Dr. Kwame Nantambu

An Overview of U.S. Policy Toward the Caribbean in the 1970s

Part 3

Pages: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

by Dr. Kwame Nantambu
November 20, 2005

However, it seems that the sudden "discovery" of combat troops in Cuba in October 1979 was made for domestic and external political reasons in an attempt to provide President Carter with an opportunity (i) to shore up his waning popularity as a firm, strong leader at home and (ii) to show the world that the United States was firm in its commitment to challenge Soviet Communist expansion in the United States-dominated Western Hemisphere. These reasons rested upon firm evidence that the Society Combat Troops were stationed in Cuba since 1962 and that every United States President since that time and the CIA knew about their existence.

No one publicized their existence over the past years so that this sudden hysteria had to lead the casual observer to conclude that political motives had to be behind President Carter's pronouncement of a situation that everyone took for granted. President Fidel Castro supports this conclusion by indicating that the:
...military installation was set up at the end of the 1962 October crisis, within the spirit of the October agreements of that year and within the status quo established as a consequence of the October crisis. Every successive United States president knew and has known about that fact, that installation. The CIA knew about the installation; President Kennedy knew about it; Johnson knew about the existence of the installation; Nixon did. Ford did and Carter must also have known about it, because while no one talked about it publicly it was no secret....So I ask myself why has this problem come up now? An installation that's 17 years old. Why now? Why did they never try to go through the files to create an issue out of it before? And now we are confronted with an artificial problem...
President Carter, however, was not persuaded that an "artificial problem" existed. He was convinced that the majority of the American people wanted him to act decisively. His actions nevertheless were met with mixed reviews. There were those who applauded his new military initiatives toward the Caribbean and by extension, the Soviet Union because they felt all along that he was "too soft on communism". Others feared that he had embarked on a spontaneous and dangerous "war hysteria" policy to bolster a strong United States posture abroad. The overall significance of the President's action was that the ruling elite in the military industrial establishment welcomed the President's awareness that the United States was weakened by a protracted crisis of confidence and years of neglect of its military forces. Meanwhile, Caribbean leaders, on the other hand expressed deep concern and in some instances, indignation at, the increased United States military presence in the region.

As a result of the "discovery", President Carter took the following retaliatory steps: established a permanent, full-time Caribbean Contingency Joint Task Force Headquarters at Key West, Florida; expanded military maneuvers in the Caribbean region; and increased economic assistance to the region to alleviate the unmet economic and human needs and to insure the ability of troubled peoples to resist social turmoil and possible communist domination. The President's objective was that "this will substantially improve (the United States) capability to monitor and respond rapidly to any attempted military encroachment in the region".

However, U.S. News & World Report hit the nail on the head when it went behind the veil of President Carter's human rights largesse and revealed that the White House was attempting to step up economic and military aid to friendly countries in the Caribbean area and at the same time was urging them to make social and economic reforms so as to dilute the appeal of their leftists and to thwart Cuban efforts to achieve influence over the Caribbean that was seen as a possible threat to the United States.

The new Carter policy represented a hard-line approach to Cuba, which the United States perceived as inimical to the political stability of the region. The establishment of "a multinational Caribbean Seagoing Patrol Force", "a regional Coast Guard", "a joint Military Naval Task Force", a "Large Military Task Force" or a "Caribbean Navy," were all different terms administration officials used interchangeably to describe United States effort to show resolve in the face of Cuban and Soviet aggressiveness in the Western Hemisphere. The Caribbean Task Force at Key West was one component of the U.S. Forces Caribbean Command. Consisting of a meager staff of 75 persons, the Task Force's mission was to monitor developments in the Caribbean, conduct training exercises, and devise contingency plans for the use of U.S. forces as a means of combating Cuban communist infiltration into the island nations in the area. Under the plan, the United States, Britain, and Canada provided Coast Guard type training in Barbados and sold patrol boats to that country and others. Barbados took the lead in forming a coast guard and in return for its pro-western efforts, received $5m Foreign Military Sales (FMS) credits and $84,000 in International Military and Education Training (IMET) funds. The proposed coordinated patrol force also included in addition to Barbados, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent.

