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Caribbean needs to move swiftly on Trump

by Emmanuel Joseph,

A former regional diplomat says the Caribbean needs to act speedily to ensure its most pressing concerns are included in the foreign policy agenda of the newly elected Republican government in the United States.

Billionaire businessman Donald Trump led the party to a stunning defeat of the incumbent Democratic administration of outgoing president Barack Obama on Tuesday.

“We have a rare occurrence. We have an exceptional concentration of power . . . . The Republican Party has the White House, the House, the Senate and the opportunity to appoint judges to the Supreme Court,” said Dr Richard Bernal, the former executive director for the Caribbean at the Inter-American Development Bank.

While cautioning that “there is inevitably a difference between campaign rhetoric and the pragmatism which inevitably must inform policy,” he noted that Trump, who has no experience in government, was yet to articulate his foreign policy vision for the US and in particular his approach to the Caribbean.

“What this means is that what happens in the next, let’s say four years, is going to set a template for a long time to come, so there is justifiable reason for concern,” he added.

However, during a special forum held by the University of the West Indies on Wednesday to analyze the US results and to discuss the implications for the Caribbean, Bernal, who was recently appointed as the UWI’s Pro Vice Chancellor for Global Affairs stressed the need for “urgent proactive intervention” on the part of the region.

“This is not a time to dissipate our energy, technical or intellectual, on speculating what might happen, what could happen, getting bogged down in speculation about what will happen.

“This is a time when we have to take the initiative to formulate a strategy of the needs of the Caribbean and to begin to place that in the context of US foreign policy-making,” said Bernal, who previously served as the Caribbean Community’s chief negotiator.

Also taking part in the panel discussion was former Jamaican senator and minister of state for education Maxine Henry Wilson, who urged regional leaders not to sit back and agonize over the US election result, but use it as an energizing moment to chart the Caribbean’s destiny.

“It is a moment when we cannot sit back and say, ‘oh this terrible thing has happened . . .’ because . . . some say a wonderful thing has happened.

“It is really a challenge for us to take our destiny into our own hands,” Henry Wilson stressed. 

She also urged careful consideration of the very coalition that supported Trump’s election campaign.

“And I would start from the question, is Trump really a Republican or is Trump just Trump? And that has very serious implications for how he is going to govern.

“All those things about climate change and so on, he has given voice to some of them already. The question will be, is the other side of the Republican coalition willing to challenge [him]?” the former senator asked. 

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