The Miami Herald
Friday, July 25, 2008

Caribbean ponders McCain, Obama policies


While Barack Obama, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, appears to be the rage across the Caribbean, some analysts express concerns about how his policies would affect the region.

And, although John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, generates less attention in the Democratic-leaning Caribbean, some observers say his support of free trade and his policy experience could be better for the islands.

Still other analysts see the Caribbean as a low priority for each and express little optimism that either will produce radical change.

Neither McCain nor Obama has ''expressed serious positions on the Caribbean, with the exception of Cuba, where there is a difference between the two candidates,'' said Rupert Lewis, a political-science expert at the University of the West Indies (Mona) in Jamaica.

In a speech in Miami, McCain singled out several Spanish-speaking nations -- but not any in the Caribbean. And Obama has shown little interest in the region -- aside from an Easter vacation in St. Thomas.


Peter Hakim, president of the Washington think-tank Inter-American Dialogue, said he believes the lack of focus by either candidate on the region is a hint of what's to come regardless of who wins in November.

''Americans right now are very insecure about their future. They are unhappy with the effects of globalization. There is not a great deal of interest in having the United States really engage in overseas these days,'' Hakim said.

Others say it will be hard to ignore the Caribbean or Latin America, especially when so many nationals are registered U.S. voters.

Brian Meeks, director of the Center for Caribbean Thought at the UWI, said that while many in the Caribbean are ''fascinated with the fact that there is a black candidate with a credible chance of becoming president,'' leaders are not looking closely at either Obama's or McCain's policies.

''I don't think they are approaching it in a hard-nosed realist way,'' Meeks said, 'which is to say `What is in it for the Caribbean? What is in it for Latin America and to what extent Obama, or for that matter McCain, will be addressing our concerns?' ''


Caribbean leaders have increasingly complained of neglect following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as U.S. foreign policy shifted to other parts of the world.

The region as a bloc opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

In 2004, the Caribbean Community demanded an international investigation in the Feb. 29 ouster of Haiti's democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Relations in the past year have warmed under President Bush, but they point out that he -- unlike his predecessor Bill Clinton -- has yet to set foot in Haiti or the English-speaking Caribbean.

Clearly, Obama's race has captured the imagination of many in the Caribbean.

''The idea of having a black man or a man of mixed race running for the president of the United States is very historic and important,'' Barbados Prime Minister David Thompson told The Miami Herald.

"Barbadians feel good about that.''

And George Lamming, a Barbados-born novelist and intellectual, adds: ``The planet has been ruled by white power for 500 years, and you have the overwhelming majority of the world's population [as] nonwhite people. It's not only black people down here.''

But symbolism isn't good enough, critics of U.S. policy say, when leaders consider the challenges facing a region wrestling with crime and economic troubles.

''The United States has defaulted in the last decade in having any meaningful aid relations with the Caribbean, and that is where Venezuela has stepped in and has provided that,'' Meeks said. ``How does Obama view that? What are the prospects for that kind of mutually beneficial relations?''


Both McCain and Obama speak of a shift in policy.

''John McCain's vision for Latin America and the Caribbean basin is based on a belief . . . we need to develop an approach founded on peace and security, shared prosperity, democracy and freedom and mutual respect,'' Kori Schake, McCain's senior policy advisor, said in an e-mail.

McCain supports expanding trade with the Caribbean basin, while Obama is much more restrictive on trade preferences.

''It seems to me that from an economic and foreign policy point of view, Obama may be more destructive to Trinidad and Tobago interests specifically, and Caribbean interests more generally, than a Category 5 hurricane,'' said Anthony Wilson, editor in chief of the Trinidad Guardian newspaper.

Obama's position on trade ''has the potential to cast thousands of workers into unemployment throughout the region,'' Wilson said in an e-mail to The Miami Herald.

"From the perspective of foreign relations, [John] McCain would be much better for Caribbean economies than Obama.''


While Obama's support for wiping out poor countries' debt is welcomed, his push to tighten regulations of offshore banking jurisdictions have riled others.

He currently is sponsoring the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act, legislation that targets tax havens.

The bill lists Antigua and 14 other Caribbean jurisdictions among those countries singled out for increased scrutiny.

''I put that down to his lack of information,'' said St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, a critic of the legislation but an admirer of Obama.

"Once he is properly informed -- he would see that these islands, which are among the closest friends of the American people -- he would not do anything knowingly for them to suffer.''


Dan Restrepo, Obama's senior advisor on Latin America, said ``the senator is a strong advocate for his bill in cracking down on U.S. tax evaders.''

''We understand that this has implications in the region,'' said Restrepo, who served on the Democratic staff of the House International Relations Committee.

While McCain and Obama have spoken of a need to address transnational crime in the region, neither has given any indication that the U.S. policy of deporting criminals will change.