Two leading political commentators are not expecting any significant outcomes to emerge from tomorrow’s talks between United States President Barack Obama and Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders in Jamaica.
But Dr Don Marshall and Peter Wickham suggested the region’s heads should use the occasion to bring their concerns to the table.
Wickham said Barbadians and others in the region should not get “too excited”, noting that Obama’s visit fell in line with a trend by his predecessors to prioritize foreign policy during their final term.
“I think the timing is significant, especially as it comes in the president’s lame duck term which is historically the term when foreign affairs takes centre stage with American presidents as they might feel less obligated to deal with domestic matters since there is no possibility of re-election. Presumably this was the motivation behind the rather bold step towards Cuba and there is a good basis to think that would be his major Caribbean intervention and we should therefore not expect this meeting to be much more than a photo opportunity,” he said in an interview with Barbados TODAY.
While suggesting that the one-on-one talks with Obama would be good exposure for the new heads, namely Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris of St Kitts & Nevis and Antigua and Barbuda’s Gaston Browne, Wickham suggested the meeting’s agenda was missing some critical matters.
“The talking points based on what the regional leaders identified suggest that issues such as trade and energy will be on the table and both of these are well defined within the context of recent history, and therefore significant concessions are unlikely. We also need to remember that the Americans are still technically at loggerheads with Antigua regarding a trade matter and it is noteworthy that this does not appear to be on the agenda and PM Browne is himself not slated to speak on behalf of CARICOM,” Wickham noted.
The political scientist and pollster is however keen on observing how Obama treats bilateral talks with host Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, particularly on the issue of gay rights.
“Since his tenure has been one of the more progressive in terms of gay rights and he is visiting the country renowned to be the region’s most homophobic, certainly the possibility that he takes the opportunity to raise this issue from the perspective of human rights might yet emerge as the meeting’s defining moment,” he said.
Meantime, Marshall agreed that the public should not expect any significant outcomes immediately following Obama’s visit.
However, the director of the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute for Social and Economic Studies at the University of the West Indies told Barbados TODAY the talks present an opportunity for CARICOM to “use diplomacy to woo support for its causes”.
“Certainly we need to engage the United States on accepting that Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are at the frontlines of climate change and require some technical assistance and funding to support its climate readiness, climate adjustments and to improve its monitoring,” he said.
“That would assist us in cushioning the impact or mitigating the worst effects of climate change. So where there are challenges to fisherfolk livelihoods because of sea level rise, we want to be able to tackle those things; where there are special vulnerabilities as a result of hurricanes and so on, we want to be able to withstand those effects. Those are the kinds of assistance we need, and bear in mind that 22 of the 29 small island states are deemed to be middle income countries and hence are not given any concessionary finance and that has to change.”
Marshall also advised governments to send a clear message that the Caribbean operates clean financial jurisdictions.
“We should settle with the United States as well as clarify how we conduct wealth management business, how we are a region that does not facilitate illegal conduct and illegal business . . . and we should give them evidence of the Caribbean’s longstanding commitment to ensuring that it conducts clean business.”
He added: “If there are critical issues that we bring to the table, that they bring to the table . . . and there is an agenda for ensuring that the concerns are addressed then there is progress. If, however, it is just an exchange then we are only ticking boxes in relations to the kind of things President Obama would have wanted to achieve before his two terms are up.”
Obama touched down in Jamaica on Air Force One tonight.
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and his colleagues, Dominican Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit and Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar will address the summit on Competitiveness, Prosperity, Renewable Energy and Security respectively.