Sat | Mar 28, 2015

SAME GAME - Jamaican interests claim business as usual whether Obama or Romney is next US president

Published:Tuesday | November 6, 2012
In this October 22 file photo, Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama (left) walk past each other on stage at the end of the last debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. - AP

Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

Notwithstanding the expectant atmosphere that has many Jamaicans transfixed, local interests are suggesting that a result in today's United States (US) presidential election, one way or the other, is not likely to trigger any material benefit to the island.

Speaking with The Gleaner yesterday, a number of prominent figures threw cold water on expectations, even as other locals nervously anticipate a nail-biting outcome in the electoral contest between incumbent Barack Obama of the Democratic Party, the first black president of the US, and his wealthy challenger, Mitt Romney of the Republican Party.

"In terms of a material impact, I don't suspect that there will be much in either eventuality," argued president of the Jamaica Employers' Federation, Wayne Chen, who stressed that the country was fully seized of Obama's plans.

"In the case of an Obama victory, we know already what he is up to so I don't think there will be any changes if he wins, because he is pretty much clear on his foreign policy directions," Chen said.

Minor ripples

However, he is of the view that there may be only minor ripples if Romney prevails.

"In the case of a Romney victory, I suspect that the US will cut back a bit, not that there is much to cut back because in terms of direct aid, Jamaica is not getting much from the US at this time," he said.

Similar sentiments were forthcoming from noted political commentator Martin Henry.

"I don't think US foreign policy towards the Caribbean is going to be significantly different between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney," Henry said. "The fact of the matter is the Federal Government has a certain
approach to dealing with the Caribbean with minor tweaks here and
there."

Accordingly, Henry said Jamaicans can expect
that there will be some aid, perhaps reduced, because of the economic
recession and the growing economic pressure in the United
States.

"Migration is now highly regulated and is
likely to continue to be so."

Henry predicted that the
Caribbean would remain an area of lesser importance compared to the
major countries in Latin America and the hot spots in which the US has
been involved around the world, including Iraq and Afghanistan, as well
as China.

"In fact, the only significant Caribbean
policy which now exists is the US's stance on
Cuba."

Economic slowdown

Political
analyst Dr Hume Johnson stressed that the US was undergoing the greatest
economic slowdown since the Great Depression, depriving millions of
Americans of employment.

"The developing world will
surely understand that the priority issue for whoever becomes president
will be a focus on cutting spending in order to reduce the deficit;
essentially championing a cause for their economic recovery," she
argued.

Notwithstanding, Johnson said that foreign
aid/assistance has always been at the core of American foreign
policy.

"In this regard, economic and humanitarian
assistance to small developing nations, including Jamaica, will not
change, no matter who occupies the White House as president after the
November 6 election," she said. "What I suspect will change is stricter
conditionalities that will become attached to assistance programmes
given to small developing countries such as
Jamaica."

Johnson noted that Romney has promised to
create 'Prosperity Pacts' that would steer US assistance toward
developing nations that support freedom, property rights and the rule of
law.

"Romney's plan also envisions helping the
private sector of small nations to identify barriers to investment,
trade and entrepreneurism, and a focus on micro-financing for small and
medium-size businesses ... . This is a platform on which Jamaica can
position itself to attract the assistance we need for these sectors,"
she said.

On the other hand, Johnson noted that Obama
has always pledged support for developing nations but his philosophy
seems to anchor on not just short-term foreign assistance but
initiatives that can transform economies.

Johnson
pointed out that the candidates have radically opposing views on
immigration.

"This is a very important issue for
Jamaica/Caribbean governments as we are among nations with a percentage
of 'illegals' residing in America."

Obama supports
foreign students remaining in the US after college graduation. Romney
opposed this proposal, vowing to veto the Bill, saying it would be
against the law.

Johnson suggested that for Obama, it
was crucial to pass the DREAM Act, which allows children who, through no
fault of their own are in the US but have essentially grown up as
Americans, allowing them the opportunity for higher
education.

She noted that Romney has declined to say
whether he would reverse Obama's policy on younger immigrants if elected
president, but referred to the president's plan as a politically
motivated 'stopgap measure'.

"On this count, whoever
is elected president will hold serious implications for small nations
such as Jamaica, which are not only dependent on foreign aid/assistance
but for whom progressive immigration policy is crucial to the economic
stability and progress of their citizens abroad," Johnson
argued.

"In addition, a large chunk of the revenue of
Jamaica is accrued from remittance from immigrants which makes this
issue even more profound for Jamaica."

Asian
pivot

For University of the West Indies (UWI)
professor, Anthony Clayton, an Obama victory is likely to facilitate
continuation of current foreign policy. In this vein, he said the US
will continue with its pivot towards Asia.

"The
Caribbean nations will not be a priority for either candidate," he
declared.

Clayton also cited clear differences between
the candidates on immigration reform.

"If re-elected,
Obama may try to get an amended version of the DREAM Act through
Congress, giving more illegal and undocumented immigrants an opportunity
to regularise their status," said Clayton. "Romney, however, appears to
be strongly committed to significantly tightening up immigration law,
so many more illegals are likely to get deported."

He
noted that Romney has stated that he wants the US to become energy
independent, which would require a large expansion of US oil and gas
production.

He said this expansion appeared
technically feasible, which means the US would again become one of the
world's largest energy producers, depressing the price of oil and gas,
which would have serious implications for Venezuela, Iran and Russia,
among other nations. That might in turn undermine Venezuela's support
for the PetroCaribe accord.

The UWI professor was of
the view that whichever candidate wins, US policy towards the Caribbean
was unlikely to change. The main US priorities with regard to the
Caribbean would probably continue to be narcotics trafficking, money
laundering and related security issues.

Clayton said
there were, however, worrying signs that the Mexican drug cartels
already have a presence in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Guyana
and Haiti.

"If the flow of narcotics, weapons and
illegal cash through the Caribbean increases, then the US will
undoubtedly take a much closer interest. Any increased level of
cooperation, however, is likely to be at the level of law enforcement
agencies and defence
forces."

gary.spaulding@gleanerjm.com