The Caribbean is hurting, and America can fix it
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
(14 April 2021) –– The Caribbean has been viewed by successive American governments as America’s third border, dating back to the precedent-setting Third Border Initiative (TBI) launched by former president George W. Bush in partnership with CARICOM member states and the Dominican Republic in April 2001. After the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the Bush administration paid less attention to its initial objectives of fostering economic and social development, rule of law, and providing law enforcement tools to fight crime, to a high concentration of American attention to border control and maritime security. There were two primary foci on border control: to prevent terrorists from using the region’s shipping and aviation facilities to target the US Homeland with WMD (weapons of mass destruction); and to staunch the flow of drugs from South American producers to American consumers.
President Obama’s Caribbean support programs
Former president Barack Obama increased attention to Caribbean security, including law enforcement and rule of law capacity building under his Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) launched in 2010; and launched the Caribbean Energy Security Initiative (CESI) in 2015 to encourage alternative energy development. President Obama also increased resources to targeting the original human security objectives of the TBI. This was particularly welcome in the wake of the great global recession of 2007-2009. The Caribbean region, highly dependent on US trade and American tourists, as well as US market for goods and services, were brought to the brink of bankruptcy by the recession. Caribbean countries could not look to traditional partners in North America and Europe for help. They re-engineered their economies, and reconstructed social services in order to meet the requirements set by the international financial institutions (IFIs), in order to qualify for scarce financial resources. They exercised fiscal self-discipline under tough political circumstances.
Caribbean countries emerged from the recession with devastated economies and high levels of social depravation requiring tremendous resources to return to the status quo ante of the great recession. Jamaica’s recovery, one of the hardest hits by the recession, was held up by the IFIs as a global model of responsible government actions in response to the economic crisis. The people of Jamaica and the region suffered the brunt of the sacrifices. Countries in the region continued to experience devastating hurricanes and other challenges of climate change. And then came the COVID-19 virus, overwhelming already very weak healthcare systems which struggled to deal with the enormity of the pandemic. Many Caribbean countries in efforts to control the spread of the virus, closed their borders to international travel – denying themselves desperately needed in-bound international travel to sustain their tourism sectors.
Trump’s Caribbean divisive policies
In the meantime, the Trump administration pursued a policy of division and disunity in the Caribbean region; significantly reduced USAID funding as of 2017 – two years ahead of COVID-19; and Trump’s attempt to reduce CBSI funding was rejected by the US Congress. The Trump administration required fealty to its divisive regional and global policies, in order to receive US assistance during his presidency, thus driving a wedge among and between countries in the Caribbean and Latin America. Some Caribbean governments acquiesced, while others defied the Trump administration and were sidelined by Washington.
The social and economic impact of the COVID pandemic is a Caribbean that is hurting. Caribbean countries, mostly dependent on tourism, suffered enormous economic and social dislocation. Gains made in the post-great recession period were reversed. Unemployment rates skyrocketed across the region. In Jamaica, serious crimes, already increasing at a crisis rate prior to the COVID pandemic, continued an upward trend. States of emergency declared by the government as a principal crime-fighting tool failed, and serious crimes continued to escalate. Jamaica, as most other Caribbean countries, need American help.
The Caribbean region is hurting, and America can fix it. The Biden administration is the region’s best hope. The burning issues they face cannot be resolved by them without outside intervention and assistance. With Europe, a traditional Caribbean partner, itself in economic and COVID disarray, and increased Chinese presence in the region being anathema to America’s interests, the United States is the only viable option.
Biden administration’s options for the Caribbean
The Biden administration must see the Caribbean, its third border, not only in security terms, but as a priority for assistance and recovery from the pandemic. It begins with the urgent need of the governments in the region to access affordable COVID vaccines. However, even if Caribbean governments could source adequate supplies of vaccines, which are in scarce supply except for in the United States, they just cannot afford to purchase enough vaccines to inoculate a large enough segment of the population to stop the spread of the virus. Except for Haiti and the Dominican Republic, each with populations in excess of over 10 million each, five million vaccines (single dose) would vaccinate the entire Caribbean adult population.
With US herd immunity now in sight, it is time for the Biden administration to give some urgent attention to its Caribbean neighbors – the US third border. The region needs American help in order to stop the virus which would allow them to seamlessly welcome millions of American tourists back to their shores. A rise in tourism will lift the struggling economies in the region; reduce immigration pressures; and, above all else, provide the governments in the region necessary resources to increase the level of human security of their beleaguered populations. Countless lives can be saved, but only if America cares.
Two CARICOM prime ministers (Antiguan and Jamaican) are among 40 world leaders who have been invited to the ‘Leaders Summit on Climate’ to be hosted by President Biden on April 22 and 23, 2021, in Washington. DC. The islands of the Caribbean are quite vulnerable to climate change. They are already experiencing far more deadly hurricanes, and rising seawater levels are threatening low-lying tourist areas. A Caribbean neighbor, St Vincent and the Grenadines is reeling from the eruption of the La Soufrière volcano, leaving the country with a dismally uncertain future. The climate summit will be an opportunity for the Biden administration to offer climate resilience capacity building to the region, and to offer a bold program for alternate energy development across the Caribbean. It is an opportunity to offer short- and long-term rebuilding assistance and humanitarian support to St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
This is a period of opportunity for America under the leadership of the Biden administration to be truly neighborly. It is an American national security imperative.
© 2021 Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post