The excitement felt across the Caribbean in the victory of President-elect Joe Biden in the US poll is easy to share.
However, a quieter voice inside suggests that while the result will bring some short-term big-picture policy gains to the region, the extreme political polarization that the election highlighted does not bode well for the a country that is most important to the region.
That said, and despite Mr Trump’s apparent interest in a confusing and just transition, Mr Biden is already advancing plans in several policy areas of universal significance to the Caribbean. These are about climate change, tackling COVID, vaccine introduction, and stimulating the US economy.
In the case of climate change, Mr Biden will overturn the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the 2016 Paris climate change agreement and seek a significant role at the delayed COP 26 global climate summit, now to be held in Glasgow in November 2021 Election of US president. has already said that he will ‘listen to science’, that his intention is for the United States to achieve zero net carbon emissions by the middle of the century through radical reform measures, and will integrate climate change targets with US foreign policy.
The incoming administration is expected to rejoin the World Health Organization, establish a new COVID-19 task force, and allocate US $ 25bn for vaccine development and distribution. It is also likely to support the WHO COVAX facility which will benefit most Caribbean nations by providing significant quantities of vaccines as they become available.
Assuming that Congress can agree, the region also indirectly benefits from the Biden presidency’s intent to provide a package of domestic measures aimed at stimulating post-pandemic economic growth. This and a possible vaccine should allow the Caribbean, two years out, to see a significant fall in demand for US travel to the Caribbean.
Of equally important change to the region will be a change in the value of the US government in the form of a commitment to multilateralism, an end to the induced polarization of institutions such as the American Institute of States, the assertion of ethical values on black and gender lives. equality, and respect for and support of allies.
While it is easy to overstate, given the global pressures they will face, Mr Biden, his wife and Ms Harris all know and understand what motivates and matters to the region. In addition, the importance of expert advice and analysis provided by long-suffering career service officers in the Caribbean and the US is now expected to be better heard.
In terms of trade and investment policy, the tone and attitude of the Biden presidency will be different and less transactionally linked to US security and political concerns. However, there is little reason to believe that the new administration will do anything other than continue to secure the hemisphere as an integrated special trading partner in order to reduce Chinese influence, stimulate almost shadow, and continue existing policies that support a pivotal developmental role for the US private sector.
In contrast, the regional enforcement and division approach taken by President Trump in seeking a coalition of willing Caribbean states willing to trade better economic relations is against meeting US trade, political and security objectives. Despite this, pressures around Chinese 5G and other emerging technologies will continue, albeit based on a common Western approach to investment screening.
In terms of security, US regional and hemispheric concerns and support are unlikely to change. However, of special significance to the Caribbean is awareness in the Biden camp that the vacuum created by isolating Venezuela and Cuba has created an unstable refugee crisis, citizen poverty and instability, offering a geopolitical opportunity for Russia, China, Iran and Turkey.
In particular, on Cuba, the Biden team made it clear before the election that it wanted to restore working relationships over time but that this cannot be the same as it existed under President Obama. As with Venezuela, this can include a negotiated step-by-step approach aimed at easing tensions, tackling the US border refugee crisis, establishing multilateral support for the Cuban people, and slowly restoring travel, commerce and limited forms of cooperation.
What this warning reflects is concern among Democrats that the Cuban American vote in Florida and voters’ perceptions of ‘socialism’ affected their disadvantage in what was once a swing state. While Cuba has yet to say more about the election result, one interesting commentary in the state media has suggested that misconstrued political perceptions of a relatively small group of Cuban Americans in Florida may determine future US-Cuba policy. ‘By focusing on that small vote, in national terms, both sides are unaware of the position of broad sectors of US voters who favor the most normal relations with Cuba and who have particular interests in business, science, culture, academic relations, health. and other sectors’, Cubadebate wrote.
More generally the Biden presidency is expected to continue the process of strategic reorientation begun under President Obama which recognized that over time the US would cease to be the only global hegemon and needed to the grip on China’s rapid technological progress.
Caribbean leaders have congratulated President-elect Biden and in private are now looking forward to a time when many of the region’s most important economic and political issues will receive a more sympathetic, less deliberative hearing in Washington.
However, it is far from clear, even with a friend at the White House, whether the divided and poorly integrated Caribbean that is still struggling to overcome the pandemic has the energy and the levy to successfully prosecute his case.
Beyond the good news, the region urgently needs to phase out concessional funding, needs a well-supported multilateral pandemic recovery package, and to convince Washington that US, Chinese, European investment has and other investment that was delivered fairly in the region’s future. He needs to get engaged now.
David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at
Previous columns can be found at https://www.caribbean-council.org/research-analysis/