Briefing / Americas
The latest from the US campaign trail, the wardrobe of Sista P. aka Jamaica's first female prime minister, and a look ahead at Rio+20 summit
View from the campaign trail
The other half
by sasha issenberg
The 118-minute television film, Game Change, had barely finished its first airing on hbo in early March before pundits and political strategists began postulating about its possible effect in the 2012 campaign. The dramatic and, by all accounts, relatively true-to-life retelling of the ill-fated McCain-Palin alliance amounted to a cautionary tale for future presidential nominees. It was not difficult to distill a practical lesson from the story of the unfamiliar Alaska governor who, after being named to the Republican ticket, turned out to be a perpetual headache for John McCain and his advisers: look for a running mate who has already been tested in the crucible of national politics and eliminate unfortunate surprises.
Mitt Romney is not, unlike McCain, a gambler. The Arizonan is an inveterate casino-goer who enjoyed flying fighter planes; the Massachusetts man is a hyper-cautious management consultant who thinks in PowerPoint slides. But the Game Change lesson – and the fear within a Romney team alert to the downside of trying to mimic McCain’s leftfield pick – still apply. Indeed, the appealing Marco Rubio, the 41-year-old charismatic Cuban-American Florida conservative in his first senate term, might start to look like little more than a warm-weather Palin with a more cosmopolitan pedigree.
The most enduring legacy of Game Change, though, isn’t the way that a new era of risk-averse veepstakes could immediately rule otherwise appealing candidates out of the running. The hbo portrayal of the process also seems to have changed the way we look at the decision itself, elevating it into the key character test a presidential candidate faces. There have been some counter-productive pairings before (pollsters believe Dan Quayle’s unseriousness may have damaged George Bush Senior’s performance) and a few that caused the nominee to regret his choice (both Bob Dole and John Kerry believed their running mates were insufficiently fierce in debates against a sitting vice president). But none has come to look as cravenly opportunistic as McCain’s blithe tapping of Palin, without any sense that she was qualified for the office. What was once a strategic question has now turned into a moral challenge.
When Romney settles on a name before the Republican convention in Tampa this August, he knows it will be seen as a window into his character. An interesting, surprising choice can no longer be just that; it risks being viewed as the move of a man willing to do whatever it takes to win over the country. All of a sudden, the candidates who send the best message about the nominee’s temperament might be those such as Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor once thought to be Romney’s toughest competition and ever since a loyal supporter. Pawlenty dropped out of the race four months before the Iowa caucuses, partly because he was a one-dimensional candidate, even a bit of a bore. In the post-Palin era, that may be his best pitch.
Other non-game-changing running mates for Romney
Rob Portman: The business-like Ohio senator has held two cabinet-level jobs, which means he’s already had his past mined as part of a Senate confirmation hearing.
Mitch Daniels: The Indiana governor and former Bush administration budget chief is a wonk on domestic and economic issues and unlikely to get stumped by policy questions.
A young leader for a young country, Schotte, 37, is PM of Curaçao, a former Dutch colony in the Caribbean which became autonomous in October 2010. He has big plans for the small island nation of 150,000 people.
Curaçao is an independent country but still part of the Netherlands kingdom. What has changed?
It’s quite a change. You don’t have a second level of government so the effects of our decisions are felt quicker. We make the laws and the processes are much shorter.
What plans do you have for the tourism sector?
We’re adding 3,500 hotel rooms to our capacity to reach 9,000 rooms in the coming three to four years and adding more flights.
A refinery leased to Venezuela’s oil company PDVSA has been the subject of lawsuits over pollution. Any plans to close it?
In order to close the refinery I would need another economic pillar that would replace the 8 to 9 per cent of GDP that the refinery represents.
Full speed ahead
Haiti — internet
Over two years since Haiti’s earthquake, the impact continues to be felt. The disaster, which destroyed homes and killed hundreds of thousands of people, also knocked out the country’s only underwater cable that links its communications infrastructure with the global network. Now the country’s largest telecoms provider, Digicel (owned by Irishman Denis O’Brien), is laying a new 200km cable, re-establishing broadband capability. Digicel has invested €450m in Haiti, making it the largest private contributor to reconstruction. The cable, due for completion in July, will link Haiti with 21 countries, plus the main internet gateway in southern Florida.
