Caribbean wants formal talks with Trump

Bert Wilkinson | 5/10/2018, 1:19 p.m.

The seemingly chaotic nature of American foreign policy and limited engagement between Caribbean officials and people of influence in Washington are among factors pushing regional leaders for a summit with President Donald Trump, sooner rather than later.

Community foreign ministers meeting in the Bahamas this week are scheduled to have extensive discussions on the issue as anxieties about the region being ignored and left behind by the current state of unpredictably in the U.S. mount.

Regional governments are used to at least one or two full summit meetings with a sitting American president during a four-year term, but they have not yet been able to persuade the powers that be in Washington that the region is of any importance so far.

Since Trump took office in January of last year, the region has had limited formal engagements with then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when he flew to Jamaica for a meeting with Prime Minister Andrew Holness in Kingston in February. Other leaders did not attend that meeting. Tillerson has since been fired by Trump. He did describe Jamaica as America’s closest ally in the community.

Issues at that session had included planned sanctions against the administration of President Nicholas Maduro of Venezuela as Washington continues efforts to undermine if not topple a government that it considers to be authoritarian and dictatorial.

The other key meeting with a high-level American official occurred at the biennial Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru in April, when there was a session involving leaders who had attended that conference and Vice President Mike Pence.

The Jamaica Gleaner newspaper reported this week that pressure is mounting in regional political circles for a formal engagement with Trump, largely because U.S. foreign policy appears to be in an unpredictable state and very inward looking.

The region’s oldest newspaper reported that officials worry about “the unpredictability surrounding the implications of the Trump administration’s policy position of ‘America first,’ which had resulted in adversarial immigration and trade policy decisions [and] its withdrawal from leadership on global matters.”

Quoting from a document it had seen, the paper said that there is a sort of “reticence” on the part of Washington to engage with poor Third World countries and that has “caused uncertainty as to the future of the small advances made with the U.S. during the two terms of Barack Obama.”

Additionally, a meeting with the foreign ministers and Kenneth Merten, the American acting principal deputy assistant secretary for Western Hemispheric Affairs, was scheduled for this week but officials worry that the “U.S. government has not indicated any specific issues that it wishes to discuss.” That too is a cause for some amount of anxiety among Caribbean officials.

Immigration issues, problems with American commercial banks cutting correspondent banking ties with those in the region because of alleged operational risks and the need to engage on climate change are among areas of major importance to the Caribbean.

Leaders had several times sat down formally with Obama and pervious secretaries of state John Kerry and Hilary Clinton, in addition to engagements with Attorney General Eric Holder and other high-level officials during previous Democratic administrations.