Barack Obama And The Caribbean

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Polls throughout the region, particularly in the West Indies, indicate that he has support levels hovering at a remarkable 90 percent. So it goes with the rest of the world. Obama has inspired a new vision of tempered, multi-racial leadership in an unstable global order.

[Election 2008]

That Barack Obama has captured the imagination of the Caribbean goes nearly without saying.
Polls throughout the region, particularly in the West Indies, indicate that he has support levels hovering at a remarkable 90 percent. So it goes with the rest of the world. Obama has inspired a new vision of tempered, multi-racial leadership in an unstable global order. And more importantly, he represents a rejection of the violence, greed and deceit that has marked the Pax Americana of George W. Bush over most of the past decade.

Even Bush’s leading general, the Harlem-born Colin Powell, with his four stars and Caribbean roots, has endorsed Obama, calling the 47-year-old Senator from Illinois a “transformative figure” and noting that he has “displayed a steadiness, an intellectual curiosity, a depth of knowledge, and an approach to looking at problems” that warranted the support of the American electorate.

It was a resounding endorsement of Obama but an even more stinging denunciation of his longtime Republican colleagues, Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney, and by direct implication, John McCain.

The Mighty Sparrow, of course, now living in New York, issued his presidential endorsement long before, with his delightful calypso “Barrack the Magnificent”:

The first black President to lead this mighty nation!
We’ll regain worldwide respect
with Obama’s vision and excellent comprehension!

Sparrow had the temerity to say what Powell did not: namely, that Obama’s African heritage endows his impending presidency with an international gravitas of truly historic proportions. Can anyone imagine a recent U.S. president comfortably walking the streets of Port-of-Spain, Kingston or Georgetown? Hardly. An Obama presidency will immediately force a shift in the imagination of political possibility.

And make no mistake about it, with little more than a few days until the American polls close on Tuesday, Obama’s lead here in electoral votes is formidable—if not, indeed, insurmountable. His strategists have run a brilliant campaign, from his initial grassroots win in Iowa on through to his marvelous television special this past week.

For those of you who will be watching CNN on Tuesday night, follow the early key states of Pennsylvania and Virginia. If Obama wins either, he wins the election. If he wins them big and takes other swing states like Florida, North Carolina and Indiana, a landslide will be in the making, one of epoch proportions. (I’m predicting he’ll win New York by 63-33 and garner more than 320 electoral votes, with a possibility of reaching 350.)

What will Obama’s election mean for the Caribbean and the rest of the world? Almost immediately, there will be a diminishment of political tensions and a new moment of global promise and cooperation. Obama will approach the international economic crisis with a refreshing sensibility and a commitment to economic democracy. “People around the world,” writes longtime American activist Tom Hayden, “will look up from the treadmills of their shrunken lives to the possibilities of what life still might be. Environmental justice and global economic hope would dawn as possibilities.”

Moreover, Obama’s approach to economic disparities and institutionalized racism in the United States will force Caribbean countries to confront their own economic stratification and racialized polities, as well they should. He will lead by example on these critical issues facing the Caribbean. I expect him to be intolerant of the rise in poverty, and the corresponding rise in crime rates, in countries such as Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Guyana. He will likely be an ally of the forces of economic democracy throughout the Caribbean—and especially of women, who often bear the brunt of economic dislocation.

As for broader regional alignments, much remains to be seen. The Republican right will harangue Obama for any efforts at normalization with Cuba or a rapprochement with Venezuela, but I would not be surprised to see Obama engage in diplomatic discussions with either Raul Castro or Hugo Chávez, ushering in a new era of hemispheric relations.

Obama is not an interventionist in the mold of Bush, Reagan and even Kennedy (I write this on the 25th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Grenada), and while he has argued for a staged withdrawal from Iraq (and opposed U.S. intervention there in the first place), he supports a counterinsurgency force in Iraq and for sending more troops to Afghanistan. The threat of future attacks by Al Qaeda looms large on the American psyche, and Obama will need to manifest a strong show of force in the face of any such posturing.

Do not expect Obama to work economic miracles, either in the United States or in the Caribbean. Certainly not immediately. Problems of poverty in American urban centers reflect deep structural issues with American capitalism and unregulated abuses of U.S. markets, and they will take years, if not decades, to ameliorate. Obama will be facing the greatest economic crisis of the last 80 years when he takes office in January (with a half-trillion-dollar U.S. deficit), and he will be challenged simply to hold back the tide of an impending national and international depression.

Contrary to the hyperbolic rhetoric of McCain and his mannequin running mate, Sarah Palin, Obama is not a radical Marxist nor even a socialist. Indeed, when it comes to economic theories, he is a free-market moderate and has been strongly influenced by his chief economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee and other so-called “behavioral economists.” (Make note of that: You will be hearing more about these economic theories in the months ahead.) Nonetheless, the economy will gradually get better under Obama and the Democrats; they will grow it from the bottom-up. That, in turn, will augur shifts toward the better for the Caribbean economy (and economies) as well.

Moreover, the election of Barack Obama will call an end to the most corrupt and irresponsible tyranny in recent American history. Even more importantly, it will unleash what the fallen American president Abraham Lincoln referred to as “the better angels of our nature.” It will mark the first step toward a new moment in global relations. But one man cannot change the course of history—and that is at the heart of Obama’s message. He can lead, but we must all participate in addressing the challenges before us. If it is Obama’s moment, then it is also ours.


Black Star News national affairs columnist Geoffrey Dunn, Ph. D., is an award-winning filmmaker and journalist. He is the former recipient of a both a John L. Senior Fellowship to the Cornell University Graduate School of Government and a National Newspaper Association Award for Investigative Journalism. His most recent film is Calypso Dreams.

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