The Miami Herald
October 27, 1998

U.S. relations with Caribbean under strain

             DON BOHNING
             Herald Staff Writer

             ``Dangerously out of sync,'' a former prime minister says of U.S.-Caribbean
             relations. ``The Caribbean feels let down,'' a Caribbean ambassador in
             Washington adds.

             A prime minister complains that Washington views the region ``only within the
             crucible of narcotics.'' A foreign minister tells the U.N. General Assembly that the
             U.S. trade position on bananas is ``blind and apathetic.''

             Rarely has there been such a chorus of complaints directed at Washington and
             emanating from the English-speaking part of the Caribbean over so many issues.
             Even more surprising, perhaps, is that more and more officials are going public
             with their grievances.

             Among the issues of contention:

               Reduction of U.S. assistance to the region.

               Disappointment over the failure of Congress to upgrade trade incentives --
             especially for apparel -- in the wake of the North American Free Trade

               Disagreement over Cuba and the Helms-Burton legislation.

               Repatriation of Caribbean criminals from the United States back to their

               A U.S. complaint to the World Trade Organization over the preferential access
             of Caribbean bananas to the European market.

             ``Difficulties in resolving these issues suggest that the relations between the U.S.
             and these smallest of the hemispheric states have been getting dangerously out of
             sync,'' Vaughan Lewis -- a former St. Lucia prime minister and a visiting professor
             at the University of Florida -- says in a recent essay.

             Lewis also observes that younger, more radical Caribbean leaders ``are leading to
             a sharpening of anti-American rhetoric and assertions of a determination not to be
             seen to be pushed around by the United States.''

             U.S. view differs

             U.S. officials dispute the argument that relations are ``dangerously out of sync.''

             They point to a Barbados summit between President Clinton and Caribbean
             leaders in May 1997 that resulted in the so-called Bridgetown Plan of Action and
             the establishment of two joint commissions. One of the commissions -- on
             economy, finance and development -- met last month in Antigua.

             John Hamilton, principal deputy assistant secretary of state who led the U.S.
             delegation, says he believes that ``the depth of U.S. commitment to the economic
             side of the Bridgetown Plan of Action has begun to be recognized, accepted and
             appreciated in the Caribbean.''

             He also noted that the chairmen of the other joint commission on security and
             justice were consulting between Barbados and Washington through a
             teleconference facility, and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was holding her
             third meeting since Bridgetown with Caribbean foreign ministers attending the
             U.N. General Assembly session in New York.

             All those contacts, Hamilton said, indicate that ``the United States is in fact paying
             a great deal of attention to the Caribbean and is being responsive to the agenda
             agreed on at Bridgetown.''

             Caribbean perspective

             But Caribbean officials dispute that view.

             Richard Bernal, Jamaica's ambassador in Washington, describes Caribbean-U.S.
             relations as a ``longstanding friendship that is strained.''

             Bananas, which account for 3 percent of the world market but underpin the
             economies of St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Dominica and Grenada, are the one issue
             around which all others coalesce.

             ``The Caribbean feels let down that a friend and ally would allow this to be
             happening,'' Bernal said.

             The nub of the dispute is a U.S. complaint to the World Trade Organization over
             the preferential access of Caribbean bananas to the European market.

             After the organization found in favor of the United States last year, the European
             Union presented a revised program, which Washington says is still not consistent
             with World Trade Organization guidelines.

             U.S. stake limited

             The United States does not have a major economic stake in the issue, although
             Cincinnati-based Chiquita has extensive operations in Central America. Its chief
             executive officer, Carl Lindner, is a contributor to both the Democratic and
             Republican parties.

             U.S. officials contend that the United States is the ``aggrieved party'' and that they
             have been ``frustrated'' by the European Union in their efforts ``to work out

             The argument falls on deaf ears in the Caribbean. As a Jan. 1 deadline for an
             amended European Union banana regime approaches, debate has accelerated,
             igniting a Caribbean assault on the U.S. challenge and even linking it to
             cooperation in the drug war.

             St. Vincent Foreign Minister Allan Cruickshank, addressing the U.N. General
             Assembly last month, said his country was ``amazed by the blind and apathetic
             position'' of the United States on the issue.

             Such action is ``incomprehensible'' on the part of a friendly country, Cruickshank
             said. ``How can we convince our own citizens about the need to combat the
             production, use and trade in illicit drugs if our banana industry is destroyed?'' he

             Prime Minister Edison James of Dominica echoed Cruickshank, saying the
             Caribbean thought it had been ``given some breathing space'' by the amended
             banana regime, ``but despite this . . . the United States and a group of Central
             American countries are continuing an onslaught against our banana industry.''

             Banana, drug issues linked

             Perhaps the sharpest attack came from Barbadian Prime Minister Owen Arthur.
             He suggested to the Barbadian parliament that Caribbean island nations not renew
             their anti-drug maritime agreements with the United States ``until the banana matter
             is resolved.'' The controversial agreements allow U.S. ships to pursue suspected
             drug traffickers into Caribbean countries' waters.

             ``The hostility engendered by the banana war has been exacerbated by what are
             perceived as instances of continued American insensitivity in respect of recent
             policy positions and practical actions,'' Lewis, the former St. Lucia prime minister,

             Those actions include the closing of the U.S. aid mission in Barbados, which
             served the Eastern Caribbean. Its functions have moved to Jamaica.

             Then there are the Caribbean criminals who are jailed in the United States and sent
             back to their homelands, where, officials complain, they have increased local crime
             and ``transnationalized'' criminal activity.

             Finally, there is resentment over what is often perceived to be a heavy-handed
             U.S. approach to the region regarding drugs and money-laundering.

             Calling the Caribbean the staunchest of U.S. allies ``in this part of the world,''
             Prime Minister Denzil Douglas of St. Kitts-Nevis said in an interview earlier this
             year that Washington must not ``see everything within the crucible of narcotics.

             ``There are other social problems that exist in the Caribbean, and a lot of these
             social problems, to some extent, the United States can help and has not helped.''


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