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Raffique Shah


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No hope in Obama's audacity

By Raffique Shah
October 28, 2012

Politicians and politics have wreaked havoc with my psyche, my very soul, I confess. Imagine, one week away from US presidential elections and I remain uninterested in what's happening in Washington DC. I did not watch the debates between challenger Mitt Romney and incumbent President Barack Obama. I read some reports on them, and analyses of the campaign and the issues at stake. Frankly, I am not impressed.

I should remind readers that I backed "the Brother" in 2008. Everybody did—at least everyone I knew. I mean how could I, a Black Power advocate of the 1970s, not feel a stirring in my soul seeing a black man occupy the White House? On the cold January day on which he took the oath of office before one of the biggest crowds assembled for an inauguration, I remembered a quip by Black American activist and comedian Dick Gregory. He had said, back in the day, "If ever I get elected to the White House, the first thing I'll do is paint it black!" We roared with laughter then.

In 2009, when "the Brother" assumed office, we did not expect him to repaint the Oval Office or even colour the Cabinet black. But coming as he did in the wake of the disaster that was George W. Bush, whose tag team wrecked America's economy, engaged the country in wars it could never win, and did irreparable damage to what was left of its tattered image as a superpower, we expected Obama to undo some of the glaring injustices his predecessors had perpetrated on hapless nations and helpless people across the world.

I certainly took for granted his campaign promise to shut down the notorious Guantanamo prison. Indeed, I thought he might go the distance and vacate the naval base, and even end the isolation of Cuba, heralding a new dawn in the Americas. The aging Fidel Castro reached out to "the Brother", extending an hand of friendship, pleading for a normalisation of relations between the neighbouring nations.

Cuba poses no threat to the US. It never did, except perhaps during the missile crisis that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war exactly fifty years ago. Some might argue that its refusal to change its ideological stance is reason enough to punish the country with a continuing 50-year old economic blockade. I ask them, what then of China and Russia? Why does Washington not insist that Beijing hold multi-party elections? Or that Putin step aside and make way for "democracy"?

America will not dare challenge these powerful nations on the very issues it holds Cuba an economic hostage. This unyielding stance speaks of a grave injustice to a country which in spite of the blockade and crippling poverty, has outshone and outdone far more prosperous nations in the fields of education, health and human development.

Obama, in his four years in office, kept the Guantanamo prison and secret trials system intact. He does not even mention it. That these two travesties reek of horrible atrocities inflicted on victims of Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Gulag means nothing to "the Brother". Similarly, one of Washington's cornerstone foreign policy initiatives is to deny Iran its right as a sovereign state to develop nuclear weapons, if it so chooses.

I need note my personal take on this nuclear nonsense. I cannot understand why any country, Iran included, would spend billions of dollars to develop weapons of mass destruction that it would never use. If that kind of money were spent on hospitals, schools, housing, it would yield immense benefits to the people of those countries. And anyone who knows anything about nuclear weapons and warfare, knows about "mad"—mutually assured destruction. In other words, you fire a missile at me, I return fire before you hit me, then your friend fires one, and so on. Light a nuclear fire and the whole world is destroyed.

That said, why should Iran be denied what Israel has in abundance, what India, Pakistan and North Korea have? Of course, I have not mentioned the huge arsenals that Russia, China, the USA, Britain and France possess. This is yet another case of discrimination that Obama has encouraged rather than resolve fairly.

Look, I understand "Realpolitik", the global reality that might is right, that the strong will always take advantage of the weak. Maybe I was stupid to believe that Obama might restore some semblance of sanity to this mad, mad world. Maybe it was asking too much of "the Brother". Still, I can't help but feel disappointed that he did not deliver on many of his promises, especially simple ones that mean so much to so many people.

So I lost hope in his audacity and interest in American politics. Over the past few years, I have paid more attention to developments in Venezuela, Brazil, Latin America as a region. America will remain a superpower, economically and militarily, for some years. But the shifting sands of geopolitics suggest that it will not be the centre of gravity it once was. For Trinidad and Tobago's economic well-being, we need to forge new alliances, find new trading partners, new markets for our products.

I wish "the Brother" well, come November 6. I have long learnt that a Republican in any form is bad news for America, and punishment for the wider world. In conscience, though, I cannot go out there ringing a bell, singing a song for Obama. Whatever the outcome of the election, the "one per cent of the one per cent" that has always wielded power in America will remain in control, dictating domestic and international policies to the President. The more things change...

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