By David Rowe
Caribbean Journal - Op Ed Contributor
IF UNITED STATES PRESIDENT Barack Obama’s foreign policy can be
criticized, it can be on the basis that it has been somnolent and
reactionary with regard to Caribbean policy.
Neither the United States nor the Caribbean can afford this because
of the two sides’ strong linkages, democratic connections and the close
proximity: Montego Bay, Jamaica is about a one-hour flight from Miami.
Bimini in the Bahamas is 50 miles from Miami.
The Obama administration should attempt to devise a coherent and
dynamic Caribbean policy for the second term, particularly in the
countries of Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba.
And this time around, there is no diplomatic spanner in the works
such as Jamaica’s 2010 Christopher Coke Extradition dispute to freeze
Indeed, there are many positive potential economic factors promoting
business and trade in the region between the US and the Caribbean.
President Obama can ostensibly increase economic growth in the
southeastern United States by asserting and consolidating the United
States’ leadership in regional trade policy in the Caribbean.
It has now been three years since the catastrophic earthquake demolished much of Haiti.
And despite the significant activity by the United Nations and NGOs,
Haiti remains the most poverty-stricken country in the Caribbean and,
indeed, in the Western Hemisphere.
Even the personal attention of former Presidents Carter and Clinton
has not yet been able to ignite significant business activity there.
Washington should try to devise a legislative strategy that would
encourage Haiti to increase its exports and generate domestic jobs so
that the continuous trickle of refugees fleeing Haiti for economic
opportunity in the United States and the Bahamas can be brought to an
The United States Congress can help Haiti by increasing agricultural
imports from Haiti, and by existing textile incentives for investment in
The major priority for the Obama administration must be to encourage major US investment in the country.
Cuba is drifting towards the end of what history might call the
Castro era. There are strong voices in both the Republican and
Democratic parties that can see no reason to perpetuate the Cuban Trade
Embargo and point to Washington’s positive diplomatic relationship with
Vietnam as justification for trade with Communist regimes.
The Cuban Trade Embargo is thought to be a useless legacy of the Cold
War, argued by some to have be needlessly but emotionally perpetuated
by an influential group of Cuban-American leaders.
But whatever the reason for the continued freeze, it is clearly time
for new and fresh dialogue with Cuba, if Cuba will concede on issues
such as freedom of information and speech, freedom for political
prisoners and travel freedom for all Cubans.
The continued incarceration of American Alan Gross in Cuba is
symbolic of a backward attitude by Cuba with regard to human rights.
But there will likely be a new generation of leaders in Cuba soon,
and the US should encourage them engage in constructive political change
for the region’s benefit.
Jamaica does not have Haiti’s extreme poverty or Cuba’s autocratic
angst but it does represent a third challenge for Mr Obama’s Caribbean
policy makers in his second term.
Jamaica is the Greece of the Caribbean, heavily indebted and
currently throttled by a vicious crime wave which sometimes results in
20 homicides per week.
To prevent Jamaica from sliding further, Obama may have to consider a
special foreign aid package to help steady the political boat captained
by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.
Jamaica has been unable to conclude an agreement with the
International Monetary Fund to stabilize its international credit
rating, so its economic prospects appear gloomy in the short term.
Jamaica could benefit greatly from a United States recognition of a special Jamaica-United States relationship.
Today, China is playing the role of a political foster parent in
Jamaica and other Caribbean islands, building major bridges, stadia and
roads for its new-found Caribbean friends.
The United States should match China’s strategic outreach in Jamaica
and keep it in check before China develops a logistical base in its
An acknowledgment of these issues by the President might yield an
integrated Caribbean policy to be administered by new Secretary of State
David P Rowe is an attorney in Jamaica and Florida and a law
professor at the University of Miami School of Law in Coral Gables, Fla
February 04, 2013