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Letter of the Day | US presidential engagements with CARICOM

Published:Tuesday | March 26, 2019 | 12:00 AM


On March 22, 2019, I read a Loop News report on the Florida meeting between five Caribbean leaders and United States President Donald Trump in which the Prime Minister of St Lucia, Allen M. Chastanet, is quoted as saying that the US has taken no interest in the Caribbean since President Ronald Reagan. If this is an accurate quote, it is factually inaccurate.

While US foreign policy towards the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has often been uncertain, it cannot be said that US presidents have not engaged with the Caribbean over the last four decades. The real question for analysis is, what tangible benefits have the Caribbean derived from the engagements and resulting initiatives and the longevity and effectiveness of such initiatives?

US presidential engagements with CARICOM over the last four decades have been as follows:

- President Jimmy Carter focused on human rights and economic development. In 1977, through the World Bank, he supported the launch of the Caribbean Group for Cooperation in Economic Development (CGCED) to coordinate development assistance in the region. Rosalynn Carter, as presidential special envoy, visited Jamaica in May 1977.

- President Ronald Reagan, in the context of the Grenada invasion and the rise of socialist ideology in the Caribbean and Central America, visited the CARICOM region twice – in April 1982, visiting Jamaica and Barbados, where he met with a group of CARICOM leaders; and visiting Grenada in 1986. In 1983, he launched the Caribbean Basin Initiative to promote trade and investment in the wider Caribbean region.

- President George H.W. Bush launched the Enterprise for the Americas Initiative in 1990 to provide investment and debt relief to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. This initiative gave rise to the Summit of the Americas and the negotiations for the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). In 1991, the US-CARICOM Trade and Investment Council was established.

- President William (Bill) Clinton visited Barbados in May 1997 for the US-CARICOM Summit from which came the Partnership for Prosperity and Security in the Caribbean known as the Bridgetown Accord.

- The US-Caribbean Third Border Initiative came in 2001 under George W. Bush. It sought to strengthen policies and provide funding to enhance diplomatic, economic, health, education, and law-enforcement cooperation and collaboration in the Caribbean. President Bush hosted the Conference on the Caribbean in Washington, DC, June 18-21, 2007, at which he met with CARICOM heads to discuss various issues, including growth and development.

- President Barack Obama visited Jamaica, April 9-10, 2015, and met with CARICOM heads. Obama had also visited Trinidad & Tobago in 2009 for the Summit of the Americas. Under the Obama Administration came initiatives on energy and the 2016 US-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act, which addresses a range of issues, including trade and investment. This act and its 2017 Strategy remain to be implemented.


Specialist in International

Trade Policy and

International Politics