Friday, April 17, 2009 at 12:15 PM
Just days after Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, I previewed what this portended for the Caribbean as follows:
I feel constrained to note that, racial pride aside, those in the Caribbean who are heralding Obama’s election as the dawn of a new day in our relations with the United States are in for a rude awakening. After all, given the two wars, an unprecedented economic meltdown and other priorities he has to contend with, chances are that the Caribbean will not even figure in President Obama’s consciousness during his first term; except perhaps when he’s fantasizing about a vacation from the daily grind of his presidency.
But even if he manages to turn his attention to us, it would probably only be to cripple our banking industry by closing “loopholes” in the US tax code that allow American corporations and wealthy individuals to avoid taxation. They do this of course by using the offshore accounts that define our tax-haven status and generate critical revenues for our regional economy.
On the other hand, we can retain hope that Obama will honor his promise to “normalize” relations with Cuba.
[Obama elected US president and world celebrates "change" Caribbean Net News, November 7, 2008]
Alas, the communiqué from the recent G-20 summit in London has already codified the determination not only of Obama but of all the world’s most powerful leaders to abolish our tax haven status as previewed.
In fact it is noteworthy that, even though G-20 leaders met primarily to deal with the ongoing global financial crisis, dealing a blow to offshore banking in the Caribbean (and other tax havens) was their only notable accomplishment.
More to the point, as much as President Obama seems prepared to listen to all grievances at this weekend’s Fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, only a fool would entertain hope that he will offer any change to soften this G-20 blow.
Meanwhile, it is telling that, on Monday, Obama preempted any possibility of this summit amounting to anything more than a meet-and-greet gabfest when the White House announced the most significant shift in US policy toward Cuba in decades.
Granted, the changes – in particular, allowing unlimited travel and remittances to Cuba by Cuban Americans – fall far short of heeding the call of CARICOM leaders to lift the embargo. But again, only a fool would entertain hope that Obama will offer any further change in this respect at this summit.
Therefore, I urge CARICOM leaders to refrain from badgering him about lifting the 50-year embargo against Cuba. Instead, they would make a far more constructive contribution to this summit by announcing a date certain by which they will complete our 50-year effort to integrate our economies. Especially since this would give us a far more respected and influential voice in future discussions on hemispheric issues – from free trade to drug trafficking.
Incidentally, I have argued in related commentaries that it is foolhardy for CARICOM to make this embargo a more pressing issue in our relations with the US than many of the other issues that affect us more directly, including the unrelenting menace of Haitian refugees. And I’ve advised that it would be far more effective for our collective voice to be heard in Washington while policies are being formulated than at these summits when those policies have already been implemented.
At any rate, I am convinced that, if reelected, Obama will seal his legacy by lifting the embargo and normalizing relations with Cuba. But where I have advocated for this cause as a categorical imperative, I am not sure that CARICOM leaders fully appreciate what lifting the embargo augurs for our zero-sum regional economy. Be careful what you wish for…?
So, what’s the point of this Obama-centric summit?
Well, there is something to be said for welcoming the first black president of the United States to our shores with open arms. But frankly, I do not think we should expect much more than style and symbolism from Obama’s presidency.
Ironically, I suspect that history will judge George W. Bush a far more helpful president to CARICOM countries – in terms of foreign aid and economic policies – than either Bill Clinton or Barack Obama….
NOTE: It will be interesting to see how the wily Lula of Brazil and that bully Chávez of Venezuela manipulate discussions and images at this summit to appear more influential than the newbie Obama. To this end, watch for Lula to deploy his de Gaulle-like cunning; and for Chávez to display his Khrushchev-like bombast – perhaps even with a man-handling, Russian bear hug of Obama for the cameras.
ENDNOTE: The US is the only country that has steadfastly enforced this trade embargo. Therefore, it speaks volumes about its economic power that trade with the rest of the world has been insufficient to lift Cuba out of its 1950s stagnation.
Obama elected US president and world celebrates “change”
G-20 fails to stimulate or regulate global economy
…Fourth Summit of the America (2005)
CARICOM’s ironic, if not misguided, call to lift Cuban embargo
Mexico-US relationship is all about supply and demand … of cheap labor and drugs