Don’t expect Biden to rescue the Caribbean, says Bernal

THERE will be no financial windfall for the Caribbean from a Joe Biden-led US Government cautions Richard Bernal, former Jamaican ambassador to the USA, who on Friday shared his views on the foreign policy implications of a Biden win.

“An increase in financial aid to middle-income developing countries of the Caribbean is not likely as this is not a propitious time to approach Congress for foreign aid,” Bernal told the Jamaica Observer as the world awaited final results of the contest between incumbent Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger.

“A Biden Administration in this political milieu is not likely to be able respond to the calls from the Caribbean for a Marshall-type package of financial support and debt relief,” Bernal said.

Like many others across the globe, the US economy has been battered by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Its Congress is locked in a battle over whether to approve another multi-trillion-dollar stimulus package for citizens. And, as unveiled during the election campaign, Biden has his own stimulus plan.

“The delayed stimulus package is urgently needed and what will emerge depends on the configuration of the House and Senate. Hopefully the US will bring the pandemic under control as quickly as possible and the US economy recovers quickly. This would resurrect the tourism sector with a resumption of travel by Americans – including cruise travel. It would reverse the decline in remittances,” said Bernal.

Biden has promised a different approach to COVID-19, but Bernal noted that any efforts in this regard will take some time to reap positive results that will play out in the economy. With countries in the region, including Jamaica, dependent on a healthy US economy, all eyes are on the election outcome and what Biden, if he wins, does to rein in the pandemic.

Another important issue that will be impacted with a Biden win, Bernal said, is America’s position on immigration. While a Trump victory could potentially see an “intensification of the recent immigration policy regime”, which would impact Jamaicans hoping to migrate to, or work in, the US, a Biden-led Government is expected to “have a more liberal approach to migration and would terminate the building of a wall on the Mexican border”, explained Bernal.

America’s relations with China, Cuba, and Venezuela, and the implications for the wider Caribbean, will also be issues to watch with a Biden win. The region has been caught up in an intense US-China rivalry during much of the Trump presidency. For example, US Ambassador Donald Tapia has urged the Jamaican Government not to engage Chinese firms in its efforts to roll out 5G technology across the country, warning that there would be implications for the country’s financial sector. The comments elicited a rebuke from the Chinese Embassy in Kingston and there was backlash from the wider Jamaican society.

Bernal expects less pressure on the region with Biden at the helm.

“The arousal of US interest in the Caribbean and a reassertion of its presence has much to do with feeling that it is necessary to counter China everywhere, all the time,” he pointed out. “The Biden Administration will not publicly admonish governments for economic transactions with China or its enterprises for borrowing from China. Under a Biden Administration, the approach to China will be engagement to push for economic and political change while not losing sight of Peking as a global competitor.”

He expects, though, there would be some objection from the Republicans who would see the “Democratic Administration’s inclination towards diplomacy, cooperation, and co-existence” as being “too soft on national security”.

The former ambassador anticipates that Biden’s approach to Cuba will mirror that of former President Barack Obama, whom he served with as vice-president. There will be a relaxation of sanctions and an easing of administrative measures, but it is unlikely that the US will normalise relations with Cuba under a Biden-led Administration, he said.

He expects that the thorny issue of Venezuela will also be in play.

“The Biden Administration, while continuing the call to strengthen human rights and press freedom, will seek to engage in a new dialogue. This approach should allow Caricom to agree on a common position of dealing with the [Nicolas] Maduro Government,” Bernal predicted.

“The result of the presidential and congressional election in the United States… will have a profound impact on the US, and indeed the entire world – and especially the Caribbean.”

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