Size Is Not Destiny, Regionalism Is by Indira Rampersad

Size Is Not Destiny, Regionalism Is

by Indira Rampersad
Sep 27, 2007


This article was originally published in the Trinidad Guardian and is reproduced here with the author’s permission.

Was it sheer coincidence that an alleged plot to blow up a fuel supply to JFK airport by some geriatric Caribbean terrorists had dramatically unfolded before our incredulous eyes just over a week before seventeen Caribbean leaders flocked to Washington D.C. in a combustive burst of tropical exuberance to participate in the Conference on the Caribbean a 20/20 Vision (June 19th-21st, 2007)?

Organized with near-military precision, the conference was the product of the collaborative efforts of the caucus of Caribbean Ambassadors to Washington, the Caricom Secretariat, the IDB, the World Bank, the OAS and the U.S. government. The title 20/20 Vision was appended for two reasons: first, the organizers hoped to assess the issues of the region with the clarity of perfect vision and second, they are determined to have them resolved by the year 2020. The three-fold Expert, Diaspora and Private Sector forums collectively and critically addressed anything and everything that are of concern to the region including, trade, investment, finance, energy, education, crime, security, diaspora and deeper, thicker, faster and denser integration through the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME).

In the U.S., we frequently hear that all politics are domestic. The bombshell terrorist plot exploded in timely fashion to be a convenient diversion from the doldrums into which the current Bush administration has sunk itself. That same week of alleged Caribbean terrorism, the U.S. media was having a field day with the minority AG Alberto Gonzaless catastrophic dismissal of three minority judges. Then came allegations of the U.S. decision to fund Sunni insurgents in Iraq. Not surprisingly, Bushs approval rating continues to slide to an all time low. It is rather curious though, how quickly the analysts were able to prepare their media speeches on Caribbean terrorism and make the link to Islamic fundamentalism. The message is clear. Whether in the Middle East or in our tropical paradise in Americas backyard, the issue of the day is American Insecurity.

Seemingly oblivious to Americas grand designs, our leaders and professionals from the region and the U.S. diaspora embraced the conference with passion, zeal and true Caribbean fervor. Even with the monumental Washington obelisk towering over our heads like a giant phallus, Jamaicas Prime Minister, Portia Simpson-Miller, insisted that Size is not Destiny, Regionalism Is. But the call for a new Ship Rider agreement in the interest of regional security, this time on Caribbean terms and conditions, gave credence to the age-old adage that its not the size of the ship, but the motion in the ocean that really matters. The Titanic may have sunk, but our incessant navigation for regional security has not.

So far, the Caribbean conference has received virtually no attention from the mainstream American media. Our seventeen Caribbean leaders could not compete with Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, for Georgies and the medias attention. United in their deep and abiding commitment to eradicate those extremists and radicals who use violence and murder as a tool to achieve objectives, the unholy alliance between Bush and Olmert is reinforced by Americas unrelenting support of Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.

But it gets curiouser and curiouser. Clearly, Olmerts visit was well-timed. The 2008 election drums are rolling in the U.S. Hilary and Obama have already raised millions for their respective Democratic campaigns. And though money has never been a major problem for the Conservatives, the enormous contributions of the powerful Jewish-American lobby to the Democratic Party is no secret. Indeed, it is larger than the financial contributions from any other ethnic Political Action Committee in the U.S. Yes, all politics are domestic.

It was clear that American insecurity rather than regional security was the issue of the day when our leaders met with Bush on Wednesday, June 20th. Hoping to repeat at least some of the gains of Reagans Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), their reasonable demands for more aid, trade, preferential treatment and investment from Uncle Sam, more than likely fell on deaf ears. Bush was more preoccupied with the Caribbeans relations with Venezuelan firebrand, Hugo Chavez and Cubas indomitable Comandante, Fidel Castro. Why?

