Two thousand and twelve holds both a great deal of uncertainty and cautious optimism for the Caribbean. The election of new governments over the past year in Jamaica and St. Lucia, the controversial re-election of an incumbent in Guyana, and the selection of Michel Martelly out of a flawed election in Haiti has sent mixed signals about the overall direction the region is taking. With the global economy still in an extremely volatile state, the predominately service-oriented economies of the Caribbean remain extremely vulnerable to the action or inaction of Europe and the United States.
In Guyana, December’s election saw Donald Ramotar of the incumbent People’s Progressive Party emerge with the win—albeit with a minority government. The delayed release of election results triggered a wave of controversy and political tension within the country that has yet to cease. The Opposition leader, David Granger, just announced the possibility of a snap election in the country to capitalize on the current controversy surrounding the PPP.
In Haiti, the sombre two year anniversary of the earthquake has come and gone, signalled by another round of lofty reconstruction promises in what many consider to be a tragically stalled effort. The accountability and legitimacy of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti continues to erode after being unapologetic for their role in introducing cholera into the country and releasing a group of Uruguayan soldiers accused of raping a young boy without charge, despite the existence of video evidence. President Michel Martelly has been under fire for failing to overcome a standstill over the implementation of his national education plans, while proudly calling for the re-establishment of the notorious Haitian army. Hopefully 2012 will be the year of lessons learned, starting with a concerted and coordinated effort to invest in sustainable and publically accessible partnerships and investment.
In Jamaica, Portia Simpson Miller’s return to power has come with the promises of shaking up the country by tossing out the monarchy and finally making Jamaica an independent republic. While perhaps more symbolic than substance, it offers to deliver important political capital, which will be much needed, especially when facing the more daunting issues of managing and reducing debt, corruption, and crime. Miller was partly elected on her promise of using state funding to reduce the unemployment rate. For the United States, Miller’s election confirms their worst fears of a diversion from the IMF’s prescription. As WikiLeaks revealed, “In such a scenario [the election of Miller], Jamaica could go the way of Haiti: fatally driven by crime, poverty, drugs, gangs, social disintegration, and emigration - all more reasons for strong US support for Golding's ongoing reforms.” Whether or not Miller will be able to run Jamaica in the interests of the Jamaican people will be a story to watch throughout 2012.
In St. Lucia, Prime Minster Kenny Anthony swept back into power after a five year absence, defeating Stephenson King of the United Workers Party. Facing extensive infrastructure and housing damage due to Hurricane Tomas in 2010, increasing crime, and a volatile tourist market, the Prime Minster is currently looking east in a risky effort to play China and Taiwan against each other in order to secure the largest promises of aid and development for St. Lucia.
Finally, the emergence of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) signals an important shift away from the traditional U.S. influence in the Caribbean. It is too early to determine whether or not a competing organization like CELAC will be able to deliver on the promises of sustainable development and strengthen South-South cooperation in the Caribbean, or if the Caribbean will fare as a forgotten partner in this predominately Latin American venture. Several Caribbean countries (Dominica, St. Vincent, and Antigua) have already joined ALBA, revealing that the interest in new forums of cooperation and partnership are not based on motives of political opportunism, but rather due to the overwhelmingly negative experience the Caribbean has had with neoliberal globalization. Looking at the history of the lack of benefits the Caribbean has had in adopting initiatives like the Caribbean Basin Initiative, it is hardly surprising.
Kevin Edmonds is a new NACLA blogger focusing on the Caribbean. He will be blogging at nacla.org/blog/other-side-paradise. Edmonds is a former NACLA research associate and a current PhD student at the University of Toronto, where he is studying the impact of neoliberalism on the St. Lucian banana trade (where he witnessed much of his family lose their livelihood) and the possibilities of alternative development in the Caribbean. As an active Haiti solidarity activist he has written extensively on the issues of human rights, development, and foreign intervention in Haiti. See also the July/August 2010 NACLA Report, "Fault Lines: Perspectives on Haiti's Earthquake."