Much has been written about the results of the recent US presidential election. My candidate of choice, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but lost the electoral college and the presidency to Donald Trump. What a shocker this was to many of us, but the electorate has spoken and Donald Trump is the legitimately elected president-elect of the USA.
Despite Trump’s triumph life goes on, and as President Obama said the sun will continue to rise each morning. But what future does a Trump presidency hold for the Caribbean diaspora and the Caribbean region itself? Much has been written on this subject as well, including an insightful column by Guyana-born Antigua Ambassador to the US, Sir Ron Sanders.
Earlier this week at the Caribbean Central American Action’s (CCAA’s) 40th annual conference on the Caribbean and Central America there was much discussion on the Trump presidency and what it means for the Caribbean and Central America. One session devoted exclusively to this issue was chaired by Guyana’s Ambassador to the US, Riyad Insanally and included a panel comprised of persons close to the Democrats and the Republicans. During that discussion Al Cardenas, Senior Partner, Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP had this to say: “The Trump presidency offers us a blank canvas on which to paint our priorities.” Insinuating that the Trump campaign never expected to win and therefore never paid any attention to the Caribbean much less craft a policy on its relations with the region if and when it formed the government, Cardenas pointed to the opportunity presented for the Caribbean and Central America to help contribute in shaping US/Caribbean Basin relations under the new administration.
During the panel discussion the possible negative impact of Trump’s previously expressed policies on issues such as trade, immigration, remittances and climate change were highlighted, but it was noted that at no point during the campaign had Trump alluded to the DR/CAFTA or Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) agreements. It was also noted that the US is a country of strong institutions which would provide checks and balances to a runaway president, should Trump choose to be such.
Against this backdrop the burning question that emerged is: “Are we ready?” We, in this case mean the Caribbean and Central America. There was in-depth discussion on the state of readiness or lack thereof and the identification of strategies on the way forward. There was consensus that the Caribbean and Central American nations need to act quickly together on reaching out to key players in the new administration so as to contribute to shaping “the painting on the now blank canvas.” There was also consensus that the governments of the Caribbean Basin should utilize their diasporas and key organizations such as CCAA in their efforts in this regard.
I fully endorse the consensus emanating from this discussion. I have always been an advocate for intensified engagement with the US on the part of Caricom member states, and for a coordinated approach that involves their diasporas. In fact I have submitted a proposal to the Caricom Secretariat on a lobbying strategy that provides for a key role for the Caribbean diaspora. While I fully endorse the approach that would see Caricom and Central American countries work together here, I would caution that at times our respective priorities will differ, and Caricom must be prepared to fight its own battles, and do so effectively. Working with our Central American brothers and all others with whom our interests coincide is the way to go, being ever conscious that our unity does not preclude a plurality of outlook, it pre-supposes it. It wasn’t so long ago that we had the divisive issue of bananas.