The leading proponent of the tough United States response and the "super-hawk" on the Cuban problem was former National Security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. Brzezinski was obsessed at the Cubans and kept asking himself how such a small island could engage in all these foreign adventures at the United State's doorstep and far away in Africa. The reason for this was that Brzezinski, as a typical Euro-centric internationalist, failed to recognize that Cuba's "radical international posture" and its efforts to promote "proletarian internationalism and Afro-Caribbean nationalism were not asymmetrical but complementary to the extent they both sought to ossify the anti-imperialist camp in the struggle for liberation. Indeed, Brzezinski's conclusion was the same kind of conclusion that was reflected in United States officials equating African nationalism or Caribbean nationalism for that matter, with communism. The three are neither synonymous nor interchangeable. A Caribbean or African country can be nationalist and not be communist. In other words, if a Caribbean or African country pursues domestic and foreign policies to maximize its national interests, it is just exercising its prerogative as an independent, sovereign nation-state under the aegis of the United Nations Charter. Now the problem arises when a superpower like the United States, operating within that "zone of influence" geopolitical framework, perceives such actions by that state as being anti-United States and thus the conclusion is drawn that such a country is anti-American. The United States will never admit or even concede that that particular Caribbean or African country is being pro-itself or nationalistic. Again, the John Foster Dulles dictum that if nations are not pro-United States (that is, within the Western bloc) they are automatically anti-United States, becomes the ideological norm.

In true Cold War fashion, Brzezinski insisted that the Soviet Union must be made to pay a specific political price for its role in Africa and the Caribbean through its "client state" Cuba. Brzezinski's orchestrated master plan to revive the Cold War and to get the "Soviets' goat" in aggressive retaliation against the presence of Soviet combat troops in Cuba called for a campaign (i) to educate (propagandize) the American public to the gravity of the Cuban-Soviet threat to United States security, (ii) to initiate a world-wide campaign of propaganda and political pressure against the Soviets and Cubans. The CIA was to have primary responsibility for covertly generating anti-Soviet propaganda abroad, using every available means, including the Voice of America. In addition, all United States ambassadors were to provide data on Cuban activities in their area that would be used for the propaganda campaign, and (iii) the United States would give military aid to regimes threatened by Cuban and Soviet military adventures, for example, Somalia, Morocco, and Barbados.

According to Brzezinski, the fundamental issue was the nature of détente and the linkage between the communist threat in the western hemisphere and an agreement limiting strategic arms (SALT issues). The Soviets for their part, did not see their African-Cuban-Caribbean sojourn as an impediment to detente as they continued to support wars of national liberation. Brzezinski regarded Cuban activity in the Caribbean as a direct challenge to the security of the United States and repeatedly castigated the Cubans as "international marauders" who were doing the Soviet's garbage work in the Third World. This position received support from Gerald Ford, Henry Kissinger and Pat Moynihan all of whom in language reminiscent of the 1950s and 1960s, expressed the view that "the Cuban army has been trained as the troops of international communism ready to intervene throughout the world", while a White House hand-liner was quoted as concluding that "the Cubans are guns for hire and they'll go anywhere. They have no compunction" and would fight to support communism under the guise of proletarian internationalism.

The paramountcy of the Brzezinski Cold War position above the liberal, human rights, accommodation posture of the Vance-Young duo was evident in President Carter's new public get-tough policy toward Soviet-Cuban-Caribbean communist expansion and aggression, even though in his October 1, 1979 nation-wide broadcast, the President stated that the Soviet "brigade issue is certainly no reason for a return to the Cold War."

The problem that emerged was that the United States was couching Caribbean issues in terms of global spheres of interference parameters in the tradition of Nixon and Kissinger - a tradition President Carter vowed in early 1977 never to duplicate or follow. The Caribbean issues involved, inter alia, control of their own economies, non-interference in their internal affairs by outside powers, pursuit of independent foreign policies, and adoption of non-traditional capitalist forms of economic organization.

