British Prime Minister David Cameron’s first visit to the Caribbean last month and the first bilateral visit by a British prime minister for 14 years delivered one clear and simple message – we would both benefit from a stronger and deeper relationship.
“Britain can help Caribbean countries on their path of development – lifting people out of poverty, increasing economic growth, trade and security, and creating opportunities for young generations.“
Cameron announced a £360 million (US$550 million) economic development package for the Caribbean, which will provide grants for infrastructure projects featuring: • £300 million for a new UK-Caribbean Infrastructure Partnership Fund to build new ports, roads and bridges to boost trade and growth; • £30 million to make health facilities more resistant to natural disaster; • £30 million for new programmes to support economic growth: • A doubling of UK Chevening Scholarships for the Caribbean and enhanced support in the fight against serious and organized crime in the region and measures to improve the country’s criminal justice system.
Cameron said, “Britain’s close relationship with the Caribbean and our new support will help boost growth and kick-start economic recovery across the region as well as creating important trade and investment opportunities for the UK.
“Our relationship should be based on the countries we are today and the opportunities we can generate together, rather than over-relying on the historical ties of the past. Britain wants to be your partner for the future, your partner of choice and I hope my visit can be the start of that.”
The British have come to realize how China has increased its influence in the Caribbean with aggressive bilateral relations, pursuing investments of more than US$1.3 billion in the region’s resource industry, building roads, hospitals, airports, and hotels with plans to invest in trans-shipment ports, in addition to a US$1 billion loan to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), with the hope to improve the day-to-day life of the people.
At the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago in April 2009, President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promoted a strong partnership between the United States and Caribbean countries on common issues ranging from security, fostering economic prosperity and addressing climate change.
Secretary Clinton also launched the Caribbean Idea Marketplace Initiative – a business competition platform aimed at fostering collaboration between local and global Caribbean diaspora entrepreneurs to develop and expand innovative projects that will generate employment and economic growth.
In May 2013, Vice President Biden traveled to Trinidad and Tobago, where he met with President Carmona and then Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar and participated in a meeting and working lunch with a number of other Caribbean leaders discussing regional efforts to promote economic growth, citizen security and energy, among other issues.
During that visit, Vice President Biden reminded participants of the 2009 Caribbean Basin Security Initiative and said, “That’s why, even in a time of tight budgets in my country, we’re increasing our investment, which already stands at over $200 million.” An MOU with Trinidad and Tobago to launch a renewable energy research centre there for the Caribbean was signed to promote clean technologies and energy efficiencies throughout the Caribbean.
At the Summit of the Americas in April 2015, President Obama said, “I believed that our nations had to break free from the old arguments, the old grievances that had too often trapped us in the past, that we had a shared responsibility to look to the future and to think and act in fresh ways. I pledged to build a new era of cooperation between our countries, as equal partners, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.
“What we need is for a common agenda for the shared progress… these priorities fall into three broad categories. They include the building blocks of shared prosperity – education, innovation, trade, investment. They include energy and environmental security. And they include reconciliation and strengthening democratic and inter-American institutions across the board.”
At that meeting, Secretary of State John Kerr, seeking to lay the building blocks of shared prosperity, said, “To succeed, we must do more to empower the people of our hemisphere with education, technology, open governance, and innovation. And that is exactly what we’re trying to do.
“If our goal is to reduce poverty, which it is; to further expand the middle class, which it is; to help families build a better life for their children; which it is; to offer the alternatives to crime and violence, narcotics, and so forth; the answer is pretty simple. We need to not only educate; we need to innovate. And that means doing more to help small businesses promote jobs and tap into the global economy.”
Secretary Kerry conveyed confidence that the United States’ commitment to a new kind of relationship with the region will contribute significantly to the common agenda for the hemisphere, which includes the strengthening of democracy and the respect for human rights.
“Why does this matter?” he asked. “Well, it matters because countries are far more likely to advance economically and socially when citizens have faith in their governments and are able to rely on them for justice and equal treatment under the law. It matters because young people who have opportunities at home will stay and contribute to their societies instead of leaving in search of better luck elsewhere. It matters because freedom of thought and expression are the keys to innovation, which is how whole new industries begin. It matters because, in that most curious of ways, people who are given the liberty to be different are also the ones most likely to unite and band together in the face of shared threats.”
That said, working together in a changing world means that deeds must follow words for success in an interagency approach that combines the three Ds: diplomacy, defence, and development. The importance of this is strategic to development, and the management of risk factors; a central role in bridging regional stability and bringing the southern hemisphere to a free and secure flow of trade.
This is made more acute with the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), which, though encouraging, is fraught with emotional intensity. The onward discussion will centre on creating the jobs of the future, to capture people’s imagination with quality and dependability that will reshape established norms.
Exploring the notion that the United States is committed to maintaining geo-political dominance in the region is a familiar exercise, not without tradition. But the mere expression of that idea is no longer an efficacious strategy. A permanent change has to take place in order to re-establish the underlying strength in the region of the 1970s.
The success of this must be geared not just to complement the British or counter the Chinese with flashback techniques, psychological operations to win over old positions and stop the slippery slope of erosion of the three Ds: diplomacy, defence, and development.
The impetus must advance from the hypothetical to become reality, with high level socio-economic proposals, reflecting unquestioning commitment to the region’s people and the American people.
The reality must operate to lift people out of poverty to a decent life, away from the fear of violence, the economic deprivation of money laundering, drug and human trafficking, coupled with the arrogance of Marxist idealists and religious zealots that threatens the region.
Therefore, it goes without saying that, in this new age, the US must with a greater degree of urgency step up to the plate in a tangible manner with hands-on implementation of initiatives already proposed and others in development stages – consistent with present day reality. In addition, policy cooperation with reliable partners is important to establish special relationships and trust to recalibrate initiatives for the next generation.
In a reversal of attitudes, renewal has been forthcoming in a meaningful way from the UK and China. A solid US strategic action plan and policy initiative will have to sow seeds that germinate in Caribbean soil in the defence of its own security. And so, both executive and legislative branches of the US government ought to review the country’s policy goals and objectives and convert that to real achievements in the interest of improving bilateral relations.
Mindful of a reversal of fortunes, regional governments will have to redouble political and economic leadership and reboot a mixed international image of diplomacy and disjointed policy/strategy that has not been rooted in the aspirations of the people and the region as sovereign states, economic, socially and environmentally, in order to usher in future economic success.
The region can defy the odds for real change if there’s strong and effective collaboration on political and economic integration in order to enhance the region’s strategic importance, in a manner that is principled and economically sound.
US foreign policy in the Caribbean region needs to come alive, take action and reshape accepted wisdom as a world power should.
By Melanius Alphonse
Melanius Alphonse is a management and development consultant. He is an advocate for community development, social justice, economic freedom and equality; the Lucian People’s Movement (LPM) www.lpmstlucia.com critic on youth initiative, infrastructure, economic and business development. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org