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2016 to 2017: the external context

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The Eastern Caribbean states especially, and the Caribbean in general, must move into the uncertainties of the year 2017 without the intellectual contributions of one of its outstanding sons, former Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB), Sir Dwight Venner. Many are the well-deserved tributes pouring in to his sterling contribution to Caribbean development, so I will only add this simple one of my own, “Nuff Respect”. May he rest in the peace so richly earned.

Sir Dwight’s sobriety and calming influence will be sorely missed as we struggle to face up to the challenges of the new year. They are formidable ones indeed, given the developments of the last year and the unfavourable international climate that has set in since the global financial crisis of 2008 onwards. Undoubtedly, the event of 2016 which is likely to have the biggest global impact is the victory of Donald J Trump in the American presidential elections last month.

This is due not just to Trump’s agenda, frightening enough as it is, but more so to the vast influence of the United States of America in the world today – militarily, politically, economically and financially. Despite the growing challenge from China, the USA is still the world’s superpower, declining in influence, but still ahead of all else. The strange nature of the American political system gave Trump a victory in the Electoral College, even though he trailed his rival by about 3 million votes. In addition, his party, the Republicans, control the levers of power at the levels of the Presidency, Congress, state and local administrations, and will soon add to its strength by naming more right-wing judges to the Supreme Court.

Trump’s campaign was based on “Make America great again”, but it soon became clear that the “America” to which he refers is rich, white America. His policies are clearly racist, anti-immigrant and anti-poor, though couched in populist language. Since his electoral triumph, his moves have been even more alarming, especially in his appointments to the key positions in his administration. He who railed against the influence of Wall Street (bankers and financiers), has appointed even more of them to the strategic positions, betraying his promise to “drain the swamp”. Worryingly, in keeping with his preference of profits above the environment, an oil tycoon has been named as Secretary of State, so much for the environment and climate change commitments.

For billions of people all over the world, Trump’s foreign policy pronouncements spell danger, whether in the military field where he threatens to revive the nuclear arms race, his open support for Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian territories, his threats against China, his open support for Vladimir Putin in Russia, and the likelihood of his administration trying to reverse the opening towards Cuba initiated by outgoing President Barack Obama.

Economically, there are grave implications in his threat to impose tariffs on all imports into the USA while his own conservative base will be alarmed at his plans to spend billions more, adding to the humongous Federal debt and further creating ripples in the world economy. But it is his social policies that threaten to undermine social stability in the USA, his threats of deportation of millions of immigrants, (as if the white ruling class of today’s America, were not themselves descended from illegal immigrants) and the possibility of further trampling on the rights of citizens.

All these have global implications. For us in the Caribbean, recent American administrations, including that of the black President Obama, have not given much attention to our region, save for a recent move by the House of Representatives. Under Trump, Caribbean countries are fearful of a possible influx of deportees and its social disruption. The new administration may very well apply pressure on Caribbean governments to cut or severely reduce links with Cuba and Venezuela as part of its thrust for renewed dominance in the hemisphere.

It is not just Trump and the Republicans, Europe too has been infected with the racist virus, using immigration and the extremism of some who try to disguise murder and terrorism under the cloak of Islam. There too there are threats, in Holland, Germany, France and Eastern Europe of right-wing forces coming to power.

In the face of all this, there are two imperatives for the region. First the need to deepen and strengthen regional cooperation and integration, including greater foreign policy coordination. This is a must if we are to resist efforts to divide us and to pressure us all into submission. Internally, Caribbean political forces need to recognize that we cannot continue to make secondary differences amongst us, blind our eyes to the greater threat that we all face. That threat is real and we will ignore it at our own peril.

Next: SVG in 2017

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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