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What a Biden presidency means for our region

When Joseph R. Biden Jr. was sworn in on Wednesday as the 46th president of the United States of America, many in The Bahamas, the wider Caribbean region and indeed the world felt a deep sense of relief.

The change in administration comes as America is gripped by a significant health crisis and an economic crisis triggered by the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

America is also deeply divided.

As Biden noted in his inaugural address, during a significantly scaled down event in the shadow of the US Capitol, “This is a time of testing.”

America has recorded 400,000 deaths from the coronavirus — equivalent to the entire population of The Bahamas being wiped out by this invisible and brutal enemy.

“We will honor them by becoming the people and nation we know we can and should be,” the new president said.

Biden’s immediate tasks will be to beat back COVID-19 and revive the economy. He has also pledged to restore America’s good name and respect in the international arena.

“We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again,” he said, “not to meet yesterday’s challenges, but today’s and tomorrow’s. We will lead not merely by the example of our power but by the power of our example.”

For many in the Caribbean region, the election of America’s first African-American and first woman vice president, Kamala Harris, was cause for immense pride given her Jamaican heritage.

Globally, there is a sense that America, with the exit of Donald Trump from the White House, will see civility and decency restored.

In his congratulatory message on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) after the US presidential election last November, CARICOM Chairman and St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said Biden’s experience will be of great value to the global community at this time.

Gonsalves said Biden has been a friend to CARICOM and the Community looks forward to working with the new administration of the United States in pursuing the goal of advancing the well-being of our people.

America is “a country with which the Community is inextricably linked through geography, shared values, familial ties, and economic and security relations”, he noted.

IMPLICATIONS

Biden’s move to rejoin the Paris Agreement, which outlines and focuses on the global response to climate change, and his promise to bring strong leadership in the fight against COVID-19 have important implications for The Bahamas, and for our region.

Trade and development consultant Alicia Nicholls opined on the issue in a blog that explores trade law, development and policy through a Caribbean lens: “Biden’s win will occasion a pivotal turning point in the US’ approach to the COVID-19 pandemic which the Trump administration epically mishandled. Trump, notably, suspended US funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) and consistently downplayed the seriousness of the virus, even after he himself and many of his White House staffers became infected.

“In contrast, one of Biden’s first acts will be to announce a 12-person COVID-19 task force evincing a more robust response to the virus which has so far infected over 9.5 million Americans and killed 234,000.”

That was in November.

America to date has recorded more than 24 million COVID-19 cases.

Yesterday, instead of the massive crowds that usually attend presidential inaugurations, tens of thousands of American flags stood at the National Mall in Washington, DC, due to the pandemic.

As The Nassau Guardian observed after Biden’s victory, the turning point in the US’ handling of COVID-19 is cause for optimism.

In a congratulatory message to the president-elect and vice president-elect, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley said, “I am sure that we in the Caribbean will look forward with optimism to working with the new administration to confront a number of global issues, from the awful pandemic to the climate crisis to the pursuit of racial justice.”

Biden has promised a “decisive public health response [to COVID-19] that ensures the wide availability of free testing; the elimination of all cost barriers to preventative care and treatment for COVID-19; the development of a vaccine; and the full deployment and operation of necessary supplies, personnel and facilities”.

The new president has signed an executive order appointing Jeffrey D. Zients as the official COVID-19 response coordinator. The mandate is to provide an aggressive response to the pandemic.

Biden warned yesterday, “We are entering what may well be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus.”

He urged, “We must set aside the politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation.”

Biden, as he pledged, is also restoring America’s ties with the WHO.

The Bahamas, not unlike other nations in the region, faces grave challenges in restoring its economy. The COVID situation in the United States will in the immediate future likely continue to negatively impact our economy as The Bahamas’ tourism sector accounts for 50 percent of GDP and 85 percent of tourists who visit the country come from North America.

There is no reviving the Bahamian economy without America turning the corner in its fight against the deadly pandemic. That is vital to our own recovery.

“If Biden can get 100 million people vaccinated in the timeframe that he is targeting, obviously that would have a lot of impact on people’s preparedness to travel,” prominent Bahamian businessman Sir Franklyn Wilson noted yesterday.

“Secondly, I believe if Biden rejoins WHO, it’s likely to increase the potential for small countries to access the vaccine. With Trump, it was America first.”

Climate

Biden has already taken action for the United States to rejoin the Paris Agreement in 30 days.

“A cry for survival comes from the planet itself, a cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear,” he said yesterday.

Dr. Adelle Thomas, director of the Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience Research Centre at the University of The Bahama, observed after the November election that Biden’s commitments on climate change “send a signal that we will be able to limit emissions to levels that we need to in order to prevent the impacts of climate change from becoming as bad as they could be, which is very important for small island developing states like us here in The Bahamas”.

Speaking to The Nassau Guardian, Thomas added, “In terms of beyond the Paris Agreement, I think the new Biden administration is going to be very beneficial for The Bahamas.

“We will likely see some funding that will be available for climate change adaptation and mitigation that really wasn’t there under the Trump administration.”

Another area of significant concern to many in the region, particularly those whose children and other relatives have emigrated to the United States, is that of race relations.

Yesterday, Biden pledged that “the dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer”.

He vowed the rise in political extremism, white supremacy and domestic terrorism will be confronted and defeated.

Nicholls, the trade and development consultant, previously observed, “Biden’s consistent message of unity and racial equity should bring some comfort to persons of the Caribbean diaspora negatively impacted by the racially charged rhetoric and divisiveness that marked the past four years of the Trump administration.”

With the ceremonies over, it is time for Biden and Harris to get to work.

The world will be watching.

Well wishes have come from every corner of the globe.

Pope Francis said in a message to the new president: “At a time when the grave crises facing our human family call for farsighted and united responses, I pray that your decisions will be guided by a concern for building a society marked by authentic justice and freedom, together with unfailing respect for the rights and dignity of every person, especially the poor, the vulnerable and those who have no voice.” 

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Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.

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