By W. Andy Knight
After the 2020 US election was over on November 3 last, it took seven days before CNN felt comfortable declaring Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States of America. Biden has made history by accumulating more votes than any other presidential candidate in the US – over 80 million votes (or 52 per cent of the popular vote). It also became clear that, with wins in Republican strongholds of Arizona and Georgia, Biden clearly won the Electoral College with 306 votes.
Donald Trump was beaten, and the loss was major. None of the legal attempts to overturn the election results in key states like Michigan and Pennsylvania by the Trump campaign has been successful because there has been absolutely no evidence of election fraud or election rigging, as Trump himself has claimed. The reality is, Trump lost, and the loss was a lot more massive than at first thought. Only three other Presidential candidates in US history had bigger electoral college wins than Biden – Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, Ronald Reagan in 1980 and Bill Clinton in 1992.
So, let’s ignore Trump’s temper tantrums and get on with the business of figuring out what a Biden/Harris victory will mean for the Caribbean.
Normally, most US elections are fought over domestic policy issues. Very seldom is much attention paid to foreign policy in a US election. So, trying to decipher what a Biden/Harris victory will mean for the Caribbean is not necessarily all that straight forward. However, one has to recognize that in this early part of the twenty-first century, the lines between “the domestic” and “the international” has become so blurred that scholars are beginning to view “international relations” as “intermestic relations”. In an intermestic era, the primary issues addressed in this 2020 US election all have implications for US foreign policy – and therefore implications for US-Caribbean relations.
The primary issues that bedeviled the US election campaign were the mismanaged coronavirus pandemic; the failing US domestic economy; immigration issues; and racial injustice exposed by “the George Floyd moment”. In each of those areas, one can discern that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will take a path different from that of the Trump/Pence presidency – with some impact on US-Caribbean relations.
The transition process from Trump to Biden is being stymied by President Trump’s refusal to concede defeat and allow the Biden transition team access to the resources needed to address the serious spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths. This sets a terrible example for any country that has looked up to the US as a beacon of democracy. You might recall the recent Guyana election whose results were prolonged by President Granger’s refusal to concede defeat. The US government, along with most countries in the international community, pressured Granger and his APNU/AFC to eventually step down and accept the will of the people. Perhaps, President Trump can learn a lesson from President Granger eventual move and do the same.
The Biden administration will address the coronavirus pandemic as a global problem and will most likely return to collaborating with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in order to tackle the issue of reducing the spread of this virus and getting a scientifically approved vaccine to all countries that are trying to bring this pandemic under control.
Addressing the global pandemic in this collaborative way could result in a boost to the ailing US economy and may in fact improve the economic situation in the Caribbean which is now reeling from a GDP loss. especially from the disruptions to tourism. Visitors’ numbers to the Caribbean region in 2020 are likely to fall by as much as 71 per cent compared to 2019. This will mean a loss of about two million jobs and $44 billion for the region, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. Any improvement in the way the US deals with the pandemic will likely result in improvements in the tourist industry across the Caribbean.
The Biden/Harris government will also likely roll back some of President Trump’s draconian immigration policies and return to the Obama era policy of providing a pathway to citizenship for Caribbean people who have been living and working in the US without formal authorization. This shift in policy could bring many Caribbean people currently living in the shadows in many American cities out into the open and provide them a pathway to citizenship. It must be remembered that immigrants contribute as much as $2 billion to the US economy annually.
The Biden/Harris administration is also likely to reduce the threat that the Trump administration posed to family reunification. A large percentage of Caribbean people who migrate to the US do so through family reunification. Had Trump received a second term as president, there was a good chance that the US family reunification policy would have come to an end.
But the main issue that could affect the Caribbean as a region is the situation in Venezuela. The strangulation of Venezuela through US foreign policy under the Trump-administration led to the outmigration of several Venezuelans. In Columbia for example there have been 1.6 million migrants from Venezuela. In Trinidad and Tobago it is estimated that over 60,000 Venezuelan refugees and asylum seekers are now residing there. I think you will see a reversal of the Trump administration policy of the harsh sanctions on Venezuela which could ease the burden that Caribbean countries have been dealing with as a result of Venezuelans trying to find a better life outside their country
Biden has proven to be very comfortable working with Caribbean leaders. Thus, one should expect that the divide and conquer tactics in CARICOM, used by Pompeo and the Trump administration will come to an end. A Biden presidency will therefore benefit the Caribbean significantly and very likely keep that region as a zone of peace.
W, Andy Knight is a professor of international relations at the University of Alberta and a former director of the Institute of International Relations at the University of the West Indies.