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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Remarks by Vice President Harris in a Virtual Meeting with Caribbean Leaders

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Good afternoon.  Thank you all for joining us today for this very important meeting.  I am Kamala Harris, and I’m pleased to welcome you all to this conversation and this convening.

As a neighbor in the Western Hemisphere, the United States shares a common bond with the nations of the Caribbean.  As neighbors, we know our partnership is key to our shared prosperity and security. 

We also know that we have common challenges.  And that is why I’ve convened this meeting: to strengthen our partnership and chart a path forward together.

As we all know, our nations have extensive people-to-people ties.  Millions of Americans have Caribbean heritage.  Millions of Americans travel to the Caribbean each year for vacation, to visit friends and family, and to engage with the richness of that history.

From South Florida to New York and beyond, Caribbean culture has become a meaningful part of American culture.  And we are all grateful for that. 

At the same time, we recognize that we find ourselves collectively in a challenging time.  The pandemic has upended so many aspects of our lives and the lives of our people.  And economic recovery has been difficult and uneven for so many in this region. 

There is also an existential threat we collectively face in the climate crisis, and we are acutely aware that the world’s emissions have an outsize impact on the Caribbean.

In light of this, I want to be clear: The United States is committed to you, our neighbors, and we will take on these challenges together. Convenings like this haven’t happened very often.  So, today, as a demonstration of our administration’s commitment, I propose this be an annual meeting.

We have, of course, today, a lot to discuss.  And there are three areas in particular that I will ask us to focus on — areas that I know are a priority for many of you: economic recovery, security, and climate and energy.

On the issue of economic recovery, the United States is the Caribbean’s biggest economic partner.  This partnership benefits the economy of the United States just as it benefits your economies.  So we will explore today how we can strengthen that economic partnership.

On the issue of security, I know for many of you that you are particularly concerned about the trafficking of drugs and guns, and the associated violence.  That is why today’s agenda includes a discussion of additional funding and other support the United States can offer to reduce violence in the region.

And third, we will discuss the urgent issue for our entire planet: the issue of the climate crisis.  In particular, we will discuss ways to strengthen your climate resilience and to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy. 

Your input will help guide the United States’ effort in the days and months ahead.

To each of you: I thank you for being here, and I thank you for the work we have done and will continue to do together.  I look forward to our discussion today and to our gathering in Los Angeles at the Summit of the Americas in June. 

Thank you to the members of the press who are watching these opening remarks.  We will now proceed with the rest of our meeting.  Thank you.

                             END                4:41 P.M. EDT

Source: The White House

The Caribbean: Foreign exchange rates as of 10:50 am AST

Currency Pair14 March 202215 March 202216 March 202217 March 2022
USD/BSD1.00001.00001.00001.0000
USD/JMD151.469151.847151.451151.49
USD/HTG105.441105.114104.584104.887
USD/DOP54.587554.510754.42454.4181
USD/XCD2.70002.70002.70002.7000
USD/BBD2.00002.00002.00002.0000
USD/TTD6.645496.665676.653046.66022
USD/GYD199.77200.46200.121200.334
USD/VEF428,490.0428,249425,659423,634
Dollar Index98.9198.6798.5998.10
Sources: OANDA, MarketWatch

The Caribbean: Foreign exchange rates as of 9:01 am AST

Currency Pair14 March 202215 March 202216 March 202217 March 202218 March 2022
USD/BSD1.00001.00001.00001.00001.0000
USD/JMD151.469151.847   
USD/HTG105.441105.114   
USD/DOP54.587554.5107   
USD/XCD2.70002.70002.70002.70002.7000
USD/BBD2.00002.00002.00002.00002.0000
USD/TTD6.645496.66567   
USD/GYD199.77200.46   
USD/VEF428,490.0428,249   
Dollar Index98.9198.67   
Sources: OANDA, MarketWatch

The Caribbean: Foreign exchange rates as of 9:40 am AST

Currency Pair14 March 202215 March 202216 March 202217 March 202218 March 2022
USD/BSD1.00001.00001.00001.00001.0000
USD/JMD151.469    
USD/HTG105.441    
USD/DOP54.5875    
USD/XCD2.70002.70002.70002.70002.7000
USD/BBD2.00002.00002.00002.00002.0000
USD/TTD6.64549    
USD/GYD199.77    
USD/VEF428,490.0    
Dollar Index98.91    
Sources: OANDA, MarketWatch

The Caribbean: Foreign exchange rates as of 9:13 am AST

Currency Pair7 March 2022(10:35 am AST)8 March 20229 March 202210 March 202211 March 2022
USD/BSD1.00001.00001.00001.00001.0000
USD/JMD153.474153.114152.178152.018151.647
USD/HTG104.162104.034103.91104.6104.774
USD/DOP54.515254.671854.565454.426854.2854
USD/XCD2.70002.70002.70002.70002.7000
USD/BBD2.00002.00002.00002.00002.0000
USD/TTD6.678876.653296.613316.653486.63509
USD/GYD200.983200.636199.732199.837199.447
USD/VEF433,957.00433,230.00431,338431,230431,063
Dollar Index98.7398.9498.4598.3798.59
Sources: OANDA, MarketWatch

