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

Published: Tuesday | November 6, 2012 Comments 0
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
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."

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