Caribbean Sees Ally in Obama

By Peter Richards

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Nov. 5  (IPS)  — They sat glued to their television sets as the new president-elect of the United States, Barack Obama, during his acceptance speech in the early hours of Wednesday, made reference to those listening “in far off places” around the world.

As they danced, honked car horns and used their mobile phones to communicate with friends and relatives not only in the United States, but throughout the region, Caribbean nationals acted as though Obama had won the presidency of the entire English-speaking Caribbean and not the United States.

“If he (Obama) continues in the inspirational vein of the election campaign, it could mean a change in the world, especially in how the U.S. relates to the rest of the world,” said Chris Zacca, president of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica (PSOJ).

The respected Caribbean journalist Rickey Singh suggested that the U.S. has undergone a “cultural and political metamorphosis, undoubtedly and ironically partly influenced by eight years of the ideology and governance politics of George W Bush”.

“Let therefore, all Caribbean citizens, not just those of the diaspora in the USA who will have voted for him, join president elect Obama in scoring one for a resounding triumph over racial bigotry,” Singh wrote.

Caribbean leaders have unashamedly expressed open support for the first ever African American to be elected to the White House, and in St. Kitts-Nevis, where Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas is due to face a general election soon, the ruling party staged a “dream is real” outdoor rally that allowed thousands of citizens to view the U.S. election results in a festive atmosphere.

“The St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party was built on the exact same principles as Barack Obama’s campaign to empower the working-class and the downtrodden,” the party said in an advertisement, urging citizens to “celebrate the long-fought dreams of men like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King,” a reference to the iconic U.S. civil rights leader.

Barbados Prime Minister David Thompson, who has extended an invitation to Obama to visit his Caribbean island to recuperate from the arduous election campaign, said he was “thrilled” at the result.

“This is a dream come true for millions of Americans — and especially African Americans — who were anxious to see their country redeemed from an unflattering image emanating from a number of factors, including its civil rights history,” said Thompson, who was the only regional leader present at Obama’s presidential nomination earlier this year.

The president of Guyana, which in recent months has had a public squabble with Washington over efforts to eradicate the illegal drug trade, said the victory of the Democratic Party’s candidate over Republican John McCain was “well earned and historic”.

“We in Guyana are very excited about the prospect of change in the United States…and we look forward to working with him in the future,” President Bharrat Jagdeo told the state-owned Guyana Chronicle newspaper.

“I don’t think any president of the United States of America will have the kind of empathy that he will have with people from different countries and poor people because he understands it firsthand, and that is why I think he will understand the difficulties that small, developing countries face,” he had earlier told reporters.

The 47-year-old Democratic senator from Illinois, who will take the oath of office on Jan. 20 next year as the 44th president of the United States, sealed his victory on Tuesday, winning 349 Electoral College votes against 163 for McCain.

As the new commander in chief, Obama moves into the Oval Office as leader of a country that is almost certainly in recession, and fighting two long wars, one in Iraq, and the other in Afghanistan.

But he may take comfort from the fact that fellow Democrats rode his coattails to gains in both houses of Congress, toppling Republican incumbents and winning open seats alike.

The Caribbean will look to engage Obama very soon, and according to Caribbean Community (CARICOM) chairman Baldwin Spencer, “We will want to see that Barack Obama will seek to develop a more engaging relationship with the Caribbean and indeed the Western hemisphere.”

Spencer told IPS that the Caribbean would raise outstanding issues including trade, the question of the deportation of criminals back to the Caribbean, as well as the concept of development “and where the Caribbean should fit on the United States agenda going forward”.

But the Caribbean is mindful of the domestic problems facing Obama, as well as his often repeated statements that his new administration would most likely adopt a new position regarding relations with Cuba, which is grappling with a more than four-decade trade embargo that Washington imposed on the communist state soon after former president Fidel Castro came to power.

Spencer, who is also the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, reminded IPS that in September, when he addressed the United Nations General Assembly, he had called on the new U.S. president “to seek to change the policy that they have towards Cuba and I am looking for President-elect Obama to in fact do that.”

“I believe that it will be a positive development not only for Cuba but for the entire Caribbean and the hemisphere on a whole, so I would certainly think that all of us would be pleased if President Obama would move reasonably swiftly to begin to engage in such a positive manner which would significantly improve relationship with Cuba and indeed the hemisphere,” he added.

The Jamaica Observer newspaper said Obama’s victory “has stirred in mankind a wellspring of hope that, if it endures, will light the way to a future few dared to envision.

“In its magnitude, the triumph of Barack Obama eclipsed the momentous, seemingly unmatchable release from Robben Island prison of Nelson Mandela and his coronation as president of South Africa, and the landing of man on the moon,” the paper said in an editorial on Wednesday.