The strategic message behind US-Caribbean relations: Russia and China should not be invited to the Caribbean …

On 29 April 2022, Kamala Harris met with a number of political leaders to discuss the furtherance of relations between the United States and the Caribbean.  Topics in the closed-door meeting supposedly ranged from immigration, trade, and climate change.  The discussion reportedly leads up to next month’s Summit of the Americas, a meeting of Caribbean and Latin American leaders with the reported purpose of addressing economic, political, and these days, climate challenges impacting the region.

I note here that former U.S. senator Christopher Dodd met with the leaders of CARICOM member states reportedly on the issues of climate change, energy security, and disaster preparedness.    

From a narrative perspective, given the economic leverage the United States has in the western hemisphere, last week’s meetings and next month’s forum is about getting the rest of the region “on code” as to the wants and needs of the United States. 

Given the American perception that an emerging People’s Republic of China and an ever-pesky Russian Federation pose economic and political threats to the United States, the United States has to craft and transmit a narrative that the Caribbean can itself adapt and spread among its constituents.   

The most recent example of Chinese threats to United States’ hegemony in the Caribbean region is the new republic of Barbados’ willingness to establish a relationship with China as indicated by Barbados membership in China’s Belt and Road Initiative. 

Barbados recently became a republic, ditching Queen Elizabeth II and installing its own elected president.  This change in the head of state comes with a declining level of United Kingdom investment in Barbados currently pegged at approximately USD 5 billion.

China’s investment in Barbados reportedly exceeds the U.K.’s amount although China has a way to catch up with U.S. investment in Barbados which stands around USD 45 billion.

U.S. concerns with Russia appear to be more along the lines of political and military threats than China’s economic threats.  The U.S. is concerned that Russia is leveraging security deals with Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela in order to straighten its posture in America’s backyard.

Politically, Russia’s support of authoritarian-populist regimes in Latin America poses a challenge to the U.S. political philosophy of democratic elections and private ownership of capital.

I am not privy to what Ms Harris shared with Caribbean leaders in their closed-door session.  I don’t think that Caribbean leaders took Ms Harris’ opening remarks as a pledge of altruism.  Like any holder of monopoly power, where there is a threat of entry, the monopolist offers special services or discounts in order to keep customers loyal while taking steps to kick new entrants out of the market.

If Ms Harris made this kind of appeal behind closed doors, then her strategic messaging was on point.  The goal of strategic messaging is to maintain optimal political positioning.  Optimal political positioning for the United States means maximizing sought after benefits such as a minimally challenged trade position in the Caribbean region and securing firmer support for Ukraine as that country attempts to repel an invasion from Russia. 

The Caribbean reaction from has been mixed,  While the majority of Latin American and Caribbean countries opposed Russia’s invasion, most have been ambivalent about imposing sanctions even though their trade with Russia is overall minimal.

Alton Drew

1 May 2022

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