The following piece was produced through OffTheBus, a citizen journalism project hosted at the Huffington Post and launched in partnership with NewAssignment.Net. For more information, read Arianna Huffington's project introduction. If you'd like to join our blogging team, sign up here If you're interested in other opportunities, you can see the list here.
Correspondent Doug Porter currently resides in the Virgin Islands, and reports from there on attitudes in the Caribbean on the upcoming 2008 presidential contest.
Has Cuban leader Fidel Castro, now in the twilight of his years, gone soft? When asked in the latter part of the twentieth century about U.S. Elections, he typically declined comment, noting that any perceived favoritism of his part could cost a Yankee politician votes. In his earlier days he would have scoffed at the 2008 election cycle as meaningless window dressing for an imperialist aggressor, yet his recent musings that a Clinton/Obama ticket would be "invincible" have made headlines around the world. "Faux News" even went so far as to label his rambling commentary as an endorsement, creating a heart shaped graphic including him alongside the Democratic front runners.
One theory, favored by fervent Cuban exiles, is that Fidel is actually dead and the Cuban government is using Castro's lengthy penned positions to fool its own people and delay the inevitable uprising that will occur upon news of his death. These same people also believe that they will be welcomed as liberators, conveniently forgetting their own legacy that included maintaining many aspects of segregation right up until Batista was overthrown in 1959. The longevity of the Cuban revolutionary government is due in no small part to the awareness of Afro-Cubans that the exiled wannabe rulers are not all exactly equal opportunity types. One merely has to compare the complexions of the anti-Castro leadership with their former compatriots in Havana to get a glimpse of that unspoken political reality.
El Commandante, freed from the daily machinations of running the state and knowing that death is not far away, has entered the legacy phase of his reign. His essays that are appearing throughout the Cuban state owned media are his attempt to extend his influence beyond his lifetime unto the next generation of Cuban leadership. For Fidel, and for most the Caribbean, the electoral processes on the mainland are largely irrelevant as the region enters the 21st Century.
U.S. political influence in the region is at an all-time low; its military capabilities and prestige have been severely diminished through its prolonged focus on the Middle East. Venezuela and China have emerged as serious economic players, and Cuba, China, and Venezuela are separately and collectively filling the economic and political void throughout the region.
The Cubans and Chinese have entered into an agreement to produce mass quantities of Bactivec , a biolarvacide targeting mosquitoes that carry Dengue and Yellow fevers. The World Health Organization estimates that there are 50 million cases a year plaguing the tropical regions throughout the world. Castro claims to have (Venezuelan funded) eye clinics throughout the Caribbean and Latin America that have operated on more than 700,000 of the region's poor.
Chinese demand for oil has empowered Venezuela's Hugo Chavez to adopt a more aggressive and anti-American foreign policy. Funded by windfall oil profits, Venezuela ($8.8 billion) is now offering more direct state funding to Latin America and the Caribbean than the United States ($3 billion), with left-leaning nations at the head of the Chavez's recipient list. The list of projects being funded ranges from garbage trucks (Haiti) to housing (Dominica) and subsidized oil prices throughout the region.
The Chinese are exercising their new-found economic power throughout the region, funding infrastructure projects and offering a new development model that eschews the tenets of western liberal market orthodoxy. Hospitals and sports arenas are being built. Dominica is receiving $112 million in assistance, roughly $1,600 for each of its 70,000 inhabitants. Caribbean politicians are regularly visiting the PRC on Cultural Exchange missions.
The upshot of all these diplomatic, economic, and political incursions is the assembling of a political coalition that can stand up to the United States in the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, and even the Organization of American States. Ultimately, this situation poses a challenge for future administrations regardless of ideological leanings.
Insofar as voting is concerned, many Caribbean governments are now quietly looking forward to more roll calls in the UN than in the U.S. Congress.
The scattered nature of the Caribbean nations and the differing histories each have experienced with various colonial powers means that there can never be complete unanimity in foreign policies of the various nations with the United States. There are interests for whom the upcoming election cycle has relevance. I'll explore those in future dispatches.
The above piece was produced through OffTheBus, a citizen journalism project hosted at the Huffington Post and launched in partnership with NewAssignment.Net. For more information, read Arianna Huffington's project introduction. If you'd like to join our blogging team, sign up here. If you're interested in other opportunities, you can see the list here.