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International Relations of the Anglophone Caribbean

International Relations of the Anglophone Caribbean

The history of the Caribbean is a mosaic of conquests by European powers, starting with the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. However, from the promulgation of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, the United States gradually assumed a greater influence in the region that fit within the wider context of the growth of colonialism and the increasing struggle among powerful states to secure a dominant position in the global political economy. Given its proximity and regional hegemony, it is the United States that has been able to influence the agenda of issues that Caribbean nations face, as well as shape the context and contours of decisions made by the various governments. So, in order to understand the nature of Caribbean international relations, one needs to take into consideration the historical, geostrategic, economic, and political power realities of the region.

The geography of the Caribbean combines with a shared history to provide an appearance of a homogenized region, but the reality is that Caribbean states have struggled on similar but separate tracks to find a foreign policy approach. Size, type of government, and at times the role of political and government leaders all figure in the complex dynamics of interactions among various actors, including states, organizations, and individuals at the domestic, regional, and international levels. National differences of wealth, developmental level, and politics have also had a direct bearing on Caribbean foreign policies. Haiti, for example, was the first Caribbean country to become independent (in 1804), but it has been plagued with a legacy of dictatorship. On the other hand, the nations of the English-speaking Caribbean gained independence during the 1960s and have relatively stable variants of the British parliamentary system. Overall, there is a dependence on foreign trade and a reliance on a narrow economic base comprised of agricultural production of cash crops such as sugar and bananas; mining and the manufacturing of oil, bauxite, gold, and apparel; and service industries. This dependency is reflected in a number of ways as the region struggles to break old patterns and seek greater influence in the global arena. The Caribbean has therefore operated under a variety of political and economic constraints that limit what Caribbean governments can accomplish and that reduce their control over events.

Independence and the Cold War Era

In the immediate years after independence, some Caribbean governments sought to develop relations with other developing states outside of the region. Reflecting the ethnic heritage of the people, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana developed ties with India and, along with Jamaica, created diplomatic links with some African countries. Despite the fact that these efforts were well intended, they have been mostly symbolic. The majority of Caribbean states gained independence during the 1960s, a period filled with the tensions and conflicts of East-West rivalry. The Cold War thus set the tone for foreign relations as the countries gained in importance, not because of anything intrinsic to them but because of their links with the wider struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union. The character of Caribbean relations during the Cold War was defined by security concerns within the framework of the containment of communism, especially after the 1959 Cuban Revolution. The ensuing threat of Cuba as an exporter of revolutionand its growing alliance with the Soviet Unionled to the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the resulting policy of political and economic isolation of Cuba. In 1965 the United States engaged in direct military intervention in the Dominican Republic, and by 1983 the anticommunist strategy had intensified under President Ronald Reagan with a military intervention in Grenada. The Reagan administration also launched the Caribbean Basin Initiative as a means of increasing trade and investment, but the initiative rewarded only those countries that implemented free-market economic reforms and served as a manifestation of a growing dependence on the United States.

By the 1970s, the Cold War atmosphere also witnessed the rise of a new set of leaders (such as Michael Manley of Jamaica, Forbes Burnham of Guyana, and Maurice Bishop of Grenada) who sought new solutions for the old problems of colonialism and neocolonialism. Their foreign policies, couched in anti-imperialist rhetoric, coincided with the U.S. strategy of constant opposition to radical regimes in the region. With issues of development a common theme, these leaders turned increasingly to Third World and North-South forums to address issues of development. The Non-Aligned Movement, which first sought to avoid the trappings of the Cold War, embarked on a strategy of maximizing the gains from the bipolar competition between the United States and the Soviet Union. Armed with the solidarity gained from the Non-Aligned Movement, the Caribbean and developing nations in other regions used the Group of 77 in the United Nations to demand a New International Economic Order in a special session of the United Nations in May 1974. This helped to set the economic agenda for over a decade, but it eventually gave way to neoliberal strategies. Their influence was reduced in the multilateral arena, however, with the shift in the North-South dialogue from the political arenas of the United Nations to the financial and trade institutions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Negotiating Capacity, InstitutionalRelations, and Economic Survival

The international and global agenda for the Caribbean changed rapidly with the beginning of the 1980s. The end of the Cold War and the decline of communism helped to dramatically accelerate powerful trends that required changes in the policies and behaviors of states. Toward the end of the twentieth century, severe financial crises caused by rising debt, falling exports, and shrinking economies in an increasingly global economy influenced the tone and style of Caribbean foreign policy and relations. These ideological and policy changes have led to a shift toward developing appropriate domestic policies. The bargaining leverage enjoyed in the Cold War era, and the confrontational tactics geared toward international regulation, have given way to market-oriented economic policies and political pluralism as the basis for economic development. Private and commercial entities and multilateral financial institutions such as the IMF have become major actors in the planning and implementation of policy for all the Caribbean states. In addition, globalization, structural adjustment, and reforms have posed a challenge for the small, open economies that are very vulnerable to external shocks.

