With well over 20,000 visitors here for the Summit, including the international media, TT will have an unaccustomed exposure. Usually, if Caribbean countries are featured in the global media, it is from a tourist focus, or because of political unrest or, more recently, because of environmental concerns. TT is an exception to some extent, since our oil and gas industries also make our small twin-island state newsworthy from an economic perspective. But all these issues — the international economy, democracy, climate change, and energy security — are the central themes of the weekend’s Summit.
In respect to the first issue, the United States of America is the key player. It was the financial sector of that country, aided and abetted by its last administration, which catalysed the present financial crisis. The new administration of President Barack Obama has inherited this challenge, and Mr Obama has spent most of his tenure so far tackling the economic downturn. The Fifth Summit is only his latest stop around the world where he has met leaders and policy-makers in an attempt to fashion a global response to the crisis. However, his focus at this Summit is likely to be somewhat different.
Latin America and the Caribbean account for just about eight percent of the world’s GDP; the US by itself accounts for 20 percent. So Mr Obama’s main focus at the Summit is likely to be more political than strictly economic. The South American and Caribbean nations were for 60 years a centre of strategic concern to the US, and especially so during the Cold War years conventionally confined to 1950-1980. The Soviet Communist threat has now collapsed, and all the countries in the region save Cuba are now defined as democracies. But, more than most US presidents, Mr Obama understands history and economics, so he knows that consolidating the region’s political stability is still important for US security. After all, with the sole exception of Costa Rica, the countries of South America are recent democracies, and a backslide into dictatorship and discredited socialist policies is still a real possibility. If this ever happens, the inevitable consequences — armed conflict and increased poverty — will surely spill over to US shores.
For the Caribbean islands per se, environmental issues should be a key concern. This is because the mainstay of the region’s economy is tourism, and this is likely to remain so in the foreseeable future.
Climate changes which harm the sun-sea-and-sand environment of the islands are thus going to have economic effects beyond those which affect other countries and, indeed, the planet. Ironically, though, this issue seems of less concern to regional leaders than to the leaders of the US and Canada. In the case of TT, clarification on the US thrust to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels is a key matter. In respect to the drug trade, new initiatives from the Obama administration and key South American countries such as Colombia and Venezuela must also occupy the centre table.
All in all, therefore, it is a packed weekend. We hope, however, that the participants will still have the opportunity to experience and enjoy the varied delights of the host country.