US-Caribbean relations in Biden administration year one

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On April 28, Sir Ronald presented a paper on “US-Caribbean Relations: The Biden Administration Year 1” at a webinar, which he was commissioned to produce by Florida International University (FIU),  the Latin American and Caribbean Centre and the Caribbean Policy Council. The 7,000-word paper was subsequently published by FIU. 

By Sir Ronald Sanders

When Joseph R Biden became the President of the United States, on January 20, 2021, he inherited a reactionary and indifferent policy toward the Caribbean.

To the extent the policy had any meaning, it was based on the determination of his predecessor, Donald Trump, to secure the votes of Latin American and Caribbean exiles and disgruntled persons, especially in South Florida which he calculated he had to win to be re-elected President in 2020. In this connection, Trump had developed a virulent anti-Cuba posture and an equally hostile attitude to Nicolás Maduro, the President of Venezuela. The latter stance led to his denunciation of Maduro as the President of Venezuela and the US government’s recognition of the then President of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, as the “Interim President of Venezuela”.

Trump’s interest in the rest of the Caribbean nations was only to secure their support for his position on Venezuela. Hence, he hosted a meeting at his Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago, on March 22, 2019, with five Caribbean leaders, four of whom were Prime Ministers of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries, to urge them to side with his government, in opposition to other Caribbean countries, to recognize Juan Guaidó and to seat his nominee at the Organization of American States (OAS) as the representative of Venezuela.

This meeting was regarded by several Caribbean leaders as “mischief that some persons may be up to [sic] seek to divide us in a manner which we ought not to be divided and therefore reduce the extent of the efficacy of our work”. Two weeks later, on April 9, 2019, the five countries joined in giving a narrow majority vote at the OAS to seat Guaidó’s representative much to the chagrin of other CARICOM member states of the OAS.

The only other Caribbean country about which Trump had shown passing interest was Haiti which he reportedly described, along with African nations, as a “shit-hole country”. His officials subsequently denied the report, but the damage had been done and this attitude effectively summed up his administration’s perceptions of the Caribbean.

Making matters worse, Mike Pompeo, Trump’s Secretary of State, convened a meeting with eight of the leaders of CARICOM countries on January 22, 2020, in Jamaica. Among the CARICOM Heads of Government that were not invited to the meeting was the then Chair of CARICOM, Mia Mottley of Barbados, and the incoming Chair, Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Reports of the meeting suggested that its purpose was to gain support for the reelection of Luis Almagro as the Secretary-General of the OAS at elections to be held two months later.

Almagro had been a strong critic of the Maduro government in Venezuela, and he was regarded as a key ally for the US in Trump’s anticipated second term. However, he was facing competition from two contenders – one of whom, Maria Fernanda Espinosa of Ecuador, had been nominated by Antigua and Barbuda and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Ultimately, the CARICOM countries were left divided by the US policies and strategies toward the region.

Read more: US-Caribbean relations in Biden administration year one – sanders_us-caribbean-in-biden-administration-year-1_wps4-2022

Conclusion

In year 1, the Biden administration did not establish a policy toward the Caribbean, except in relation to Cuba and China. In year 2, the Biden administration should remedy this neglectful situation which has encouraged Caribbean governments to gravitate to other nations, especially China, that have extended much needed economic and financial cooperation.

It has been 7 years since a US President held a meeting with CARICOM leaders. The last meeting was between President Barack Obama and CARICOM leaders in Jamaica in April 2015. A good way to begin the formulation and implementation of a Caribbean policy would be an early meeting of Biden and Caribbean leaders, preceded by working groups of representatives that could shape a meaningful agenda for the discussion.

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