R. Rose
December 30, 2009
2009 – Unfulfilled hopes – Part I

As we make our Resolutions for 2010 and extend New Years greetings to our families, friends, colleagues and acquaintances, it is in order for us to make some reflections on the year 2009 and even if briefly, assess its significance and implications for our lives. In doing so, it is necessary to place our own developments at the national level within the international context, since that broader environment to a large extent influences what takes place within our borders.{{more}}

Taking such an approach, it is clear that the single event of the year had to be the inauguration of a black man, Barack Obama, as President of the United States of America (USA). That tsunami of emotion which swept the world on that cold January day carried with it the hopes of billions for a new era in international relations with even the over-optimistic view that it might mark the beginning of a modern Renaissance. Not surprisingly, in a world in which the global economy had been in a tailspin and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were draining scarce resources and undermining the ability of western economies to stimulate recovery. Obama’s positive slogan of “Yes, We Can” and his promise of openness and transparency raised hopes in most quarters.

By year end however, a lot of that initial enthusiasm has been diminished and hopes dimmed as reality caught up with expectation. Obama himself got entangled in the web of US domestic policy especially with regard to the critical state of American economy and his cherished goal of major health reform. It led to policy shifts and concessions to right-wing opponents who relentlessly kept up the pressure on a relatively inexperienced leader. In addition to the economy and health insurance reform, Obama was forced to change tack on his promise to end unpopular wars in the Middle East which were having a terrible toll on the USA, both in material and human terms. In what must have been the most glaring contradiction of the year, Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize even as he announced a major increase in US troops strength in those areas. The year for him ended frustratingly with partial victory in having Congress approve a watered-down health reform bill, but with a blotched terrorist attack once again bringing the spectre of international terrorism to haunt him.

Much had been expected by Caribbean countries of the Obama administration, perhaps too much given US domestic power relations. The reality is slowly sinking in that the Caribbean does not glow brightly on the US radar screen and even the visit of President Obama to the Summit of the America held in Trinidad and Tobago could not change that fact. There was not even any public interaction by the black President with his host of Caribbean admirers nor any sign that relations with the Caribbean are moving higher up the American agenda.

This has major implications for our own regional and national foreign policy considerations which must be understood and taken seriously, not only by our policy-makers, but by broad sectors of our society, including the major social actors. No longer can we afford to play petty politics nor infantile games with our foreign policy choices but must seek in a mature manner to examine our options and to make use of limited opportunities available. The world we inhabit is a far from friendly one for small developing countries like ours and it takes no small degree of international skill to be able to navigate those waters.

Just take a look at the world round us. The global crisis is now beginning to take a harder bite at Caribbean economies. Reduction in remittances, the drying up of direct investments, continued problems in the tourism industry including Britain’s imposition of increased travel taxes which are hitting the Caribbean unfairly, and the latest shafting of our banana industry, are all indicators that 2010 is going to provide a major challenge for the entire Caribbean. It is easy to try and escape reality by playing “oppositionist” politics, blaming incumbent governments for our plight, but the sad reality is that, while undoubtedly failure to respond adequately worsens the problems, it is not the cause of our dilemma. Even oil-rich Trinidad and Tobago cannot ignore the international environment and whether we consider the tourism-related problems of Barbados, St Lucia or Antigua or the parlous state of the Jamaican economy forcing it to turn to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) once again, we are all in deep trouble.

To add to all our woes there is a climate change, no longer a threat but a glaring testimony to our vulnerability to natural as well as man-made calamities. The Caribbean is one of the regions most prone to serious ecological damage as a result of climate change, yet is a strangely a region where the public perception of this threat is highly muted. If only we would spend one per cent of our radio time in informed discussion on climate change and its implications for our survival, we would gain a better grasp of the tasks before us. The relative failure of the Copenhagen Summit should awaken us to our predicament. Hard choices and creative means must be found.

PART II: Next Week

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.