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COMMENTARY: U.S. Mid-Term Elections: Opportunity to Re-Think U.S.-Caribbean Relations

Posted by kinchendavid on November 12, 2006

By Sir Ronald Sanders

In mid- term elections for the US Congress, the American electorate achieved what several governments around the world could not. They registered their intense unease with the US government’s war in Iraq and caused the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who symbolized his government’s Iraq policy.

Caribbean governments are among those who were unhappy with the US war in Iraq. They regarded it as lacking in UN Security Council support, and indicative of a readiness by the US government to behave as a bully.

Like many others around the world, Caribbean governments would have quietly welcomed the Republican Party’s defeat and Mr Rumsfeld’s departure in the hope that US foreign policy – particularly the doctrine of pre-emptive strikes and unilateral action – would be curbed in favor of greater consensus building in the UN Security Council.

In the same week that the George W Bush administration received what the US President himself described as a “thumping” in the US mid-term elections, two other hemispheric events occurred which would underscore the importance of the US re-thinking its relationship with its Latin American and Caribbean neighbors.

The first was the election of Daniel Ortega, a former Marxist revolutionary who fought US-backed insurgents in the 1980’s, as the President of Nicaragua. The second was yet another vote in the United Nations General Assembly calling for an end to the US embargo of Cuba.

Ortega won the Presidency in Nicaragua in spite of interference by US officials to try to thwart his victory.

Paul Trivelli, the U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua, U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and Republican Congressman Dan Burton warned the Nicaraguan people not to vote for Ortega. Burton went as far as to say that foreign aid would be cut off if Ortega was elected.

It should be noted that Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez also intervened in the Nicaraguan elections by offering cheap oil and strongly advocating Ortega’s election.

Since the results of the Nicaraguan election, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, is reported to have said that the United States would respect the decision of the Nicaraguan people and see what policies the government follows before making decisions about future relations.

Mr Ortega would be hard pressed to institute policies that would legitimately offend the US. Since the 1990s, successive Nicaraguan governments have sold more than 300 state-owned enterprises, liberalized its markets and entered a free trade arrangement with other Central American nations and the US.

Not unlike Mr Bush’s present dilemma in which the US Congress is dominated by the opposition Democratic Party, Mr Ortega’s National Assembly is divided between four parties – two of them conservatives – with which he must make compromises.

This is all to the good. Both the US and Nicaraguan administrations will have to temper their ambitions and work within the constraints they face. On Cuba, the United Nations General Assembly again voted by 183 to 4 for an end to the US embargo.

But for the US, Cuba is a different kettle of fish. US policy in Cuba is still too closely tied to the fortunes of both the Republican and Democratic parties in domestic elections for any radical change to take place soon. The votes of the anti-Castro, Cuban-American community and lobby remain influential.

Nonetheless, there can be no doubt in the minds of policy makers in the US that the global community – and the Caribbean countries especially – want to see the normalization of relations between the US and Cuba.

But, while Caribbean countries may quietly rejoice over the legislative constraints that have been placed on the Bush administration’s foreign policies particularly in Iraq, there are policies of the Democratic Party which should give rise to concern within the region.

The Democrats will now head many of the important committees in the House and Senate. Many Democratic representatives are hostile to Free Trade Agreements, regarding them as threats to US jobs. They are also opposed to outsourcing of services like call centers and back-room accountancy to countries that could provide such services much cheaper than within the US.

Recently, Republican representatives in the Senate inserted language in this year’s State Department spending bill that would bar the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and development (OECD) from using the U.S. taxpayer contribution for “activities or projects … designed to hinder the flow of capital and jobs from high-tax jurisdictions to low-tax jurisdictions or to infringe on the sovereign right of jurisdictions to determine their own domestic policies.”

It will be recalled that the OECD’s ‘Harmful Tax competition Initiative’ had the backing of President Bill Clinton’s Democratic Administration, and adversely affected the financial services sectors of several Caribbean countries.

Passage of this appropriations bill is pending Congressional approval, and it is left to be seen how a Congress, in which the Democratic Party has the majority, will vote.

Further, the Caribbean is yet to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement with the US. Caught in the failed negotiations for a Free Trade of the Americas Agreement (FTAA) and pre-occupied with its current negotiations with the European Union (EU) over Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA), the Caribbean has not seriously focused on a free trade arrangement with the US.

Now, time may be running out to get negotiations for such an agreement firmly underway with a US administration favorably disposed to free trade.

So, while the time is propitious for the US to begin to re-think its policies toward its close neighbors in Latin America and the Caribbean to make its relationship with them more sympathetic and secure, it is also in the interest of Caribbean countries to intensify their lobbying work in the US.

A meeting a few weeks ago of senior trade officials from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Office of the United States Trade Representative to revive a dormant CARICOM–United States Trade and Investment Council was a good start. But, more is needed now to push Caribbean concerns.

* * *

Sir Ronald Sanders is a business executive and former Caribbean Ambassador to the World Trade Organisation who publishes widely on Small States in the global community. Responses to: ronaldsanders29@hotmail.com


3 Responses to “COMMENTARY: U.S. Mid-Term Elections: Opportunity to Re-Think U.S.-Caribbean Relations”

  1. […] Not much has been said in the blogosphere about how the results of the recent mid-term elections in the United States, which put the Democrats in control of Congress back in November, can affect the future of current US policy regarding Cuba. The truth is that several Democratic representatives (and some Republicans too) have been supportive of lifting the embargo and/or ending the ban on travel to Cuba, ever since the island entered a period of crisis about fifteen years ago. As Sir Ronald Sanders, former Caribbean ambassador to the World Trade Organization, observes in a piece republished on the blog of US journalist David Kinchen: . . . US policy in Cuba is still too closely tied to the fortunes of both the Republican and Democratic parties in domestic elections for any radical change to take place soon. The votes of the anti-Castro, Cuban-American community and lobby remain influential. […]

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