Samantha S.S. Chaitram, American Foreign Policy in the English-Speaking Caribbean: From the Eighteenth to the Twenty-First Century. Palgrave Macmillan, 2020.
Price: $59.90 | Length: 134 pages
Samantha S.S. Chaitram’s American Foreign Policy in the English-Speaking Caribbean is an admirable and ambitious effort to cover U.S. foreign policy in the English-speaking Caribbean from the eighteenth to the twenty-first century. The book is well-written, concise, and packs a lot of information into its 134 pages. The author recently earned her Ph.D. in International Studies from the University of Miami and is a Lecturer at the Trinidad and Tobago Police Training Academy as well as an Adjunct Lecturer at the University of the West Indies. This is her first book.
In American Foreign Policy in the English-Speaking Caribbean, Chaitram focuses on four countries: the Bahamas, Guyana, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago. This was done to make her study more manageable, considering the large number of countries and territories that fall into this category. Her key points are that U.S. interest in the Caribbean has been, and continues to be, driven by economic and security concerns. In most scholarly works on U.S.-Caribbean relations, the English-speaking Caribbean is often given minimal treatment based on a general perception of U.S. disinterest in the region in the post-Cold War era. On the contrary, Washington has actually been quite engaged, especially after 9/11; and during the Trump administration the pace of that engagement stepped up, driven by a combination of security, trade, and health concerns. Under President Trump, U.S. security concerns centered on Cuba, Venezuela, and the growing role of China in the Western Hemisphere, all of which rippled into the U.S.-English-speaking Caribbean relationship.
Chaitram argues that the U.S. has a special relationship with the former territories of the British Caribbean. Key to this has been a shared historical experience. She notes that “The West Indies, being former British colonies, developed a unique relationship with the United States, one quite distinct from the Spanish or French colonies.” The development of this relationship paralleled the rise of U.S. power, the gradual decline of British power, and a willingness by London to increasingly download responsibility of Caribbean security to the North American power. The U.S. incentive was security. As she notes, “The United States has always viewed a stable and prosperous Caribbean as a vital part of hemispheric stability.”
Related to the security equation, the penetration of U.S. business in the British Caribbean, through extractive industries (namely bauxite and oil and natural gas) and tourism also played a factor in the deepening of the U.S.-English-speaking Caribbean ties. This was most evident during the twentieth century, as bauxite and oil became key components of industrialization, which during the Second World War helped facilitate the establishment of U.S. bases in a number of British Caribbean colonies, including the Bahamas, Guyana, and Trinidad.
Chaitram ably tackles the ups and downs of the Cold War, which was decidedly a mixed experience between Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. She captures the key perceptual lens through which much of U.S. policy was determined saying, “In the 1970s and 1980s, the United States continued to view the region in geopolitical terms, and policies toward Caribbean countries were determined by the Caribbean’s relationship with Fidel Castro and Cuba.” This led to difficult political experiences for Guyana’s Cheddi Jagan and Jamaica’s Michael Manley, who were “two Caribbean leaders who loved their tiny nations and searched for ways to liberate their people from poverty and inequality through socialist experiments.”
Chaitram also notes that Trinidad and Tobago under Eric Williams regained control of the Chaguaramas base from the U.S. without the same tortured relationship. This was because he was not a socialist, nor was his party, the People’s National Movement. Unlike Jagan, Williams also had the support of the British government vis-à-vis Washington.
In Chaitraim’s treatment of U.S.-Caribbean policy in the twenty-first century, she highlights five areas of engagement: development, humanitarian assistance, health, energy, and security. The policy mix came under a number of initiatives, such as the Third Border Initiative, Caribbean Energy Security Initiative, Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, and Growth in the Americas Initiative (Amérca Crece). One of the strengths of Chaitram’s book is her willingness to wade through a myriad of U.S. government policy pronouncements and attempt to make sense of them.
As for the Trump administration’s foreign policy toward the English-speaking Caribbean, the author notes that President Trump’s “rhetoric both during and after the presidential campaign caused much uncertainty in the international community about America’s engagement with the rest of the world.” For the English-speaking Caribbean, the interaction with the Trump administration was focused on energy, which elevated Guyana, and aligning allies to counter Venezuelan influence. The latter became increasingly more significant with U.S. policy discussions linking foreign assistance to votes in the United Nations General Assembly, which the author noted “could negatively affect the Caribbean.” Chaitram also points out that U.S. policy under President Trump carried many of the traditional elements of how Washington treats the region, as critical to Western Hemisphere security and important as an economic relationship.
Chitram’s books does have a few weaknesses. While she has dedicated much time and effort into discussing the drug trade on the Caribbean, she missed an important element—the role of offshore finance and money laundering and how they shape part of the dialogue with Washington. This impacts the Bahamas much more than it does Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, and Guyana. But, U.S. anti-money laundering efforts have had a negative impact on much of the English-Speaking Caribbean, even if they are not offshore financial centers. In particular, tougher international rules and regulation, especially those emanating from the advanced economies, including the U.S., have resulted in de-risking. De-risking is defined as the action taken by banks to reduce their exposure to risks coming from money laundering and the financing of terrorism through their relationships with correspondent banks. As U.S. banks have withdrawn from banking relations in the Caribbean, due partially to pressure from their regulatory organizations, most Caribbean nations have found their ability to conduct transnational business limited. De-risking has made it more difficult to launder money, but it has also hurt U.S.-Caribbean economic relations.
Another area which received relatively light treatment was the Trump administration’s hardball diplomacy over countries who were perceived to be too close to China and Venezuela. In particular, this has resulted in tensions between the U.S. and Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago on more than one occasion and is likely to be a source of future friction.
Chaitram ends her book looking ahead to what appears to be a more challenging geopolitical landscape. She states that “The ongoing Venezuelan crisis and the destabilizing effects for South America and the Caribbean will continue to be high on America’s foreign policy agenda. With China and Russia now playing their roles in the geopolitics of the Western Hemisphere, the Caribbean will be caught in the Cold War of the twenty-first century.”
Chaitram’s American Foreign Policy in the English-Speaking Caribbean is strongly recommended for readers looking for a general entry point on foreign policy in the Caribbean with a focus on a sub-region that is often overlooked in general studies. We look forward to further works from this scholar.
Scott B. MacDonald is the Chief Economist for Smith’s Research & Gradings, Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic & International Studies and a Research Fellow at Global Americans. He is currently working on a book on the new Cold War in the Caribbean.
If you would like to recommend a book for review, please reach out to Global Americans editor, Benjamin Henderson at: email@example.com.