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US elections: the whole world is watching

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  • Global

‘When America sneezes, the Caribbean catches cold.’

If you grew up in the Caribbean, you hear this statement a lot. I suspect there is a version of this exact sentiment in other parts of the world.

The outcome of the US Presidential Election matters a lot.

For better or worse, the economic, military and soft power of the United States has allowed it to assume the role of the world’s policeman and global pacesetter. Other countries operate in a rules-based system crafted by the US and its allies.

There has been debate about if US influence has been in decline, or even rapid decline. But for now, America still has an outsized influence over the global economy, politics and culture that greatly impacts non-Americans.

This makes me wonder. Why don’t we (non-Americans) have a say, if not an actual vote, in the upcoming US elections?

Because the outcome of the election matters a lot to me - someone who grew up on a small Caribbean island.

Even US domestic policy affects its neighbours

When President Monroe warned European powers to not interfere in the Western Hemisphere in 1823, he basically declared it as within America’s ‘sphere of influence’. What became known as ‘the Monroe doctrine’ help transform America from a young country to a global power.

Fast forward 197 years and what happens in this hemisphere is still largely shaped by US politics, domestic and foreign policy.

For example, take gun control. It’s a politically charged issue. Some Americans argue aggressively for the ‘right to bear arms’. Others advocate for regulations to reduce everyday gun violence in cities and mass shootings, including a number of school shootings.

However, little mention is made in this debate about the effect of lax gun control laws have on neighbouring countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Illegal guns originating from the US fuel gang violence, leading to rising homicide rates.

Its effect on countries such as Mexico is more well known, but little is said about its impact on island nations like Jamaica and even in my native Trinidad and Tobago. Local police when working with US authorities oftentimes find it difficult to trace weapons as the record of gun sales are thin, or in some instances non-existent. (The Firearms Owners Protection Act, signed into law in 1986 by President Reagan, prohibits the establishment of a national gun registry.).  

Even though public opinion favour stricter laws, the politics of gun control has created an impasse with little consensus across political parties.  

US foreign policy

That’s an example of the influence of the US domestic policy on the Western Hemisphere. US foreign policy has of course had a huge impact.

There is a laundry list of past interventions, installed dictators, staged coups involving the US and countries in the Western Hemisphere. The list is long and notable - from Chile to Cuba, Guatemala to Grenada.

The history speaks for itself, and in some ways fuels the widely held distrust across Latin America even today. Look no further than the embrace of Guaido in Venezuela or the disputed 2019 election results in Bolivia.

For me, Venezuela is particularly important. My native Trinidad lies at its doorstep and US action or inaction will affect not just Trinidad and Tobago but other Caribbean islands. This has been a protracted crisis with no end in sight.

Approximately 4.5 million Venezuelans have fled the country to date. Most have opted for countries such as Colombia. But although Trinidad and Tobago and other Caribbean countries host a small percentage of those that have fled, the impact is more strongly felt because of our smaller populations, land space and economies.

It is still the biggest humanitarian crisis in this hemisphere which has only gotten worse since the imposition of US sanctions at the beginning of the Trump Administration in 2017. Humanitarian organizations have pleaded with the US to ensure the passage of food, medical supplies in the wake of civil unrest and political instability.

However, without a path to a peaceful transition (which includes support from the US, its allies and others), the situation festers and will only worsen.

We need global leadership to tackle global crises

In a global pandemic, we have become aware of our interconnectedness and inherent vulnerability.

This has been felt particularly by small island states which are characterised by a narrow economic base, high degree of openness and dependence on other developed economies.

The devastating impact of the pandemic has resulted in depleted remittance flows, decreasing tourism revenue and limited external borrowing options.  

Most small island states have a limited capacity in terms of prevention, detection and health surveillance and would typically seek assistance from other countries to increase their testing, treatment capabilities and access to medical supplies and equipment.

Often in world affairs, the US takes the lead. They marshal other countries to meet the challenge of escalating crisis. This was the case with the Ebola Crisis in 2014.

But here we are in 2020 without the anchor of leadership from the US and with a lack of global coordination. We’re in the ‘G-Zero’ era, where every country is looking after itself or using the leadership gap to undermine trust in international institutions. For example, the ill-advised US withdrawal from the World Health Organisation.

The global community feels unmoored and ill equipped to face the current crisis, adding to greater uncertainty. Without global cooperation and coordination, global health investment and greater global leadership, a dire future awaits many countries like small island states.

Is this a dress rehearsal for the bigger existential threat facing the world – Climate Change?

The United States, the second biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, withdrew from the Paris Agreement. The current administration has rolled back approximately 100 rules regarding environmental protections.

This is alarming in any year, but worse when considering what we have already experienced in 2020 – mass deforestation, massive flooding, rampant wildfires and a global pandemic. It is not hyperbolic to say that our ecological alarm system is blinking red.

In a US Presidential election, where basic facts are disputed and the mere acknowledgement that climate change is real is considered controversial, I wish we all had a vote or a say in who is elected to both branches of the US government. But we don’t.

The US election outcome matters to us – all of us

In the run up to the election, there was little to no discussion about US foreign policy and its role in the global community. It is unlikely that foreign affairs will have any effect on the final outcome.

Instead we can only hope that our interests align with that of the majority of US voters. Or more precisely with the majority of voters in six key states - Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

To date, approximately 80 million Americans have already voted. Some are still weighing their options and others are undecided. On November 3rd, 80% of Americans are expected to watch the returns closely.

I suspect the whole world will be watching too.

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