Caribbean & U.S. misunderstood relationship…..? & “It’s better than Nothing” mantra

The United States of America employs a method of “good neighbor Policy”, albeit misunderstood ever so often by it’s so called third Border States or is it that the Caribbean Basin have a proclivity to always act out of expediency. For instance, the Caribbean basin also known as the “Third Border” is haunted by high energy cost and our family to the south provided us with a tangible alternative to combat the said energy problem. As a result, Caribbean states inadvertently play politics and become “bangwagonist” standing in solidarity with our Latin brothers and sisters even when the issue have little to do with the merits of the said issue.

For instance, Venezuela PetroCaribe program have provided a substantial amount of aid to Caribbean states in times of economic plight ensued by the 2008 global financial, but, by virtue of our own policies exacerbated our economic predicament. Case in point, “according to the IMF, Venezuela has provided Jamaica aid averaging about 2.5% of Jamaica’s GDP over the past three years through its Petrocaribe program”( Al Jazeera, 2015) . Thus, Caribbean Member states are likely to look pass the fail economic policies and the perpetual violation of fundamental human rights and international law (Venezuela – Guyana dispute) once their economic interest are served.

The irony is, the said interest are being served by the United States through programs such as; the Caribbean Basin Initiatives (1983), which rids the Monroe doctrine of 1823. The cold war was an ideological war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union (its nuclear equipped counterpart), but, the Caribbean being in close proximity to the United States we inadvertently played a vital role in regards to reducing the spread of communism (set forth in the 1983 CBI)  and the Cuban missile crisis (1962). The United States reaction to Venezuela in my view have little to do with the reliving of the Cold War, but, more so to do with trying to reverse Nicolas Maduro recent “decree of Power” which will in turn allow him to create a repressive legal framework and violate fundamental human rights. However, the Caribbean community lack the political efficacy, courage and political will to speak the truth amidst fears of losing their “petroCaribe Aid. So like Venezuela they join in and blame “external actors” the so called “imperialist” United States of America.

Brevity of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (1983)

The Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) is a broad program to promote economic development through private sector initiative in Central American and Caribbean countries. A major goal of the CBI is to expand foreign and domestic investment in non-traditional sectors, thereby diversifying CBI country economies and expanding their exports. Note: as of October 2000 there are 24 CBI beneficiary (Department of Commerce, 2000). Countries including both Central America and the Caribbean and the CBI was a bilateral agreement between the U.S. and the CBI countries meaning that they couldn’t trade across with each other.

The Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act of 1983 (CBERA) (amended in 1990) and the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act of 2000 (CBTPA), collectively known as CBI, provides customs duty-free entry to the United States on a permanent basis for a broad range of products from CBI beneficiary countries. The most recent piece of CBI legislation, the CBTPA, provides beneficiary countries certain trade benefits similar to Mexico’s under the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).” –  U.S. Department of Commerce, 2000.

Some Facts:

The United States has run a trade surplus with CBI beneficiaries every year since 1985. In 1998, U.S. exports to CBI countries totalled $19.2 billion, up 12.2% over 1997 levels. In 1998, the U.S. trade surplus with CBI beneficiaries was $2 billion, a 68% increase over 1997. For the first six months of 1999, the U.S. trade surplus with the region was $830 million. U.S. exports to the CBI beneficiary countries reached $18.5 billion in 2010. The value of U.S. exports to CBERA countries grew 27.6 percent in 2010, exceeding the growth rate for total global U.S. exports, which grew 19.8 percent. – U.S. Department of Commerce, 2000

On the other hand, The CBI currently provides beneficiary countries with duty-free access to the U.S. market for most goods. So in other words, CBI countries have duty free (preferential tax) access to a market of “317 million people” (U.S. Census Bureau, 2014). Apparel and clothing accessories have become the largest U.S. import from CBI countries. U.S. imports of apparel from CBI countries, both knitted and non-knitted, totalled $8.2 billion in 1998, 48% of total CBI exports to the United States. – U.S. Department of Commerce, 2000.

