R. Rose
February 5, 2013
A tale of four cities – Part 2

It will be very interesting to see how the Obama administration, in its second term, handles relations with countries in the Caribbean basin. Save for disaster-riddled Haiti, the US government has not paid any great attention to the Caribbean,in spite of efforts on the part of CARICOM to reawaken interest and for consideration of burning issues.{{more}}

Among these is US immigration policy, especially the continued deportation of Caribbean immigrants, convicted or accused of crimes. It is an irony that under the first black president of the United States, deportation of Caribbean nationals has increased. In 2011, according to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, some 6,672 Caribbean nationals were deported, 2,260 of them for non-criminal offences. Of particular concern to Caribbean governments is the deportation of those convicted for criminal offences and the negative impact they are having on crime and social life in the region.

To be fair to President Obama, he has already announced his so-called DREAM Act, to reform positively immigration policies and make it easier for long-standing immigrants in the USA to live and work legally in that country.

Just 90 miles away from the southern tip of the USA lies the island of Cuba, governed by an administration against which the US government has displayed an unprecedented level of hostility for more than fifty years now. There was hope in some quarters that when the Obama administration took office in 2009, there would be some movement towards normalising relations with Cuba. But, in spite of some relaxation of travel restrictions and allowing Cuban immigrants to send remittances to their families in Cuba, this normalisation has not materialised.

The cruel and anachronistic embargo remains in place, with Obama, like his predecessors, seemingly hostage to the “Miami lobby” of Cuban exiles, hostile to the Cuban government. Will Obama have the courage to pursue a more realistic policy towards Cuba, even though he disagrees with Cuban domestic policy? Those who hope for such a rapprochement will no doubt be encouraged by the appointment of John Kerry as Secretary of State. He was reportedly involved in discussions with the Cuban Foreign Minister in 2010, aimed at seeking the release of American citizen Alan Gross, jailed in Cuba for illegally importing sophisticated communication equipment to supply Cuban dissidents. It has been mooted in some quarters that the US and Cuba may enter talks to exchange Gross for the famous “Cuban Five”, imprisoned in the US for spying on anti-Cuban terrorist groups.

There is also encouragement in the measures being quietly taken by Cuban President Raul Castro. He has lifted travel restrictions on Cubans, allowing them to travel and work abroad, just as citizens of most countries in the world, without incurring penalties or seeking official permission. Raul has also lifted restrictions on Cubans getting involved in private enterprise, to the extent that there have been projections that in five years’ time, half of the Cuban economy may be in private hands.

There is not similar optimism though, for improvement in another contentious area of US relations, those with Venezuela on the southern boundary of the Caribbean Sea. It is no secret that the US government views the Hugo Chavez government in Venezuela with much disfavour. Chavez himself is proud to say that he has taken up the mantle of the long-standing US arch-enemy, Fidel Castro, as “leader of the Latin American anti-imperialist Revolution”. US policy is in support of Chavez’ opponents.

The hostility towards Chavez flies in the face of reality. US/Venezuela trade ties continue to be substantial, unlike its embargo against Cuba, and totalled US$62 billion in 2011. Those who accuse him of being a dictator conveniently ignore the fact that he has won, by democratic poll, the presidency on four successive occasions, starting in 1998 and as recently as last November.

It will be a real challenge for President Obama to ignore the pressures of the powerful forces implacably opposed to Chavez, and to seek to improve relations for the good of the hemisphere. Perhaps, CARICOM itself, many of whose members are benefitting from Venezuela’s fraternal assistance and selfless Cuban solidarity, can play a role in helping to bring some normality to hemispheric relations.

This is where the fourth city, in my “Tale of Four Cities”, Kingstown, comes in. Our own country, under the leadership of Dr Gonsalves, is, despite its small size, one of the more influential in the region, a testimony to its progressive foreign policy. It has long-standing relations with Cuba, dating back to the Sir James Mitchell administration, and has significantly deepened ties with Venezuela, again begun by the Mitchell regime. But its foreign policy is not one-sided, for the Gonsalves’ administration has been improving links and cooperation with the US government as well.

This places our government in a position to work within CARICOM to see how the Caribbean can assist in ridding the hemisphere of the relics of the cold war, by advancing the cause of peace, respect for the sovereignty of nations and non-antagonistic relations in our hemisphere. The “Tale of Four Cities” has a long way to go.

Renwick Rose is a

community activist

and social com-mentator.