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Monday, January 09, 2006 

Two to tango: US Caribbean relations
Monday January 09 2006

Madeleine Albright, the former US Secretary of State in President Bill Clinton’s democratic administration posed a pertinent question to President George W. Bush last Thursday.
According to the New York Times, Ms Albright, asked the president whether his foreign policy team with the Iraq war “taking up all their energy” hadn’t let US relations with Latin America suffer by “benign neglect”.

The reference to Latin America is relevant to the Caribbean because the two areas are linked both by international organisations and the US State Department.

In reality, Latin America and the English-speaking Caribbean are very different. They are different in size of territory and population, in culture, in language, in history and even in their foreign policy objectives in the global community.

But, the truth is that Ms Albright is right, the Bush administration has neglected both Latin American and the Caribbean at a high political level.

In trying to get some movement in the international trade negotiations at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the US has had to engage Brazil particularly, because it has emerged as a leader in negotiations on behalf of several developing countries.

But, the engagement with Brazil, in the WTO context, does not amount to the kind of serious interaction with Latin America and the Caribbean that was envisaged when President Bush announced his ‘third border initiative’ soon after taking up his first term in office.

At the Summit of the Americas held last November, President Bush tried to get agreement to proceed with the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) to include all the countries (except Cuba by US desire) of the Western Hemisphere. He failed to persuade many of the larger Latin American states to do so. For the most part, they regard the FTAA as being little more than an effort to secure greater US influence over their economies at the expense of local ownership and employment.

In the meantime, throughout the two Bush Administrations, Latin American countries have been moving to the left.

The boisterous and vocal Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is the best known of the Latin American leaders who view the US government with deep suspicion.

But, the leadership in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and now Bolivia under President-elect Evo Morales also reveals a profound animosity toward the Bush administration and its policies.
And, it seems that another left-leaning leader, Ollanta Humala, may emerge in Peru in presidential elections later this year.

All of these leaders have a closer relationship with Cuba’s Fidel Castro than has been the case in the past – a fact which, instead of promoting US engagement with them, has elicited only US mistrust.

Significantly, two of the bigger Latin American countries – Argentina and Brazil – have decided to pay off debt to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), leaving themselves free of the controls of the Organisation and its board which is dominated by Western industrialised nations, particularly the US.

Many countries in Latin America are also busily establishing new markets for their products, including oil and gas, in China, India and the European Union (EU).

None of this augurs well for US-Latin American relations which have deteriorated under the Bush administration.

Former Secretary-of-State Colin Powell was too involved with the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq to pay attention to Latin American and the Caribbean, and his successor, Condoleeza Rice, was always going to be more focussed on the big international issues especially the Middle-East.

Latin American and Caribbean policy seemed to be left to successive Under-Secretaries-of-State – first, Otto Reich who was obsessed with Cuba, then Roger Noriega who extended animosity beyond Cuba to Venezuela, and now Tom Shannon who served on the National Security Council under Ms. Rice, and who, unlike his predecessors, should have a wider perspective of the Region. Among his qualifications, Mr Shannon holds a Ph.D from Oxford University; this British experience should give him a better understanding of the former British colonies in Caribbean.

But, so far, the same lack of meaningful US high level engagement that is evident in relations with Latin American countries is equally true of the Caribbean.

While there have been encounters between Secretaries-of-State Powell and Rice with Caribbean Foreign Ministers, these have been brief and obligatory with little real discussion of the issues that bother the sub-region.

In the meantime, President Chavez of Venezuela is trying to extend his influence and ideas into the Caribbean mainly through his Petro-Caribe agreement under which Venezuela would sell oil to Caribbean countries at market price but with part of the cost being treated as a loan.

Some governments have jumped at his offer so as to defer payment for part of the oil to a later date, a development that has caused a rift among Caribbean countries and alarmed the IMF.
Sir Ronald Sanders is a former Caribbean diplomat, now a corporate executive who publishes widely on small states in the international community.

The above opinions are not necessarily those of the publisher, newspaper, its advertisers or employees. You may write to Sir Ronald Sanders c/o editor@antiguasun.com


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