candidates that should have positive value for Caribbean people resident in the USA but the level of engagement for the region and the hemisphere is probably not of major concern in the primaries. They are of as much concern as the elections and liberal democratic traditions the CARICOM countries now attract.
It is likely when the nominees have been determined later in the year, when it is harvest time in the political season, that we will begin to hear pertinent rhetoric, or peripheral vision will gain value; that, or Caribbean people will need to learn the Hillary post-Iowa on-the-verge of tears technique.