Closer economic union is high on the agenda for the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, the nine-member group of Caribbean states that includes Grenada and St Lucia. Aside from British Virgin Islands the states already use the same currency: the Eastern Caribbean dollar.
Style leader no. 37
Mama knows best
Jamaica [PORTIA SIMPSON-MILLER]
Portia Simpson-Miller won her first term as prime minister of Jamaica back in 2006, defeating three male rivals with the memorable campaign slogan “Come To Mama.” A year later she was back in opposition – but last December, she roared to the top of Caribbean politics in a landslide election victory.
Jamaica’s first female leader, known to her ecstatic supporters as Sista P, has a style sense as diverse as her island’s flora and fauna. In office she favours light colours, but on the campaign trail she dresses exclusively in electric orange, the colour of her People’s National Party. At international conferences the jacket-and-skirt combo is de rigueur, but when pressing the flesh on the streets of Kingston the pm dons anything from a workman’s shirt and baseball cap to a dress embroidered with flowers.
Simpson-Miller is casting herself as a reformer in her second term: she has recently taken up the mantle of gay rights, a brave stance in a country sometimes called the most homophobic on the planet. She’s also campaigning to make Jamaica a republic and replace Queen Elizabeth with an elected head of state. “I love the Queen,” the pm insists. “She is a beautiful lady. But I think the time [has] come.”
Sista P’s feminine touch:
The Simpson-Miller signature is her severe bob, miraculously motionless even in the windiest conditions. The fringe comes down nearly to eye level, hence her taste for small, frameless sunglasses.
The PM favours a more feminine jacket than the shapeless Merkel-Clinton model: cinched at the waist with a deep neckline, but enough padding in the shoulders to indicate she has a cabinet that answers to her.
Even when you’re the head of government, it’s not a good idea in Jamaica to get too showy with the jewellery. Simpson-Miller usually opts for a simple gold necklace, though she did rock some pearls at her inauguration.
Sista P prefers skirts to trousers – a better choice under the Caribbean sun – and on a few occasions she’s even worn a full-length gown to parliament.
The tall premier usually sports classic courts or mules with a kitten heel.
USA — population
With the global population of those aged 60 and above set to grow by 1.2 billion over the next 40 years, solutions for increasing the quality of life for the elderly is a hot topic. At the end of June, the Central Campus of the University of Michigan will host the “Ageing, Mobility and Quality of Life” conference, focusing on personal and institutional developments in health and transport for the world’s ageing population. With pricey healthcare and poor public transport options in many cities, the US is not the most ageing-friendly nation. Perhaps conference experts visiting from Japan, Canada and Australia will offer some fixes.
Back to earth
Brazil — environment
Twenty years after the Earth Summit of 1992 produced Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration on the Environment, world leaders will again convene in Rio for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development’s Rio+20. Aiming to “lay the foundations of a world of prosperity, peace and sustainability”, it will no doubt face challenges as countries continue to differ on what sustainability actually means.
Bolivia — language
While indigenous Bolivians make up around 70 per cent of the country’s population, it’s uncommon to hear native languages being spoken in government or on TV. That’s set to change with a recent law passed by the Bolivian senate, making it compulsory for state employees to speak one of Bolivia’s 35 indigenous languages along with Spanish. The law also says that any Bolivian, when dealing with public officials, has the right to be spoken to in his native tongue.
Latin America’s indigenous voice
Chile: To address poor access to health services among Mapuche Indians, the government set up a health ministry programme for them in 1996.
Colombia: The 1991 constitution recognised the collective land rights of the country’s 87 indigenous tribes.
Power of three
Since 2005 the leaders of the United States, Canada and Mexico have met every year for the cunningly titled North American Leaders’ Summit. Drug-related violence in Mexico was the main topic of conversation when the three leaders met at the White House last month.