The Caribbean: Foreign exchange rates of interest at 9:52 am AST

Currency Pair7 March 20228 March 20229 March 202210 March 202211 March 2022
USD/BSD1.00001.00001.0000  
USD/JMD153.474153.114152.178  
USD/HTG104.162104.034103.91  
USD/DOP54.515254.671854.5654  
USD/XCD2.70002.70002.7000  
USD/BBD2.00002.00002.0000  
USD/TTD6.678876.653296.61331  
USD/GYD200.983200.636199.732  
USD/VEF433,957.00433,230.00431,338  
Dollar Index98.7398.9498.45  
Sources: OANDA, MarketWatch

U.S. and Caribbean Interbank Market Scan: Foreign exchange rates as of 8:26 am AST

Currency Pair7 March 2022(10:35 am AST)8 March 2022(8:26 am AST)9 March 202210 March 202211 March 2022
USD/BSD1.00001.0000   
USD/JMD153.474153.114   
USD/HTG104.162104.034   
USD/DOP54.515254.6718   
USD/XCD2.70002.7000   
USD/BBD2.00002.0000   
USD/TTD6.678876.65329   
USD/GYD200.983200.636   
USD/VEF433,957.00433,230.00   
USD/MXN20.926821.1419   
Dollar Index98.7398.94   
Sources: OANDA, MarketWatch

Black social media documents how not to approach global political power …

Commentary

Being a part of the African Diaspora, it is sad to see how Afro people in America and its Caribbean territories have been analyzing the Russian invasion of Ukraine through emotionally tainted lenses. On Facebook, for example, Afros quickly donned digital banners on their feeds expressing support for Ukraine. Some adopted the left-wing media narrative of tying former US president Donald J. Trump to the actions of Vladimir Putin, an easy low-hanging fruit move by Mr Trump’s detractors given his past expressions of admiration for the Russian Federation president.

The media has inundated Afro people in America and its Caribbean territories with plenty of images that stoke emotional responses. Crying children, concerned parents, people trying to leave on trains, bombed out buildings, and a young Ukrainian president in military garb are the content for countless press photos on Twitter and Facebook. Afros in America and its Caribbean territories dutifully share these photos thus aiding the narrative’s virality. What is puzzling is how Afro people in America and its Caribbean territories have not given any mention or included in their analyses similar actions taken by their own country with plenty of those actions based on contrivances just as grievous or more so than those conjured up by Mr Putin. Here are a few:

  1. The American invasion and occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934, under the guise of maintaining law and order so as to prevent European foreign influence in the island-nation.
  2. The American designed and supported Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961, under the guise of stemming the influence of the Soviet Union and neutralizing Cuba’s new left-wing dictatorship.
  3. The Kennedy Administration’s implied approval of the assassination of South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem who had shown himself to be ineffective in garnering the people’s support against the North Vietnamese.
  4. The United States invasion in 1983 of the island-nation of Grenada, pursuant to the assertion that an airport under construction on the island-nation was intended to serve as a staging area for Soviet Union military aircraft. Troops from Jamaica and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States also participated.

Fast forward to today and the Russian Federation is expressing its concern for possible NATO encroachment on Russia’s borders and that invasion of Ukraine is necessary for mitigating such a threat. Afro people in America and its Caribbean territories have not taken into consideration that they have seen this behavior before on the part of the United States and that such behavior, albeit egregious, is par for the course in world politics.

And it’s not like war on the European continent is that unusual, even today. Blood on the European continent was spilled during the Yugoslav Wars from 1991 to 2001, yet none of the concerns we heard back then come close to the amplification we hear today.

Given our marginal political power status, standing on the sideline and and acting like we are at a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader audition brings no dividends. The only question that should be asked about now is, “How do we benefit from this conflict?” In the short and intermediate run, nada, especially since Ukraine is not a major trading partner of the United States or the Caribbean.

The longer run is a different matter. The removal of certain banks from the Society for Worldwide International Financial Transactions, freezing assets in American and European banks, and the suspension of the Russian stock market should not provide the African Diaspora with any reason to do back flips and shake their pom poms. Quite the opposite. It should make you scared. The world is not western Europe. The populations of China, India, and the continent of Africa alone account for over three billion people. Technology is not limited to the United States. These areas can, with a lot of feasible work, create their own regional, integrated political and economic systems and trade among themselves. If that were to happen, then Afros in America, who already, as a collective. are on the bottom rung will suffer as their US dollar loses more value and poor working families are faced with the increasingly daunting task of keeping food on the table.

