Op-Ed: Obama and the Caribbean



By David Rowe
Op-Ed Contributor

IF UNITED STATES PRESIDENT Barack Obama’s foreign policy can be criticized, it can be on the basis that it has been somnolent and reactionary with regard to Caribbean policy.

Neither the United States nor the Caribbean can afford this because of the two sides’ strong linkages, democratic connections and the close proximity: Montego Bay, Jamaica is about a one-hour flight from Miami. Bimini in the Bahamas is 50 miles from Miami.

The Obama administration should attempt to devise a coherent and dynamic Caribbean policy for the second term, particularly in the countries of Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba.

And this time around, there is no diplomatic spanner in the works such as Jamaica’s 2010 Christopher Coke Extradition dispute to freeze the dialogue.

Indeed, there are many positive potential economic factors promoting business and trade in the region between the US and the Caribbean.

President Obama can ostensibly increase economic growth in the southeastern United States by asserting and consolidating the United States’ leadership in regional trade policy in the Caribbean.


It has now been three years since the catastrophic earthquake demolished much of Haiti.

And despite the significant activity by the United Nations and NGOs, Haiti remains the most poverty-stricken country in the Caribbean and, indeed, in the Western Hemisphere.

Even the personal attention of former Presidents Carter and Clinton has not yet been able to ignite significant business activity there.

Washington should try to devise a legislative strategy that would encourage Haiti to increase its exports and generate domestic jobs so that the continuous trickle of refugees fleeing Haiti for economic opportunity in the United States and the Bahamas can be brought to an end.

The United States Congress can help Haiti by increasing agricultural imports from Haiti, and by existing textile incentives for investment in Haiti.

The major priority for the Obama administration must be to encourage major US investment in the country.


Cuba is drifting towards the end of what history might call the Castro era. There are strong voices in both the Republican and Democratic parties that can see no reason to perpetuate the Cuban Trade Embargo and point to Washington’s positive diplomatic relationship with Vietnam as justification for trade with Communist regimes.

The Cuban Trade Embargo is thought to be a useless legacy of the Cold War, argued by some to have be needlessly but emotionally perpetuated by an influential group of Cuban-American leaders.

But whatever the reason for the continued freeze, it is clearly time for new and fresh dialogue with Cuba, if Cuba will concede on issues such as freedom of information and speech, freedom for political prisoners and travel freedom for all Cubans.

The continued incarceration of American Alan Gross in Cuba is symbolic of a backward attitude by Cuba with regard to human rights.

But there will likely be a new generation of leaders in Cuba soon, and the US should encourage them engage in constructive political change for the region’s benefit.


Jamaica does not have Haiti’s extreme poverty or Cuba’s autocratic angst but it does represent a third challenge for Mr Obama’s Caribbean policy makers in his second term.

Jamaica is the Greece of the Caribbean, heavily indebted and currently throttled by a vicious crime wave which sometimes results in 20 homicides per week.

To prevent Jamaica from sliding further, Obama may have to consider a special foreign aid package to help steady the political boat captained by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.

Jamaica has been unable to conclude an agreement with the International Monetary Fund to stabilize its international credit rating, so its economic prospects appear gloomy in the short term.

Jamaica could benefit greatly from a United States recognition of a special Jamaica-United States relationship.

Today, China is playing the role of a political foster parent in Jamaica and other Caribbean islands, building major bridges, stadia and roads for its new-found Caribbean friends.

The United States should match China’s strategic outreach in Jamaica and keep it in check before China develops a logistical base in its Caribbean backyard.

An acknowledgment of these issues by the President might yield an integrated Caribbean policy to be administered by new Secretary of State John Kerry.

David P Rowe is an attorney in Jamaica and Florida and a law professor at the University of Miami School of Law in Coral Gables, Fla

Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal Op-Eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.