U.S. relations with Caribbean under strain
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
A prime minister complains that Washington views the region ``only within
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
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
of Caribbean bananas to the European market.
``Difficulties in resolving these issues suggest that the relations between
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
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
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
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.''
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
happening,'' Bernal said.
The nub of the dispute is a U.S. complaint to the World Trade Organization
the preferential access of Caribbean bananas to the European market.
After the organization found in favor of the United States last year, the
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
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
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,
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
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,
served the Eastern Caribbean. Its functions have moved to Jamaica.
Then there are the Caribbean criminals who are jailed in the United States
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
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
social problems, to some extent, the United States can help and has not helped.''
Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald