I left the Caribbean with the name of Barack Obama ringing in my ear. The black peoples of the Caribbean are constantly following events in the presidential campaign as it unfolds.
Throughout the day, CNN broadcasts every single detail of the rise and rise of Obama. Discussions on the issues surrounding him far outstrip those about the progress of the Australian cricket team, which is currently touring the West Indies. Local events are on the back burner as Obama surges to within touching distance of the presidency of the United States.
It is not yet time for jubilation. A tense atmosphere prevails, for the Caribbean islands, like America, have evolved from an identical plantation society. West Indians know instinctively what the reaction of some whites might be to his chances. The islanders are tense, nervous even, about the possibility of a racist backlash that could manifest itself either in the assassination of Obama or in a vicious campaign against his advance.
Even so, their support for him is total. All the paraphernalia of the Obama campaign is on display throughout the Caribbean. T-shirts, buttons, posters and stickers are everywhere. But, having lived under the complete domination of several US governments, the Caribbean people show an element of caution that does not surprise. Tiny Grenada was blown apart by the American military as the islanders sought revolutionary change with the aid of Cuba. US ambassadors have replaced the colonial governors of yesteryear. Any dissent in the United Nations or elsewhere is met with a loss of aid and other desperately needed assistance.
Yet Obama's success has emboldened some. The prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago was interviewed on television and described Obama as "a breath of fresh air". His counterpart in Jamaica has declined two offers of a meeting with President Bush; he had other appointments more pressing than Bush's requests, he said. And there is an increasing tendency for governments in the islands to turn away from the US while seeking new alliances with South American countries.
Hugo Chávez and his Venezuelan supporters have embraced the Caribbean as part of their economic and political strategy. They offer oil to these tiny island states on loans that may or may not be repaid in the far and distant future. Some have taken up his offer, while others remain cautious, aware that the US disapproves.
A new black power movement in Central and South America sees the Caribbean peoples as allies. With the Cold War over and the neocons on the brink of defeat, these millions are looking to Obama as a potential ally.
I continue to be aghast at the ignorance of the American press about what is taking shape on its doorstep. The mass movement which has lifted Obama up high was bubbling beneath the surface of American society long before he issued his challenge. This force is what moved him to lay down his gauntlet.
An American friend has been telling me that the horrific treatment of blacks after Hurricane Katrina was the wake-up call - for blacks and whites alike - that the ruling caste was displaying a kind of barbarism to its own people which had not been experienced for decades. If and when Obama wins, the movement that spawned him will be on his heels from day one.
The Caribbean has much to look forward to. The stranglehold on Cuba must be lifted to release the talents of that people in health and education for the benefit of all the islands. Closer relations between West Indians and Latin Americans is on the agenda. A new dawn is possible, and Obama is poised to lead the way.