Editorial: Planning a new US-Carib relationship
It needn't require President Obama to come to Kingston to tell us that Jamaica and its CARICOM partners need to clearly define and articulate a new architecture for their relationship with the United States. The old Uncle Sam, fat of pocketbook, ready to buy off potentially recalcitrant neighbours, has long since changed his posture. Diminished by the end of the Cold War and the post-9/11 acceleration of global terrorism, the neighbourhood just hasn't maintained its cachet. It hasn't helped, too, that America isn't as flush as it used to be.
The Caribbean has been slow in adjusting to the new reality, so has failed to fully define its strategic expectations from Washington. It is as though it half-believes that the old order will reassert itself. But as President Obama made clear to young people at the University of the West Indies last week, the Caribbean shouldn't be looking for the cash-doling Uncle Sam of old.
According to Mr Obama, in his travels in this hemisphere, he is often bombarded with questions about the absence of Alliance for Progress-type projects "with huge sums of money" - a reference to President John F. Kennedy's 1960s initiative that pumped billions of dollars of US aid into Latin America with the aim of lifting living standards and warding off communism.
"We do have some fiscal constraints," Mr Obama explained. In any event, since those days, the economic disparity between the United States and the rest of the world has "evened out" significantly, so other wealthy countries, he argued, should share in helping to finance the development of poor countries. This is partly what is at play with China's growing investments in the Caribbean, which Mr Obama said his administration is not against, notwithstanding the suspicion with which many in Washington view Beijing's intent.
However, the United States and the Caribbean are close geographic neighbours and America remains the most powerful economy and richest market in the world. The issue facing the Caribbean, including Jamaica, therefore, is how to articulate a relationship that maximises these factors to the region's gain. Two significant developments favour the region.
While the Cold War bipolarity has crumbled, global religion-infused ideological as well as narcoterrorism exacerbate America's concerns for security in the Caribbean, where it has important economic and other interests. Washington's recent emphasis on deeper security cooperation is understandable and of value to poor, at-risk countries.
Further, the Obama administration's appreciation of the dangers of climate change and its push for clean energy at home have spin-off for this region. Rising sea levels won't expect boundaries. Washington's emerging fund to help clean energy projects in the region, though small, is a potentially significant endeavour for CARICOM's island states.
But it is not all altruism on the part of the United States. Washington is uneasy over preferential oil deals regional states enjoy from Venezuela. This concern helps to gird a broader American energy initiative for the region, the full scope of which is yet to emerge, but which Jamaica and others should be prepared to leverage to their advantage.
Global circumstances mean that the days of preferential trade arrangements are closing, so expanding deals like the Caribbean Basin Initiative won't happen. The environment and circumstance, however, exist to get special help to steer American capital to Jamaica, and others in the region ready to do the work.
At least in Jamaica, we should get on with it.