Donald Trump is considering Texas restaurateur and real estate developer Ray Washburne for the position of secretary of the interior. As such, Mr Washburne will play a major role in the relationship between the United States and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Way back in the 1930s, President Herbert Hoover questioned the economic viability of the former Danish West Indies, a group of islands the United States acquired from Denmark a decade and a half earlier. By the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Virgin Islands was becoming a top tourist destination thanks in part to Cuba taking itself “offline” with its hard turn to communism.
Fast forward to 2016 and we have Donald Trump, on the campaign trail, threatening to roll back concessions made to Cuba by the Obama administration. With Cuba going back online as a tourist stop, the U.S. Virgin Islands faces a threat to its tourist industry in the immediate to long term. If Mr Trump tightens restrictions on trade, the Virgin Islands stays in play. If Mr Obama went through this calculus, it appears that he believed that any losses to the Virgin Islands’ economy could be hidden by making the thawing of Cuba-U.S. icy relations a part of his legacy.
Even if the Virgin Islands avoids a threat to its tourism industry, at first blush a person with land development/restaurant management experience is the last person the Virgin Islands needs as secretary of the interior. Primary dependence on tourism has never been good for the Virgin Islands’ economic viability. The Virgin Islands should be seeking out new economic initiatives, initiatives that would set it apart from other Caribbean nations and territories.
On the other hand, given Mr Washburne’s business experience and network, he may be able to bring some necessary outside the box thinking regarding the territory’s economic climate. Herbert Hoover described the Virgin Islands as a poorhouse. Given its level of poverty, one can make the argument that it is in some ways. If Mr Trump’s pick for secretary of the interior can’t contribute to turning around that status, then the choice would be a waste.