Recently, at the meeting of the Caribbean Studies Association in Bahia, Brazil (May 28th-June 1st), I attempted to explain the Logistics Behind the Illogical U.S. Cuba Policy in the geopolitical context of both U.S. domestic politics; Manifest Destiny which justifies American expansionism; and the 1823 Monroe Doctrine the historic mission of the U.S. to ward-off European powers and protect what it considers its sphere of influence in the region. In a post-Cold War era, it seems that Americas worst fears are justified. The capitalist superpower has failed to castrate Castro for forty-six years and is now forced to confront an unenviable leftist political milieu in its own backyard. Ironically, it is taking place in the absence of a Soviet Union and 17 years after the Cold War has ended. A neo-Monroe Doctrine targeting the socialist ideology, rather than European powers, is not only timely but an imperative for the U.S. Cubas Fidel Castro, Venezuelas Hugo Chavez, Bolivias Evo Morales, Brazils Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, Argentinas Nestor Kirchner, Ecuadors Rafael Correa, Uruguays Tabare Vasquez, Chiles Michelle Bachelet and Nicaraguas Daniel Ortega, all veer toward the left. Some such as Chavez, Kirchner, Ortega, Morales and Correa have overtly expressed anti-imperialist sentiments and resentment for the Washington Consensus. Vasquezs first announcement upon election victory in 2004 was the restoration of diplomatic ties with Cuba. Correa quipped that Chavez calling Bush the devil, offends the devil.

Yes, all politics are domestic. Strong anti-Castro Republican representation by hardline, right-winged Cuban-Americans in South Florida has facilitated the perpetual tightening of the ridiculous embargo on Cuba, particularly in election years. They constitute the second most important campaign financiers in the U.S., superseded only by that of the Jewish-American lobby. The latest 2004 and 2006 Reports of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, detail the tenets of the draconian policies which currently govern American foreign policy to the island. Their objectives closely mirror those of Monroe Doctrine of 1823 and its later Amendment in 1904 in the form of the Roosevelt Corollary.

Fortunately, the cojones of some of our regional leaders, are still intact. It is the fearless and dynamic Guyanese and Soviet trained Bharat Jagdeo, who took the Bush by the horns in his defense of the Caribbeans relations with Chavez and Castro for which Bush expressed open concern. It is in our national interest to have relations with Venezuela and Cuba, he explained to the distraught Bush. Just as it is in your interest to have relations with un-democratic Saudi Arabia. He should have added and socialist China which incidentally, is the largest trading partner of the United States.

The astute Jagdeo must have long realized that despite the myriad of issues on the Caribbean agenda at the Conference, the only real concern of the U.S. with regards to the region is the formidable expansion of the leftist Castro-led Axis in Latin America to other Caribbean countries. After all, Jamaicas Michael Manley (1976-1980), Grenadas Maurice Bishop (1979-1983) and Jagdeos predecessor, Cheddi Jagan (1957-1964, 1992-1998), have all flirted outrageously with socialism in the past. Jagdeo must also be acutely aware that herein lie the Caribbeans trump card for invaluable aid, trade security and preferential treatment from the United States.

But even without an expansion of the Castro-led Axis into Caribbean waters, a U.S. accord with regional governments which affords the superpower easy access to the region under the guise of Caribbean terrorism would fulfill the historical objectives of Manifest Destiny and the Monroe Doctrine. It would also divert from the catastrophe in Middle East in a desperate bid to win invaluable electoral votes in the 2008 elections. Yes, all politics are domestic.

Sadly, American paranoia has reached such mammoth proportions that it seems to have been transmitted even to the Caribbean Diaspora in the U.S. I was privileged to be sponsored to present a paper at the Diaspora Forum of the Caribbean Conference on Crime as an Obstacle to Diaspora Investment. The paper necessitated a series of unstructured and semi-structured interviews with members of the Caribbean business diaspora in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando and New York. My findings reflect a highly successful but suspicious, traumatized, disappointed, cynical and angry Caribbean-American business disapora which has not fully assimilated into the mainstream American cultural and political milieu. At the same time, the majority are not prepared to return or invest in the region mainly because of the spiraling crime rate, inadequate returns on investment due to the currency exchange rate and lack of well-paid and professional job opportunities. Yet, paradoxically, they harbor a lingering nostalgia to return to the tropical homeland.

If anything, our leaders three-day dedication to regional issues in Washington has heightened awareness of their seeming commitment to improving the quality of life in the region. They assured and reassured us that the DC Conference is not just shop talk. So, even in the absence of any real American interest in developing the region, if at least two of the proposals on the regional agenda should indeed come to fruition in the short or medium-term, we can concur unhesitatingly, that the Conference has been a resounding success. By now, Caribbean leaders should know that the onus is on them to collectively take the initiative for the regions development. For Size is not Destiny, but Regionalism is. And as far as the United States is concerned, all politics are domestic.


Dr Indira Rampersad is a fellow at the Department of Political Science, University of Florida.