The preferential arrangements that guaranteed duty-free access to European markets under the ACP (African, Caribbean, and Pacific) Lomé Convention, the Caribbean Basin Initiative, and the Caribbean-Canada Trade Agreement (CARIBCAN) are now challenged by new rules enforced by the WTO and created to promote a liberalized global trading regime and facilitate negotiations on trade-related issues. The "banana dispute," in which the United States joined with Mexico and Central American countries to pressure the European Union to liberalize its banana trade with the Caribbean, exemplifies the new realities. This has resulted in increasing competition and marginalization of the Caribbean, especially for the eight small island economies of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States. In addition, the United States is the Caribbean's largest trading partner, accounting for most of the imports into the region. Yet the countries all compete to get access to a U.S. market that has become increasingly protectionist. The economies of the Caribbean (except Trinidad and Tobago) have also become dependent on services for export. Tourism constitutes the greater portion of service exports and is very vulnerable to natural disasters, travel patterns of tourists, and competition within and outside of the region.

Given the increasing vulnerability and the failure of reform advocated by the New International Economic Order, Caribbean states have turned to regional and sub-regional groupings with the hopes of finding their own identity and a basis for common action to take advantage of growing economic interdependence and to address the realities of global competition. The first attempt toward regionalism dates back to 1966 with the formation of the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA). Then, in 1973, the Treaty of Chaguaramas created the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM). The treaty was revised in 1992 to facilitate the creation of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), which includes a common external tariff; functional cooperation in agriculture, energy, transportation, tourism, meteorology, natural disaster, education and law; regional cooperation in infrastructure; and a Caribbean Court of Justice. In an effort toward wider relations in the region, the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) was formed in 1996. Its membership of thirty-six nations includes Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, and the Isthmus states. The CSME is expected to remove barriers to the movement of labor, capital, goods, and services between the signatories of the fifteen member statesthe agreement came into effect in January 2005 between Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados, with the expectation that the other members would join by the end of the year. However, the region still has to deal with problems of sovereignty and commitments to the integration process.

The Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) is another regional/hemispheric vehicle touted as one way in which Caribbean economies would be able to make positive adjustments in an era of globalization. A basic framework is in place, but a number of difficult issues are unresolved. There are different interpretations of whether the FTAA should be a primarily market-access agreement or a broader rules-based pact. Caribbean governments have emphasized the need for fair trade to address the issue of special and differential treatment. Furthermore, since September 11, 2001, security has displaced trade on the U.S. agenda, and the merging of the war on terrorism with the war on drugs has resulted in an emphasis on creating "smart" borders and denying safe havens for terrorists. There are now fears that commitments to hemispheric security will override the importance of economic development of the region.

An Uncertain Future

The parameters of Caribbean international relations have now shifted to the promotion of interests in an environment that is dominated by (and challenged with) concerns of globalization, economic competition, and terrorism. The Caribbean also exists in a world dominated by the most powerful state, which has historically influenced the image and fate of its relations. The pervasive nature of economic crises and increasing constraints on the state have reduced any semblance of autonomy derived from the rights of sovereignty and the ability to formulate independent positions in foreign policy. The future of the Caribbean nations in international politics will greatly depend on the dynamic mix between the demands that external challenges

and internal politics simultaneously place on the governments of the region. As a people, the Caribbean extends beyond its geographical boundaries to the various metropolitan centers of Europe and North America. These overseas aggregationsin the form of a diasporaare larger than many of the member states in the region. The survival and development of the Caribbean in international affairs may have to rely, in the final analysis, on the creativity of its people both within and beyond the confines of the Caribbean Sea.

See also Bishop, Maurice; Burham, Forbes; Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM); Manley, Michael; Media and Identity in the Caribbean; Natural Resources of the Caribbean


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Grant-Wisdom, Dorith. "US-Caribbean Relations." In Caribbean Security in the Age of Terror: Challenge and Change, edited by Ivelaw Griffith. Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle, 2004.

Griffith, Ivelaw, ed. Caribbean Security in the Age of Terror: Challenge and Change. Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle, 2004.

Haar, Jerry, and Anthony Bryan, eds. Canadian-Caribbean Relations in Transition: Trade, Sustainable Development, and Security. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.

Hall, Kenneth, and Dennis Benn, eds. Contending with Destiny: The Caribbean in the 21st Century. Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle, 2000.

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dorith grant-wisdom (2005)

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