US elections and the future of US-Caribbean relations

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The US presidential elections evoke a natural fascination here in the Caribbean. Not only because we share the same hemisphere, but especially how we consume US television and its cultural exports. Mr. Biden, the democratic nominee and Mr. Trump, the (presumptive) republican nominee have different approaches to US relations in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). True, since 1990s the Caribbean has lost much of its strategic significance to Washington. Yet, our region urgently needs a new chapter in its relations with the US.

Mr. Trump’s America’s First policy has seen the US abandon multilateral alliances and other wide-ranging agendas to engage with our region; we’ve further drifted apart. Mr. Trump skipped the 2018 Summit of the Americas and during a 2019 meeting with Caribbean leaders, he didn’t consider pressing problems facing the Caribbean such as climate change and HIV. He only discussed the Venezuelan crisis and China’s involvement in the Caribbean. His actions regarding LAC are highly influenced by Florida politics that embraces his macho talks and sanctions against Venezuela and Cuba. Mr. Trump, now a Floridian, knows he must win Florida in order to win the presidency. Given his ‘promise made, promise kept’ motto, it’s unlikely we’ll see policy change if reelected. A victory will likely embolden him.

That Mrs. Kamala Harris, the Vice President nominee’s father hails from Jamaica brings hope, but certainly isn’t enough. The region needs to trust Washington again after a period of disengagement and unfulfilled promises. There needs to be strong cooperation and engagement. Not only promises as Mr. Obama did during the 5th Summit of the Americas in 2009. Mr. Biden will also have to show human consideration unlike the decision to deport Haitian refugees back to Haiti where deadly deceases ravaged after the 2010 earthquake. Most import perhaps is the realization that the US hasn’t always sought partnership, but often resorted to dictate its own terms. A new chapter of engagement between the US and the Caribbean based on mutual respect, common interests and shared values is needed. This new partnership will hinge on a core of issues.

  1. CLIMATE CHANGE: perhaps the greatest challenge for the Caribbean (including Curaçao). For these islands it’s important that the US rejoins the Paris Agreement on Climate. Without the US on board collective efforts to reduce emissions will be undercut. The islands cannot afford this especially considering the yearly damages already inflicted by natural storms. If the US remains on the sidelines, this will empower China to assume leadership. 
  2. PANDEMICS: the covid 19 has made it very clear that we require a regional coordinated response to bolster the response to future health challenges and public health emergencies.
  3. CHINA FACTOR: US disengagement in the Caribbean has strengthened China’s hand. Payback maybe for the increased US role in South China Sea and Taiwan. China also woos several Caribbean nations to vote with Beijing on mayor issues in the UN to further boost its global influence. Both US candidates want to contain China in LAC, but will the winner present policy that can compete with China?
  4. VENEZUELAN CRISIS: both candidates need the Florida vote and have assumed a very similar stance on Venezuela. They support Mr. Guaido, sanctions, Temporary Protective Status for Venezuelans in the US. and regime change. LAC clearly need political stability and a plan to manage the mass exodus of Venezuelans into their countries (including Curaçao).
  5. CORRESPONDING BANKS: indigenous banks in the Caribbean (including Curaçao) have seen the restrictions or of correspondent banking relationship by international banks making it almost impossible for banks to operate. There needs to be a solution for this situation. 
  6. TRADE: how will Biden’s Made in America and Trump’s America First relate to trade with the Caribbean especially given the uncertain future of the Caribbean Basin Initiative. Will the US opt for free trade relations with the region as it has done with the Dominican Republic?

It’s clear that the US isn’t the only option anymore in the Caribbean. US disengagement has empowered China to fill the power vacuum left behind. Not long after the US president is inaugurated in 2021, the 9th Summit of the Americas will take place. It should by then be clear what the US intentions are in this area.

Willemstad, Curaçao

Author: alexdavidrosaria

Alex Rosaria is from Curaçao. He has a MBA from University of Iowa. He was Member of Parliament, Minister of Economic Affairs, State Secretary of Finance and United Nations Development Programme Officer in Africa and Central America. He is an independent consultant active in Asia and the Pacific.

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