Rather than sending “prayers up” for (and to) a bunch of people who, when the dust settles, will be doing better than you, it is time for Afro peoples in America and her Caribbean territories to ask themselves, “How do we prepare?”

Alton Drew

04.03.2022

Realizing that we are not American is the first step toward USVI integration into the Caribbean …

Commentary

One day while heading out of my apartment on an errand, I met a young lady seemingly out on a walk for exercise. We exchanged pleasantries and inquired about where we were both from.  She said she was from Guyana. I told her I was from the Virgin Islands.  She replied, “But you guys aren’t Caribbean.”  She was taken aback by my indignation. “Of course, we’re Caribbean!”, I said.  She quickly headed on her way with the clear message that I was insulted.  This was many years ago. After a couple decades of mellowing out (although I refuse to apologize for any passion I express regarding politics), I can see why West Indians, especially those residing in independent Caribbean island-nations, would take the position that the U.S. Virgin Islands is more American colony than Caribbean.

 All one has to do is to follow residents of the USVI on social media to realize how immersed Virgin Islanders are in American society and politics.  From American football (full disclosure. I am a 50-year Dallas Cowboys fan), baseball (you are either a Yankees or Dodgers fan), and partisan politics, Virgin Islanders have an opinion on all things American.  Peruse the local print media and you’d swear the rest of the West Indies did not exist, even with a significant portion of the territory’s population either hailing from or directly descended from parents who were born on other islands.

Virgin Islanders are not the only West Indians suffering from cultural cognitive dissonance. The people of Barbados have always been viewed as being more British than the British.  Guadeloupe is a French department, fully incorporated into France. You are in France when you visit Guadeloupe.  The British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands are still crown colonies of Great Britain. But just because other territories may suffer from dependency and cognitive dissonance issues doesn’t mean the Virgin Islands has to marinate in that infirmity.  Snapping ourselves out of this malaise is increasingly imperative given the cultural shifts I am seeing in the United States.

America is a divided nation.  According to data from Pew Research, approximately 77% of Americans believe the United States is more divided now than it was prior to the outbreak.  At the core of this division are differences over ideology, race, and religion.  The American Democratic Party is seen as tending toward more progressive or liberal views on ideology, race, and religion.  While the Democratic Party itself has its underlying fissures led by its distinct internal factions, its prevailing narrative is based on responsible and increasingly regulated capitalism, voting rights reform, racial equity and equality, and religious tolerance.  The Virgin Islands political landscape is dominated by the local Democratic Party, but other than the moniker “Democratic”, that is about where any serious similarities end.

The non-relatability of the vast majority of Virgin Islanders to the Republican Party is understandable.  I am to this today amazed that the Republican Party still exists in the USVI.  The narrative they have been painted with by the left—that they are racist and support corporate greed—has seeped in to the sub-conscious of a Virgin Islands with a population that is 79% Afro-Caribbean and is not a haven (yet) for corporate activity that has positively impacted USVI residents.

But the notion that USVI residents should latch on to the national Democratic Party is also puzzling. Having observed the national Democratic Party up close and personal here on the mainland, I can tell you that the national party and its ideology has nothing in common with the mores of the people of the USVI.  Virgin Islanders are, again, majority Afro peoples; they are religiously conservative; and, ironically, vehemently opposed to wasteful government spending, especially where benefits are not apparently flowing to the population. “Where deh money?” is still a refrain in VI politics, and vehemently so given the territory’s small and intimate population.

This unfounded allegiance, I believe, stems from the USVI not only appreciating its place in the Caribbean, but failing to establish a national identity of its own.  Since the territory officially transitioned on 31 March 1917 from the Danish West Indies to the Virgin Islands of the United States, it has gradually pursued Americanism.  As American ascendancy increased seemingly exponentially from World War I into the late 1960s, the Virgin Islands rode that wave.  Virgin Islanders, especially older ones, fail to see that the wave has long crested and that America’s place in the world is under severe challenge. 

The notion of democracy itself is under challenge globally.  China’s ascendance adds to skepticism that democracy must accompany capitalism in order for an economy to grow.  In addition, the likelihood of China and Russia aligning to create and deploy their own communications system for moving capital and currency is increasing.  And even in the Virgin Islands own Caribbean backyard, the idea of regional economic integration is moving from the backburner to the oven.

The Virgin Islands cannot take advantage of the shift in global economic, social, and cultural attitudes if it insists on maintaining ties with a giant sitting on its laurels.  The United States will be forced into isolationism either by its own choice or when the rest of the globe turns its back on America.  When that happens, it will be forced to cut costs and a territory that does not bring the US tax revenues and is no longer needed as a military deterrent to World War II German submarines will be on the chopping block.

To prepare for what I see as inevitable, the Virgin Islands of the United States will have to look within, create a national identity narrative, and use its labor talent and natural resources, and go its own way.  There is a waiting Caribbean region for us to integrate into.

Alton Drew

21.02.2022