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Robert Buddan | Needed: an American president for CARICOM

Published:Wednesday | October 26, 2016 | 10:00 AMRobert Buddan

It is ironic that the Obama administration, as of this October, started plans for the most structured 'whole-of-government' interagency relationship with Cuba, the old enemy, than it ever had with any other individual Caribbean country or with the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

Sixteen American government agencies will work with Cuba to make sure that what has been achieved under US-Cuba normalisation is not reversed after Obama leaves office but advanced instead.

What about CARICOM? What are CARICOM's issues for the new president? Shouldn't whole-of-government arrangements be used to preserve the best of CARICOM-US relations while overcoming the worst of them?

Natural disasters readily come to mind. The US and Cuba will have a working committee for disaster relief and humanitarian assistance so that responses are not ad hoc. Shouldn't we all? We should also want to see American embassies being better equipped with staff and other resources to process visas, refugees, education and cultural exchanges, the migration status of Caribbean-Americans and deportation of Caribbean people from abroad. The US State Department is looking at strengthening its embassy in Cuba to do many of these things.

Happily, the two sides - Cuba and the US - are to collaborate on anti-terrorism, counternarcotics and other crimes (like cybercrime and scamming) and law-enforcement agencies will share information with each other to catch criminals. But there is no comparative defence and intelligence arrangement with CARICOM.

In fact, CARICOM had declared itself a 'zone of peace' many years ago to keep the region safe from war and interventions and any related environmental catastrophe. This is an idea to build on, not ignore. The US and Cuba must include themselves in this zone of peace, something Cuba already accepts.

The American Small Business Association will help Cuba promote entrepreneurship, cooperative enterprises and growth in small business. The Caribbean's large and woefully undersupported informal small business sector needs similar support. The region's chambers of commerce have failed miserably. If the United States wants to promote capitalism, why not do so where it is failing most among streetside business people?

The US Department of Agriculture will help with Cuba's food security, protect plant, human and animal health, and agricultural capacity. We all need to do more to feed ourselves, so we should all be included.

America's Department of Health and Human Services will work with Cuba's impressive health system against Zika, dengue, chikungunya and other diseases and infectious outbreaks. They will develop diagnostics, vaccines and treatments, share research, develop the biomedical sciences and find better treatments for cancer. Why should Haiti, with its massive cholera problem, be left out? Why should we all?

The American Department of the Interior is to collaborate with Cuba on wildlife conservation and terrestrial and marine protected areas. We all need to protect our tourism and natural assets.

In fact, the US could use this opportunity to develop acceptable banking and financial service rules in the US and the Caribbean. It could gain enormously.

We are happy that the stage is being set for future US-Cuba relations and to lock the next president in. But the rest of the Caribbean needs an American-Caribbean normalisation of their own. Our relations are far from normal. Nothing is being said in the presidential campaigns about them.

The US Department of Defense will have a new role in the post-Cold War era with a focus on people in Cuba. It should include the rest of us. The US and CARICOM cannot limit their cooperation conferences to annual dialogue on security alone.

Below the campaign radar, Cuba and the US are combining their socialist and capitalist approaches to their mutual betterment. Obama has even said the US should respect Cuba's policies for "social equality".

The good news is that Obama recommended the same whole-of-government approach to the United Nations for handling world affairs. He would surely accept it for CARICOM. The next step is for CARICOM to take with the next president.

• Robert Buddan is a university lecturer. Email feedback to robert.buddan@uwimona.edu.jm and columns@gleanerjm.com.