Within the United States geo-political framework, Caribbean nationalism was again assumed away following the Dulles ideological modality. The presumption was also made that since Cuba was not under United States influence, therefore, it must be isolated and contained because it threatened United States hegemonism. In terms of the English-speaking Caribbean countries, policies were in motion to co-opt "regional influentials" like Barbados and Trinidad, aimed at thwarting the ideological momentum from the progressive left like Jamaica and Grenada. Trevor M.A. Farrell in a penetrating article "Trinidad and the Caribbean Today" Caribbean Contact (November 1979) analyzed Trinidad's trilateral role in the Caribbean by suggesting that because of its massive oil surplus revenue and pro-United States posture Trinidad was behaving like a sub-imperialist in the region. His reasoning stemmed from the fact that in lending Jamaica $184 million, for example, the Trinidad government behaved just like any capitalist-imperialist country by attempting to "tie" the loan to Jamaica's agreement to purchase cars from Trinidad in a quid pro quo agreement. He also indicated that deceased Trinidad Prime Minister, Eric Williams refused to attend Caribbean Heads of Government meetings as a rebuff to the leftist policies of Grenada under Maurice Bishop and Jamaica under Michael Manley.

In fact, the Trinidad government expressed its displeasure at extra-regional initiatives taken by Manley and refused to recognize the Bishop government of Grenada. Dr. Farrell asserted that Trinidad's leadership had no illusion that there was any unswerveable American commitment to its continued survival as evidenced by Nixon's protection of the Williams government in 1970 and that the country's future leaders were likely to be more zealous and efficacious in preserving American interests and to be less cantankerous, eccentric and inconsistent, in understanding and playing the role it was believed Trinidad had to play in the region in support of American interest. Trinidad indeed had an interest in supporting American interests in the region because by so doing it was not only supporting its own interests economically but also that of its ruling elite class who were closely identified with United States capitalism and the values of that ruling elite class. It was no surprise then that the United States government considered Trinidad as the "bright spot" in the Caribbean for United States investment and the perpetuation of the United States regional hegemonism and furthermore, in its national and external interests perception, the Trinidad leadership had never adopted measures inimical to United States investment. As Clyde Namsoo, Director of Operations, Trinidad and Tobago Industrial Development Corporation (I.D.C.) insisted, "We have everything to attract the American investor to Trinidad and Tobago, everything favorable if he wants a good location for his industry. In Trinidad and Tobago, the United States investor will have a government that is politically stable and dedicated to interracial unity."

