by Ewin James.
Nearly eight years ago the Caribbean welcomed the election of President Obama more exuberantly than many other people did , for like most Caribbean people he is black; and he was going to lead the greatest country on earth. The exuberance had to do with hope as with race; for the Caribbean is on the doorstep of the United States and whatever happens there usually spills over into it.
Now as he prepares to leave office the question is, has he made things better or worse for the Caribbean or is he leaving them as they were when he took office? As with any President, the assessment of Obama must be seen in the context of some salient realities: The U.S. constitution and the restraints and permissions it gives to every President; that President’s own ideology which shapes his agenda; and world conditions in which that Presidency operates.
President Obama is a radical liberal; and world conditions have not always been kind to him and his administration.
Among the things President Obama and his administration attempted to do for the Caribbean are the Caribbean Energy Security Initiative; The Caribbean Green Energy Project; The Small Business Network of the Americas; The Young Leadership Of The Americas; and The Caribbean Basin Security Initiative.
The Caribbean Energy Security Initiative was announced by President Obama in 2015 when he met with leaders of Panama and Jamaica in their respective countries. The U.S. Department of State, on its website, says of the Initiative. “In consultation with both regions, the U.S.-CCA Task Force was created as a means to diminish the vulnerability of small electricity markets in Central America and the Caribbean to fluctuations in global energy markets, and contribute to an aggregate reduction in tariffs for consumers, elevating the competitiveness and economic prosperity in both regions”. Both regions are the Caribbean and Central America; and President Obama announced a task force to put the security Initiative in place.
The Administration launched programs including committing $20 million dollars for the Caribbean and Central America to finance plans and encourage investment in clean energy. Under this Jamaica is developing solar energy facilities across the Island. There are also clean energy projects in St. Kitts/Nevis.
Under the Young Leaders Of the Americas Initiative hundreds of young people from the Caribbean are given scholarships in the USA in an entrepreneurshipprogram intended for them to return and launch small businesses in the countries.
The Caribbean Basin Security Initiative was launched by President Obama in 2009, to according to the Department of State “ Substantially Reduce Illicit Trafficking through programs ranging from countering narcotics to reducing the flow of illegal arms/light weapons.
- Increase Public Safety and Security through programs ranging from professionalizing law enforcement institutions through technical assistance and training, to improving rule of law by supporting the development of the justice sector.
- Promote Social Justice through crime prevention activities in targeted communities, police and justice sector reform, anti- corruption programs, and increased educational, economic and social opportunities for at-risk youth.”
The U.S. has committed over $400 million under this program to fight drug trafficking , provide training in security; it has helped legal systems ; and trained law enforcement officers; and helped thousands of youth to participate in crime prevention programs.
There is also what many people in and outside the region would consider Obama’s greatest achievement in the Caribbean- the restoration of relations between the U.S. and the Cuba. As part of this an embassy will be reopened in Havana, Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terror has been rescinded; and there have been established a bilateral commission, and an accord to increase migration between the two countries.
So to any fair observer President Obama has made efforts to help the Caribbean; and some have borne fruit. What have been the failures and omissions of the Administration which may have hurt the Caribbean or obstructed its progress?
One which wasn’t started by the Administration but which it has done nothing to remedy is the building of an embassy in the Eastern Caribbean to serve thecountries of Dominica, St. Kitts/ Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia, Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Some people may say these countries are too small to each have an embassy; but there could be an embassy for more than one of them. The failure is more egregious when we consider that all these countries cherish democracy and have no embassy but Cuba which has staunchly resisted all efforts to achieve democracy will soon have one. Theircitizens at great expense and inconvenience have to travel to Barbados to do business with the U.S.
Also, the Administration has not been respectful of the region’s intolerance of homosexuality. The openly gay ambassador to the Dominican Republic James Wally Brewster has been accused of having a gay agenda. Brewster, who is married to a man, has made no secret that he wants to promote the gay lifestyle: “I believe that one of my duties as ambassador is to help advance the tolerance of and respect for marginalized groups and an appreciation for diversity. I try to accomplish this through our U.S. Embassy programs “ . He said in March of this year. Brewster who was appointed in 2013, and who the citizens have urged the Administration to recall, is still at his post.
But perhaps, the most obvious and hurtful thing that President Obama has done is the record number of persons he has deported to the Caribbean. Since coming to office he has deported illegal aliens and others from the U.S. at a higher rate than any other President before him. For the almost 8 years he has been in office, every year he has deported more persons than George Bush did for the 8 years of his Presidency. This has amounted to 2.5 million people.
This has had a deleterious effect on the Caribbean, whose fragile economies can’t absorb a single other mouth to feed, and can’t spend another dollar toincarcerate those who commit crimes which many deportees who have no roots in their new destinations do to survive Many of the small economies in theCaribbean blame a rise in crime on deportees from the U.S.
Only history can fairly judge the performance of a President of America both inside and outside his country; and for President Obama it is too early. For him history hasn’t even begun. So we have to wait. But I suspect that when it comes around to doing so, especially for his treatment of the Caribbean, history willbe no kinder to him than it has been to most of his predecessors in spite of the enormous Goodwill the region showed him.
Ewin James, is a freelance journalist living in Longwood Florida.