No one can deny that the United States and Caribbean countries have enjoyed very healthy relationships over the years that have brought some benefits to both set of countries. It is therefore critically important that that relationship continues to expand to redound to the good of regional economies in particular.
Within that context, therefore, the recently held meeting in Trinidad and Tobago with Caribbean leaders and the Vice-President of the United States has to be seen as a positive development given the difficult financial and economic times confronting Caribbean economies at this very time. But the truth is that Caribbean countries can no longer afford to simply engage in dialogue on important issues with the United States. Real benefits must come our way.
Historically, regional economies have benefited significantly from the United States in areas such as security, trade and investment, and education, among others. One could recall, for example, some of the potential benefits that could have been gained under the Caribbean Basin Initiative if only our countries were determined to do so.
On the contrary, there are others issues pertaining to US-Caribbean relationship that remind me that sometimes the sun does not shine as bright as we believe. Two examples immediately come to mind. First, can anyone forget the United States’ invasion of Grenada in 1983? Some may argue that the invasion, which subsequently ended the Grenadian revolution, resulted in the restoration of democracy in the country. But can the country claim to have benefited socially and economically from such action relative to the hopes and aspirations of ordinary citizens?
Second, during the height of the challenges to our banana industry, President Clinton came to Barbados and promised the region that he would do all in his powers to help protect one of our then vital economic industries. How well has he delivered on that promise? I am sure that a quick discussion with banana farmers in Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines will provide an immediate answer to that question!
Based on experience alone, it is clear that Caribbean countries can reap much more benefits from their relationships with the United States. After all, the United States is the most powerful and resourceful economy in the world and has the capacity to assist small countries like those in the Caribbean in much more tangible ways.
In recent times alone, the United States has provided trillions of dollars in aid and military support to countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Libya, and Pakistan. The assistance granted is clearly consistent with the strategic and national security interests of the United States and those countries.
And that indeed is the model that we in the Caribbean have to emulate. We have to decide what our strategic interests are and bring them to the table in our discussions with the United States. All of our energies should then be channelled into fighting for those causes to ensure that real benefits flow to our economies in the short, medium and long terms.
In the present circumstances, with so many of our countries experiencing massive debt and fiscal challenges, I can think of no better form of support from the United States than an injection of cash. After all, security, crime fighting, and the signing of a trade and investment agreement are positive developments but will not address the most burning issue facing Caribbean countries at the moment—financial and economic hardship.
That is why a huge monetary injection from the United States is the right medicine for our immediate illness. What do you think?
(Dr. Brian Francis, the former Permanent Secretary in the local Ministry of Finance, is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics at the Cave Hill Campus in Bridgetown, Barbados of the University of the West Indies)