The Carter administration's concern about the restlessness and revolutionary mood sweeping through the Caribbean resulted from several factors: the first was the March 13, 1979, overthrow of the Eric Gairy government in Grenada by the New Jewel Movement led by Maurice Bishop. The United States publicly accused Cuba of instigating and assisting in the overthrow. However, a confidential CIA report dismissed that accusation and concluded that "as far as we can tell, the coup occurred ... from local circumstances. The Soviets had nothing to do with it or the Cubans either." In addition, the development of extremely close ties between Cuba and Grenada also worried the United States to the extent that when Grenada and Cuba established diplomatic relations on April 16, 1979, the United States ambassador to the eastern Caribbean stationed in Barbados, Frank Ortiz, delivered a note to Prime Minister Bishop in which the Carter administration indicated that the United States government would view with "grave concern and displeasure" any tendency on the part of Grenada to develop closer military ties with Cuba. As a riposte, Prime Minister Bishop in a radio broadcast denounced United States hegemonism as follows:
No one, no matter how mighty and powerful they are, will be permitted to dictate to the government of Grenada who we can be friendly with and what kind of friendly relations we must have with other countries.
Grenada also angered the United States by voting along with Cuba against the United Nations General Assembly resolution in January 1980 that strongly condemned Soviet aggression in Afghanistan; by its support for the Sandinistas in the Nicaraguan revolution; its solidarity with the popular struggle against the military dictatorship in El Salvador (which the United States supported); and its support for the Palestine Liberation Organization, (PLO) which the United States only recognizes as a "terrorist organization". The second factor of concern to the United States was the election of leaders in St. Lucia, who vowed to limit foreign investment and were especially friendly toward Cuba; the third was the presence of 450 Cuban personnel in Jamaica, including alleged high-ranking Cuban intelligence officers (DGI) some of whom had Soviet Union (KGB) connection; fourth, was the presence of 100 Cubans in Guyana, 350 in Grenada and 15 in St. Lucia; the fifth concern was strong support for Puerto Rico's independence by Cuba and Jamaica; and sixth was the "Libyan Connection" in the Caribbean as exemplified by economic and ideological ties between Jamaica, Grenada and Guyana and Libya. These three Caribbean governments had expressed their "unapologetic espousal of the Palestinian and Arab causes in the Middle East. In addition, the leaders of these countries visited Libya in early 1980 with the result that Libya signed a $25 million agreement with Guyana, Jamaica was promised a $50 million loan, and Grenada received $4 million. These events helped to manifest the fact that "the days of unchallenged United States control of the Western Hemisphere (were) numbered, if not already past" and that the "nationalistic winds sweeping through the Third World have created a mood of anti-imperialism in the Caribbean, directed against the big brother to the North." Slain Prime Minister Maurice Bishop of Grenada once summed up these events this way:
...the region is not interested in joining the orbits of either of the world's superpowers....The (United States) should develop the understanding that the Caribbean is nobody's backyard, that the Caribbean does not belong to anybody except the people that live there...
And as Forbes Burnham, deceased President of Guyana concurred:
...We exercise a careful judgment on all major issues and refuse to be brow-beaten, cajoled by major powers, influenced by irrelevant considerations or to be attracted by the bubble reputation which often accompanies mere posturing. (The Caribbean) is a pawn of no bloc or power. It takes non-alignment seriously and is determined to maintain its hard won independence...
Now, in looking at the reaction of Caribbean governments toward United States policy in the region, he finds that Trinidad and Tobago has always supported United States policy toward the Caribbean. The record shows that at no time did the government go against the United States policy. Indeed, the close relations between the two governments and Trinidad's sub-imperialist role in the region indicate that the United States was pleased with the moderate, pro-Western leadership in the country.

In the 1970s, Barbados was not interested in being a surrogate of the U.S.A. in the Caribbean or of any other foreign power. While of course the country is considered perhaps the United States' closest ally in (the) Caribbean, the government of Barbados balked at President Carter's idea of turning its country into a sort of "Iran in the Caribbean". In the words of Henry Forde, Minister of Foreign Affairs:
We don't want to be a pivot for United States policy. We have refused to be part of any regional security. To be the Iran of the Caribbean is perhaps a very flattering designation for Barbados. But I don't think Barbados wants to play the role of cat's paw for any nation. We stand up for our own perspective, not because it is how the United States or Russia or Cuba feels, but because it's how we feel...
The minister also went on to say that the $5m in FMS (foreign military sales) credits that the Carter Caribbean Task Force plan offered Barbados were on terms so unfavorable that his government considered buying its ships from Europe instead. In addition, the government of Barbados was disturbed at the fact that the Carter administration in one breath spoke about respect for ideological pluralism but in the same breath set up a Caribbean Task Force to retard what it perceived as Cuba's attempt to impose its military will on the Caribbean islands. The government's reaction was that if the United States government wanted to send a message to Cuba then it should speak to Cuba directly instead of using the other Caribbean islands as pawns in a big-power battle. The Barbados government was convinced that the establishment of the Caribbean Task Force was not to protect Barbados' interest but United States interest, that there was no military threat in the Caribbean (at that time) and that instead of spending money on military hardware, the United States government should concentrate on granting more economic and trade favors to the region.


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