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Stability In Caribbean Crucial To U.S. Security Interests

Bush administration’s relations with region cooled by Iraq war and other problems; clear indications situation being reassessed


December 25, 2003
Copyright © 2003 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

As 2003 came to an end, the administration of President George W. Bush was reassessing its relationship with the Caribbean in the context of the Iraq war and U.S. security interests.

According to numerous regional observers, U.S. relations with the Caribbean during most of the Bush administration’s first year were characterized by benign neglect, as the administration was preoccupied with trouble spots elsewhere in the world. Because of its relative stability, the Caribbean didn’t get much attention, with Washington leaving vacancies in ambassadorial positions and other posts covering the region.

All of that changed as the result of 9/11 and the tightening up of America. Security measures have been felt throughout the Caribbean in travel, tourism, commerce, shipping, and aviation.

Collectively, the Caribbean Community (Caricom) declined to support the U.S.-led war with Iraq. Only the Dominican Republic, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua backed the war. Caricom stuck to its position, though Bush administration officials have said privately that those who stood with the U.S. on Iraq will always be remembered.

Among the other issues dividing the U.S. and Caricom is the International Criminal Court (ICC), which Washington opposes and Caricom supports. Two Caricom states—Antigua & Barbuda and Guyana—have broken ranks and signed agreements with the U.S. on handing over U.S. troops so the ICC may prosecute them for war crimes. It is considered unlikely, however, that many more agreements will follow.

Security restrictions tightening up

As the U.S. becomes more security-conscious, its reach into the region is being felt in numerous ways. It is increasingly difficult to get visas to visit the U.S. since Washington announced that effective Dec. 31 all visitors will be fingerprinted.

In what seems a tit-for-tat reaction, Barbados has announced that U.S. visitors to that tourism mecca will now require passports instead of a driver’s license and birth certificate. How many other destinations will follow suit remains to be seen, but travel industry sources indicate the requirement would definitely inhibit U.S. travel to the region since the majority of Americans don’t possess passports.

Castro has been in power in Cuba for over four decades, but the embargo is being increasingly challenged by agro-industrial businesses in the U.S. that want increased exports to Cuba and by travelers and tourism interests. Most of the Caribbean countries have diplomatic relations with Cuba, trade with it, and have various forms of other relations. While Washington isn’t happy about these, it chooses to look the other way.

Haiti remains a basket case, even after the Clinton administration invaded the country, put President Jean Bertrand Aristide back in office, and pumped in more than $3 billion with precious little to show for it. Not only doesn’t the situation improve; it continues to deteriorate daily, causing increased concern in Florida, a veritable release valve for the powder keg, as are the nearby Bahamas.

Although the Congressional Black Caucus, controlled by Democrats, and Caricom remain supportive of Aristide, there are indications of growing disenchantment given the rampant corruption and reign of terror that have developed in Haiti as it prepares to observe the 200th anniversary of its founding.

The neighboring Dominican Republic (D.R.), a showcase of economic development in Latin America and the Caribbean, holds on as it is wracked by severe economic instability, social unrest, and political division in the ruling Revolutionary Party. With elections on May 16, 2004, President Hipolito Mejia insists on running for re-election despite opposition from leaders of his own party.

Numerous reputable commercial observers, including Standard & Poor’s, Bear Stearns, and the Economist Intelligence Unit, have issued increasingly anxious analyses of the economic situation in the D.R. The borrowing continues, however, as the Mejia government has been unable to stabilize the currency or restore the people’s confidence in the system. Increasingly concerned over the situation, the Bush administration dispatched four high-ranking officials to the D.R. in recent months.

The majority of the Caricom countries remain apprehensive about joining the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), to be implemented in 2005. They are concerned over their ability to remain solvent in a free-trade regime, which would eliminate duties on imports, currently a principal source of income. One, Dominica, is on the verge of bankruptcy and is appealing to the International Monetary Fund for help.

Caricom Secretary-General Edwin Carrington said he recently discussed the relationship between Caricom and the U.S. with Secretary of State Colin Powell, who said, "If you have something troubling you and need to talk to me, get on the phone and call me. Don’t stand on ceremony." Carrington said, "It is clear both sides want to move forward with their relations and get things done for the region."

T&T supplies 64% of U.S. LNG consumption

Washington is also concerned about Trinidad & Tobago’s (T&T) growing importance as the principal source of liquefied natural gas (LNG). T&T is responsible for more than 64% of U.S. imports of the commodity annually. It is also a major recipient of U.S. investment in both the LNG and oil sectors.

"It is energy security that is dominating the relationship between the U.S. and T&T," said Prof. Anthony Bryan of the University of Miami. "Any reports that they are at loggerheads or that T&T is being given the cold shoulder can be put to rest because of T&T’s vital importance to the U.S. in terms of energy reliance."

T&T Prime Minister Patrick Manning wasn’t invited to a breakfast for Caricom leaders at the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September. A subsequent meeting with Powell was scratched when the secretary of state had surgery, but Manning decided to go to Washington anyway. He had settled for a White House meeting with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, but was surprised to be greeted by President Bush.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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