Barack Obama’s victory in the US election yesterday will no doubt please most Caribbean people. But his victory makes little difference in terms of US policy towards the region. The Caribbean did not feature at all the campaigns of either Mr Obama or Mitt Romney. There was no reason why it should. Despite the awkward fit, our region is lumped together with Latin America for all US policy matters, and only two Caribbean countries – Haiti and Cuba – get special attention. Haiti’s poverty irks America’s conscience for historical reasons stretching back to the 18th century while Cuba, similarly, blips as a Cold War ideological echo on America’s political radar.
It is possible that, under a Romney presidency, America would have adopted a harder line to Cuba, which would have necessitated an oppositional stance by Caricom and therefore Trinidad and Tobago. Obama in his first term had already adopted a more conciliatory approach, but this has no bearing on wider Caribbean issues. As for Haiti, a Democratic president is more apt to pay attention to Haiti’s problems while a Republican one may have adopted a more hard-line approach. That is because foreign aid is contingent on domestic demands, and Democratic voters tend to be more concerned with providing aid for poorer nations than Republican ones.
But America’s greatest foreign policy influence is not only in its economy, but also in its values. Thus, broadly speaking, Republican domestic policies tend to restrict women’s rights, immigration rights, encourage religious fundamentalism, and retard scientific progress. These effects are constrained within the checks and balances of the American political system, but can influence leaders in societies where such effects are more pernicious. Democratic administrations are generally more liberal.
Insofar as Trinidad and Tobago features in America’s foreign policy agenda, it is in relation to issues which may not redound to our benefit. The US State Department is not happy with this country’s legal handling of the case involving Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson; they may also not be pleased with T&T’s efforts to patrol drug trafficking in our coastal waters; and there is also the issue of certain nationals being linked to terrorist groups.
Now that President Obama need not focus his energies on political campaigning, he may engage more fully with international issues, even as he focuses on getting the US economy back on track. This is because, like most US presidents, he would want to leave a legacy, even beyond being that nation’s first black president. The romance remains, and it may be good for the world that Obama will now serve a full two terms in office and have the opportunity to create the change that he once so inspirationally promised.