R. Rose
January 29, 2013

A tale of four cities

January 2013 is coming to a close, but already it is proving, in political terms, to be a very significant one in the life of the people of the western hemisphere, including us in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

In the Caribbean basin, ranging from Belize on the Caribbean coast of Central America, to Venezuela on the South American continent, just a stone’s throw away from Trinidad, a series of events is taking place with lasting consequences for the people of the region.{{more}} In addition, the northern arc of the Caribbean basin is occupied by the territory of the United States of America, and there too, momentous events have occurred in this January month.

It is in consideration of these developments, that this week, I have chosen to adopt and adapt a theme from the famed British novelist, Charles Dickens, who more than two centuries ago, wrote the epic novel, “A Tale of Two Cities”, covering events in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution at the close of the 18th century. My adaptation is to cover four cities — Washington, Caracas, Havana and Kingstown — making connections between evolving situations in all these capitals.

Let us begin with Washington where President Obama, the leader who first broke the colour barrier to head the American political class, was sworn in last week Monday for his second term in office. If his electoral victory in 2008 and inauguration in January 2009 were epoch-making events, then his second successive presidential victory in November 2009, against all the odds and virulent opposition by the rabid right-wing, the rich and powerful and the lunatic political elements, was all the more remarkable.

President Obama’s inauguration coincided with two major events in the course of US history, the history of African-Americans in particular. The day itself, January 21, was the public commemoration of Martin Luther King Day, in honour of the martyred black leader, while January 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln in 1863.

The inauguration address fittingly put these into context as the oft-maligned President reiterated his administration’s commitment to the cause of freedom, liberty and equality, reminding those who still harbour illusions of suppressing the rights of blacks and minorities that “no union can survive half-free and half-slave”. He reminded his detractors and opponents in Congress who rile against his use of the resources of the State to protect the weak and vulnerable that “a great nation must care for the vulnerable”, emphasising his determination to proceed with his health care plans, so implacably opposed by the Republicans.

The President’s major battles have been over the economy and the Budget, and with his new mandate he made it clear that he was determined to press ahead with plans to make the rich shoulder their share of the tax burden and not to make the working people alone suffer the pain. He also did not shy away from such controversial issues, (where the American right-wing is concerned), as climate change and equal rights for gay people.

The inauguration address did not go into any detail on foreign policy issues, so matters affecting the Caribbean, like Obama’s own lamentable record of stringent action against Caribbean and Latino immigrants, did not come into focus, but it is a matter, within the context of the need to deepen US/Caribbean relations, that Caribbean leaders will have to pursue strongly. The President’s most reassuring foreign policy pronouncement in the address was on the subject of the use of US military might and world peace. In the face of the hawkish postures by warmongers like Senator McCain, whom he soundly defeated in 2008, President Obama expressed his belief that “…..enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war”.

That is a fundamental position that has implications, not only for global peace but also for how political differences in the Caribbean basin ought to be resolved. The United States has for more than half a century been pursuing aggressive policies against a Caribbean nation, Cuba, and is currently at loggerheads with the leadership of the Bolivarian republic of Venezuela. That is my entry point for the second half of this article, next Tuesday, where the interaction with the cities of Caracas, Havana and our own Kingstown will be examined.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.