Traditional Caribbean exports remain an important source of income and, especially, employment for the region. CBI traditional exports accounted for 18.8% of total U.S. imports from the region in 1998. Major product categories included: edible fruits and nuts; coffee, tea and spices; fish and shellfish and; tobacco. – U.S. Department of Commerce. Take for example, traditional exports will contribute to St Vincent and the Grenadines 5.4% of GDP and 26% of employment (Agriculture), evidence that although United States core interest may be one of security concern doesn’t mean that they are not interested in the economic development of the “third Border” states. For example, President Obama give a speech on his recent trip to Jamaica enroute to the 2015 America’s Summit in Panama, in which he stated; pledge to give $70 Million to the America’s. However, some were quick to criticize the President’s visit and announcement saying it’s an attempt to isolate Venezuela and re-establishing a “Cold War” mantra, but, if the United States hadn’t give anything we would still lambaste them for neglecting us.

“At least it is better than Nothing”

In our contemporary Caribbean community, it has become somewhat customary of us as a nation of people to live by such a code – “at least it is better than nothing”. Without being cognizant, that these “words” inadvertently debase our dignity as people of a Democracy. Why are so many Caribbean countries still playing catch up amidst so many preferential treatments and aid support….? (Some mentioned in earlier paragraphs). The Caribbean often rejoice over the mere fact that we don’t witness uprisings, militia extremism, terrorism, violent protests and any other sort of action that detest and try to fight against the social ills ensued by bad governance. I say it is time for us as a region to hold our Leaders accountable and embolden more responsiveness and stop cowering behind Party Colors. Why can’t I see a GDP per capita (average income of persons) that reflects the reality of our Caribbean society, instead of one that is incongruous to our reality. After all, Qatar GDP per capita sits at $144,000 which reflects its reality, but, most Caribbean countries GDP per capita do not.

Many Political Leaders will make the argument that our “lack of political will”…….sorry they wouldn’t be so honest; instead they’ll say that our inability to inject more money into the economy to address our basic social needs are the corollary of external factors beyond our control. Albeit, statements like that may hold some truths (not that much), it is a classic tale of political spin. The motive, is to provide the listener/reader with what sounds like a very intelligent answer envisage bewildering you in seconds that you forget what you were trying to address. Let use examples close to home, Trinidad and Tobago is not immune to external actors, nor is Bermuda whose GDP per capita sits $31,000 & $85,000 respectively.

Some will say that Trinidad & Tobago has an important natural resource (OIL), but, so is Nigeria and their GDP per capita sits at $6,100 (dutch disease). Critics may say that Nigeria has a much larger population than that of Trinidad meanwhile negating that Nigeria also has a much larger economy than Trinidad. Nigeria GDP sits at $1.058 Trillion while Trinidad and Tobago sits at $42.23 Billion, thus making the critic irrelevant.

However, there was a reason I insert Bermuda because unlike Trinidad & Tobago it doesn’t enjoy that glut of natural resources (OIL).

Instead, most of its money derives from Tourism and international business sector. However, Tourism which contributes some 5.2% to Bermuda GDP makes up the larger sector of its work force. Thus, many Caribbean countries really have no excuse to get their S**T right and start doing their jobs that they were elected to do. Both the ones in Government and the opposition party who have won their seats.

Moreover, it is time for the citizens of the Caribbean who are not in an office of power, but, nonetheless you play a vital role in putting people there to govern your affairs. I know many are afraid to speak out amidst fear of being ostracize ensued by politics. We’ve noticed the power of the people around the world from the “Civil Rights” to the “Arab Spring” movements, which either change Government policies to bringing down Dictatorship regimes. The irony is, when we speak of democracy we speak of the Caribbean as a shining example of Democracy. However, I am starting to think that our Caribbean governments are Democratic, but, our governance is evocative to the governance witness in communist/autocratic states.

Emmanuel Quashie

Disclaimer:

This article is solely the thoughts of the Writer and has nothing to do with politics per se. More so, it was done on the basis of purely critical analysis.

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