What Biden’s win means for key industries in the Caribbean countries

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Media: Illustration by Joshua Sun

As more residents in the tropics confine themselves to their homes this winter because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the phrase “when America sneezes, the Caribbean catches a cold” comes to mind.

By Shannon Garrido, Deputy Opinion Editor

As inauguration day approaches, leaders of Caribbean countries are coming together to congratulate the newly elected president, Joe Biden. As we move from an administration that strained international relations these past four years, I wonder what the inauguration will mean for relations between the United States and the Caribbean? 

Keep in mind that the Biden-Harris ticket is focused on bringing together a country that has been riddled by political polarization and civil unrest. Under Biden, immigration policies instituted by the Trump administration—like family separation, the dismantling of asylum, and the suspension of temporary protected status (TPS)—may be reversed. 

A predictable and humane approach to immigration has long been important in the exercise of regional soft power, according to the Royal Institute of International Affairs. Better treatment of immigrants and a decisive move away from negative rhetoric on migrants could help restore positive perceptions of the U.S. in Latin America and the Caribbean.

As more residents in the tropics confine themselves to their homes this winter because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the phrase “when America sneezes, the Caribbean catches a cold” comes to mind. 

Being the region’s largest trading partner and source of tourism—44 percent of Caribbean tourists come from the U.S.—Americans and American policy significantly impacts the Caribbean’s economy. 

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Carribean countries are forced to suffer the consequences of the United State’s mishandling of the pandemic. Many Caribbean countries that are dependent on U.S. tourist arrivals have had to classify the U.S. as a “high risk” country because of the Trump administration’s inability to contain the pandemic. With more than 200,000 Americans confirmed dead, Trump has not attended a single meeting of his COVID task force in five months. Latest data show that for the first two months of the summer 2020, there was a 99.1 percent decline in regional tourism. 

A better coordinated federal approach to the current coronavirus infection and death rate should benefit Caribbean countries whose tourism sectors have been hit by the virus. The CDC has since placed all but 6 out of the 35 states and territories in the Caribbean as high-risk territories. Biden has voiced support for flight bans and restrictions “if the science says so,” meaning an order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He also plans to reduce the number of cases in the U.S., therefore protecting countries that receive large amounts of American tourists. 

Under a Biden administration, remittance flows, money or other assets that foreign workers send to their home countries, are not at risk. On March 29, 2016 during his first campaign, Trump threatened to “ban” remittances. This was in the hopes it would force Mexico to pay for the border wall. Remittances came up again recently with Trump suggesting a “toll” for cross-border traffic. He also suggested a new tax on remittances.

Since Biden is opposed to the border wall and has claimed to want to heal diplomatic relations, he’d have no reason to use the remittance corridor as a forcing mechanism. Biden has called for an easing on restrictions to remittances to other countries, like Cuba. Under Obama, remittances helped fostered the expansion of Cuba’s private sector, a Biden adviser who spoke to Reuters added that the incoming president wants to “empower” the Cuban people. Caribbean countries are amongst the primary receivers of remittances. In Latin America and the Caribbean—making up a region where in many cases economic conditions are bad—remittances rose to $74.3 billion,

The Dominican Republic received the most remittances by far: a total of $4.65 billion in 2014. Jamaica receives 2.26 billion USD each year, followed by Haiti, which receives 1.9 billion dollars. Estimates suggest that the total number of Haitians in diaspora varied from 1.5 million to 4 million. Research conducted by the ACP Observatory on Migration showed that Haitian families depending on remittances can easily fall into poverty when these flows are interrupted.

A study carried out by the Inter-American Development Bank out in Central American and Caribbean countries has shown that 72 percent of remittances are used to cover daily costs, 7 percent on savings, 6 percent on education, and 1.8 percent on the acquisition of housing.

Monetary remittances have a direct impact on the socioeconomic and employment structure of the Caribbean region. Recipient households generally have higher levels of consumer spending and lower incidences of extreme poverty than their counterparts who do not receive remittances.  

In the end, there is no telling what a Biden administration can mean for other countries. Many have pointed out that his foreign policy is rather ambiguous, and it’s possible that not much will change in terms of diplomatic relations in the Caribbean. Nevertheless, there is a glimmer of hope for those who feared a second Trump term.  

Shannon Garrido is a journalism major from the class of 2024. If you would like to respond to this thought piece in the form of a letter to the editor, email [email protected] Letters may be edited for style and clarity.