Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) wasted no time in congratulating US President Joe Biden on his victory in the elections of 2 November, 2020, and viewed his inauguration, Wednesday, with interest.
Already acknowledging that Mr. Biden entered office during one of the most challenging periods in recent history, the Heads, in their congratulatory letter, believe Mr. Biden’s vast experience in government, starting as a senator in 1973 to serving as Vice President under former president, Obama and now back in the White House as President, will be of great value to the global community, particularly CARICOM.
The Heads recalled that Mr. Biden has been a friend to CARICOM and that the Community looks forward to working with his administration in pursuing CARICOM’s goal of advancing the wellbeing of its people. The Heads went as far as saying that the USA is a country with which the “Community is inextricably linked through geography, shared values, familial ties, and economic and security relations.”
The point is: Heads of CARICOM are hoping that the Biden camp will view the Caribbean as important enough to its security and prosperity that it will go further than its predecessors ever did in improving foreign assistance between the two regions.
However, the big question is: Will the Biden presidency make a significantly positive difference to what CARICOM had under past presidents, particularly Donald Trump?
Heads of CARICOM are hoping that with Mr. Biden’s stated expressions of rebuilding hemispheric ties, and partnerships to address global problems this will have a positive impact on U.S. – Caribbean relations.
It could safely be said that the United States, in times past, has ignored its Caribbean neighbours. Not that engagements between the two sides were absent; on the contrary, there were many. However there have been concerns emanating from Caribbean countries that the United States should have played a more gentlemanly and understanding role in certain matters instead of the role it has played and continues to play today.
One example can be seen right here in Saint Lucia with what has been dubbed “the IMPACS affair”.
The United States decision to impose and maintain the Leahy Law on our police force for actions taken by a unit within the force some ten years ago just does not seem right. More so when it appears that the United States refuses to acknowledge reason, as expressed by the government of the day, despite the government’s compliance and willingness to follow its bigger and more powerful neighbour’s advice on the matter.
Granted, America does have its own concerns with the Caribbean, a big concern being that the region continues to be a major corridor for illegal drugs entering America. But never should it be forgotten that the United States enjoys a trade surplus with the Caribbean that is worth billions of dollars. One writer noted that the trade surplus for 2018 stood at $12.3 billion, citing the State Department as the source.
Also, must it never be said that America had not taken legislative action for greater involvement in foreign and other assistance to the Caribbean. For instance, there is the Caribbean Regional Assistance Act (2001), which was an amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. Also, let us not forget the 2016 bill that led to the United States-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act and the June 2017 action which established Caribbean 2020: A Multi-year Strategy to Increase the Security, Prosperity and Well-Being of the People of the United States and the Caribbean, identified security, diplomacy, prosperity, energy, education, health as pillars of engagement.
It would be remiss of us not to mention what America would deem as a trade preference programme, what we know as the Caribbean Basin Initiative, born from the Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act of 1983, which provides duty-free access to the U.S. market for certain goods. Certain provisions of this Act have been extended up to September, 2030.
The United States foreign assistance to Saint Lucia has been low compared to assistance given to countries like Jamaica, Guyana, Bahamas and Belize over the period 2001 to the present.
Given the type of relation the US has with the English Speaking Caribbean, it would do well for Heads of CARICOM, in looking to future dealings with the Biden administration, to ensure that relations with its mightier neighbour are not stuck merely in form but are of substance so that the wellbeing of the region’s peoples could be advanced.