Mark Lee

About Mark Lee

Editor, author and writer with career spanning print, radio, television and new media.

The fighter jets rumbling into Barbados to protect US President Barrack Obama who is scheduled to attend the 5th

Summit of the Americas, in Port of Spain, Trinidad reminds us that we do not live in an ideal world. The secretaries general of the host Organization of American States (OAS) and co-host the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have made it clear that issue number one is addressing how to ease the impacts of the global financial crisis on the peoples of the hemisphere.

Although this April 17-19 summit has its historic features as being one of firsts: in a Caribbean country, for Obama and for two thirds of the 34 leaders, this is not a confab merely to get to know the charming and intelligent new man in the White House. Nor is it a public relations coup to kick start Trinidad and Tobago’s tourism industry.

“Our governments must work together diligently to ensure that the economic crisis is resolved as quickly as possible, to make the future more secure for everyone,” CARICOM Secretary General Edwin Carrington said in a statement a few months ago. “The people of the Americas need to know that their elected leaders are taking steps, in both the short and long term, to address their needs.”

The economic agenda is straightforward for the summit being held under the banner of “Securing Our Citizens’ Future by Promoting Human Prosperity, Energy Security and Environmental Sustainability.” Indeed the “Declaration of Commitment of Port of Spain” that embodies a string of noble ideals and requests of the various multilateral institutions, has been drafted months in advance and is merely to be rubber stamped by the heads.

At issue is whether the leaders will move from the realm of platitudes to political action on things that occupy the minds of the man and woman in the street. The issues that should stir debate may include the criminality that is undermining Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Haiti and the not so mundane but perennial matter of Cuba’s admission to the OAS.

As blogger Michael Singh wrote responding to the post of Dennis McComie, spokesman Secretariat of the 5th Summit of the Americas: “Whilst it is certainly an accomplishment and an accolade that the Government of T&T is playing host to this summit – one must not lose sight of the pressing issues confronting the wider Caribbean Region. These are mainly:

  1. Corruption in high offices – both the public and private sector.
  2. Increased marginalisation of the poor, the dispossessed and voiceless sectors of the wider population at large.
  3. Increased racist tendencies by those in power in places such as Guyana towards the African community and likewise the same prevailing in terms of strained race relations between the supporters of the major political parties in T&T itself.
  4. The loss of faith by the young populace in the traditional forms of education, governance and socio-economic development with many becoming stooges or pawns in the global narco-trafficking, money laundering and gun running sectors of growth.”

Those specifics many not make it to the discussion in Port of Spain although they have in generalities.

We know that Brazil, one of the five hemispheric countries that participated in the recent G20 summit in London (Argentina, Canada, Mexico and the USA were the others), has already committed resources to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as part of the broader attempt to stem the global financial crisis. President Lula da Silva is reported to have said Brazil is prepared to support the IMF, with ten billion US dollars, 5 per cent of its international reserves, with the purpose of boosting its position in the multilateral financial organization and said he would like to see much of that made available to South American countries.

The George W. Bush administration did not pay much attention to development issues with its southern neighbours and when Abeng News surveyed the positions of the candidates during the presidential primaries season, we concluded that only Republican John McCain seemed to have a clear cut statement that addressed not just  Cuba, as in the case of Huckabee or NAFTA as with Obama. McCain’s  manifesto “recognize(d) 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.”

What is not clear is whether what has changed with Obama and the Democrats is strategy and not objective, meaning that ultimately US policy is consistent.

Obama’s “A New Partnership for the Americas” document, presented later in the campaign, mentions among other things,  doubling foreign assistance to $50 billion, achieving the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, fighting corruption and establishing a fund for small and medium enterprises.

The section on trade seems, understandably, to set out to protect American interest. Under the sub-head “Fight for Fair Trade”, it reads: “At 7 percent of Gross Domestic Product, our trade deficit has never been higher. Barack Obama will fight for a trade policy that opens up foreign markets to support good jobs. He will use trade agreements to spread good labor and environmental standards around the world and stand firm against agreements like the Central American Free Trade Agreement that fail to live up to those important benchmarks.”

But there seems little change in Cuba policy: “As president, Obama would take steps to liberalize relations with Cuba now while holding back important incentives such as relaxation of the trade embargo and greater foreign aid so that we can encourage change in a post-Fidel government.”

Contrast that to the position of Senator Richard G. Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who wrote Obama on March 30, asking him to appoint a special envoy to initiate direct talks with Cuba’s communist government.

According to Lugar, the summit in Port of Spain would present a “unique opportunity for you to build a more hospitable climate to advance U.S. interests in the region through a change in our position regarding Cuba policy.”

Former Cuban president and leader of the revolution that led to the nearly 50-year-old embargo, Dr Fidel Castro, in a response to Lugar’s proposal was coy in his chiding of Obama.

“When President Barack Obama is touring the world affirming, as he has done in his own country, that that it is necessary to invest the whatever sums are necessary in order to emerge from the financial crisis, guarantee the housing in which numerous families are living, guarantee employment for U.S. workers who are losing jobs in their millions, instigating health services and a quality education for all citizens, how can this be reconciled with blockade measures to impose his will on a country like Cuba?”

An April 2 news release said that OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, met with US Congressman Gregory Meeks (D-NY), who announced the launching of a new Caucus with the goal of actively seeking a new approach of the United States towards the member states of the regional organization.

Congressman Meeks took the initiative to launch the Caucus stating that “the time is ripe to shape a more productive relationship between the United States and our neighbors in the Americas”.

Insulza enthusiastically embraced the idea and expressed his satisfaction for what he considered a sign “of the good relations between the OAS and the US Congress” in seeking a new approach towards the region.

Hopefully Meeks will have reached out to Lugar and Castro’s question may be repeated by some of the leaders in Port of Spain. But one wonders what would be achieved by any new entreaties made in Trinidad, including that by CARICOM leaders who are seeking to meet Obama to discuss their dire situation, when the Declaration of Commitment of Port of Spain is a secured fait accompli.

Caption (top): Canadian military jet that transported Caribbean troops and police, at Piarco Intl, Trinidad.