From Trinidad & Tobago: Change or More of the Same?

By Guest Columnist Apr 21, 2009

By Carlos Jimenez The V Summit of the Americas, and the counter IV Peoples’ Summit, has brought a wide representation of peoples and communities of all colors and histories to the small island of Trinidad. While both gatherings have similar topics in their agendas including regional collaboration, migration, job creation, security, and the economy, the approach and implications for working people and communities across the continent could not be more different. On one side of the island (and a few cruise ships), representatives of 34 nations of the Americas with the notable exception of Cuba is gathering to discuss how to continue the Bush-style policies of “free trade” and “economic progress” which have unleashed devastating consequences on issues of critical importance to the peoples of the Americas like the environment, education, health services, access to food, and a decent standard of living. In another part of the island, a vibrant and open gathering, with Cubans well represented, is gathering to discuss how to fix the problems caused by the current economic model and address the root causes of the multi-dimensional crises women, workers, young people, indigenous communities, and future generations are faced with which have brought the continent and world to a cliff from which there is no return (a topic which is notably absent from the official summit). Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJ), and other U.S. based organizations like the Alliance for Responsible Trade and TransAfrica Forum, are attending the Peoples’ Summit to engage in the deep debate and discussions with other social movements across the continent to offer perspectives and cross strategize on how provide alternative to the crises. It’s been immediately clear that our brothers and sisters in the Caribbean and in the Americas aren’t getting a clear picture about the situation in the U.S. through traditional media outlets. Everywhere we’ve gone, the question of what an Obama victory has meant to us has been asked, the assumption being that Obama is of a same mindset as left-leaning leaders in Latin America with a new brand of politics, an assumption that is yet to be proved through actions. We’ve learned it’s not just the hopes of the people living in the U.S, but of the entire continent, which have come to rest on the shoulders of the President. But the hope is not blind, and anything short of breaking with the “cowboy” diplomacy and unilateral actions of past administrations is sure to result in strong opposition from other nations and social movements which would be a nightmare for the administration. If President Obama is serious about a new chapter in relations with the Americas and Caribbean, a smart and strategic objective for re-setting hemispheric relations, a few fundamental issues will have to be addressed. Among them: * Conduct a fundamental reopening of the debate regarding the future of NAFTA and other free trade agreements, with inclusion and broad representation of the sectors most impacted by its consequences. Policies that have resulted in devastation for communities across the U.S. and the Americas and have shifted millions of jobs oversees to move impoverished countries and are responsible for the massive disparity in wealth we now see. * Close the working groups which President Bush began towards the development of so called “Security and Prosperity Partnerships” (SPP). Pacts which have been created in secret meetings by private companies, who have removed public interest from having a voice in discussions of critical importance to working people. * Announce a change in immigration policy which ends the criminalization of migrant workers seeking a better life and will work to address the root causes behind people abandoning their homes and lands. * Demilitarize the border between the U.S. and Mexico and bring down the “wall of death”. * Unite behind the imperative to recognize Cuba as a full diplomatic partner in the hemisphere. Just a few months ago, we voted for change. In the process we broke barriers to elect a candidate that made those campaign promises. It wasn’t easy, but the alternative made it a necessity and in the end we made history. Today, President Obama has an opportunity (and mandate) to break with the policies that have impoverished and devastated communities of color and working people in the U.S. and the Americas. Its clear that it is a difficult challenge because there are sectors of society that want nothing more but to preserve the status quo, obviously for them the system has been working. Let’s hope President Obama isn’t more of the same. As the Peoples’ Summit comes to a close, resolutions and declarations on the way forward will be pronounced. Whatever the outcomes are at the Summit of the Americas what has been clear to us is that deeper relations and integration amongst the peoples of the Americas is the basis for long term solutions to this current crises. Carlos Jimenez works with Jobs with Justice, a member organization of Grassroots Global Justice Alliance.