21st-Century Geopolitics Of The Caribbean. Part II
Having gotten the geographic and strategic basics of the Caribbean out of the way, it’s now time to expand a little bit more upon how each of the region’s islands/countries fits into the bigger picture:
Lucayan Archipelago – Bahamas, Turks and Caicos (UK)
These islands function as a shield guarding the Strait of Florida and the Windward Passage. Their strategic utility is commonly underestimated by many because it’s generally taken for granted that they’re a de-facto US-UK condominium which has no realistic prospects for changing, hence why neither the Bahamas nor Turks and Caicos (UK) are ever seriously discussed when talking about Caribbean geopolitics.
Like the first chapter concluded, Cuba is the most geostrategically crucial island in the entire Western Hemisphere because of its potential to simultaneously influence three Caribbean chokepoints, though it must be said that its significance is inseparable from that of the Lucayan Archipelago. The US needs to exert hegemony on both of them in order to feel fully secure in its own backyard, which again explains the obsession that it has with wanting to overthrow the Cuban government or compelling President Castro to agree to a “sell-out” deal instead.
So long as Cuba remains independent – no matter how constrained the military aspects of its foreign policy may be due to American pressure – it will always be seen as a latent threat to the US’ dominance in the Caribbean, and by Neo-Realist “zero-sum” extent, to the Western Hemispheric bedrock of its entire unipolar global strategy.
The US therefore regularly overreacts to developments on the island out of the fear that one of its Great Power rivals will find a way to leverage its relationship with Havana to create the foundation for one day challenging the US in its home region, and perhaps, as the most paranoid decision makers fear, even in its own southern states too with time.
On a more regional and rational note, Cuba has the largest population of any Caribbean country, though the combined total of Haiti and the Dominican Republic’s makes the island of Hispaniola roughly twice as populous as Cuba. What this translates to is that Cuba is an important destination for cheap labor, made all the more attractive by its two-tier currency system which gives it one of the lowest wages in the world. As Cuba continues to “open up” (a euphemism for progressively rolling back many of its Cold War-era communist policies), it’s likely to experience a lot of social, and eventually political, changes as well.
The Obama Administration wanted the US to be the guiding force over this entire transformational process, hence why it enacted visible (and ethically long-overdue) ‘concessions’ to craft the perception that “David finally beat Goliath”. Nothing could be further from the truth, but it’s just that the US deliberately went along with that narrative in order to gain the ‘trust’ that it needed to deepen its role over Cuba’s relative “de-communization” (from an economic, not necessarily social, standpoint). The Trump Administration reversed most of this and returned to the US’ traditional adversarial relationship with Cuba, though it’s still too early to know whether the “direct” use of pressure against Havana will be more “successful” than the “indirect” one in achieving Washington’s goals.
The land of Bob Marley is important in the geopolitical context for sitting along the Windward Passage and the most direct route between the Panama/Nicaraguan Canal(s) and the East Coast of the US. It has also invested in opening up an LNG terminal which it expects will allow it to become a gas-exporting hub in the Caribbean. These hopes might prove to be too optimistic for reasons that will be explained at the end of this chapter, but it nevertheless shows that that Kingston is trying to “think big” in radically reinventing its regional role, no matter how risky this might be.
What’s more pertinent to discuss when talking about Jamaica is its historic-cultural relationship to the Lesser Antilles and the leadership-balancing role that it could play in any forthcoming reiteration of the failed colonial-era 1958-1962 West Indies Federation. This sub-national polity was an agglomeration of the UK’s regional imperial holdings which aimed to achieve independence all together, but disagreements between Jamaica and Trinidad doomed this idea to the dustbin of history. More will be said in the last chapter about the potential for a new “Caribbean Federation” to form in the coming future, however, as well as the role that 2 million-strong Jamaican population could play in this construction.
Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic)
Haiti and the Dominican Republic each have around 10 million people and cumulatively make the island of Hispaniola (originally known by its local name “Haiti”) the most populous one in the Caribbean. From a geostrategic standpoint, the island straddles the Windward and Mona Passages, though it is far from functioning as a unified political unit due to the intense rivalry between its two halves. Haiti occupied the Dominican Republic for a few decades in order to pay a post-independence indemnity to France, and this continued until the successful completion of the eastern islanders’ War of Independence in 1844. All in all, this was an experience which the Dominicans would never forget. Moreover, Santo Domingo made the unprecedented choice from 1861-1865 to voluntarily resubmit to Spanish rule, though the authorities’ decision proved to be so unpopular with the masses that the consequent liberation war ended this state of affairs after only four years.
In addition, Haiti and the Dominican Republic underwent very different experiences in the 20th century. Both were occupied by the US for varying amounts of time and even came under the control of their own right-wing strongmen, but the primary difference is that Haiti collapsed into an utterly failed state while the Dominican Republic rose to become one of the region’s leading economies. This position was cemented by the DR-CAFTA and CARIFORUM multilateral free trade agreements that the latter signed together with Central America and the US, and the Caribbean and the EU, respectively. These neoliberal trading arrangements arguably served the benefit of their American-European initiators to the overall detriment of the people in the Caribbean Basin, though nonetheless,
it’s important to note that the Dominican Republic is the only regional state which has such an agreement with both Western Great Powers and that it still retains very positive macroeconomic (key word) indicators.
About the descent of Haiti into failed state status, this is mostly attributable to corrupt and power-hungry elites being manipulated by the US. The country which has the proud legacy of the being the first-ever black independent state following the slave-led Haitian Revolution has unfortunately been transformed into a post-modern neo-imperial colony jointly managed by the Clinton Foundation, international NGOs, private military contractors, and foreign UN troops. The US successfully carried out a violent Hybrid War against leftist-leaning President Aristide in 2004 during the symbolic 200th anniversary of Haitian independence through the use of student protesters and militia-guerrillas, and the aftermath of the deadly 2010 earthquake completed the total devastation of the country. It is now a largely lawless land which for all structural intents and purposes functions as a Western Hemispheric Somalia due to it being the epicenter of crime, drugs, migration, and overall destabilization.
The overwhelming numbers of Haitian migrants which have come to the Dominican Republic in the past few decades resemble what Harvard researcher Kelly M. Greenhill would term “Weapons of Mass Migration”. It’s not the author’s objective to blame or shame each and every migrant who fled Haiti due to the several Hybrid Wars which have been waged against it, but just to focus on the deleterious impact that this is having on its eastern neighbor. There’s always the fear that a relatively re-stabilized government in Haiti (most likely led by a future strongman who reconstitutes the national army following the upcoming UN withdrawal) could assert implicit or even direct territorial claims on the mountainous border regions where the majority of the Haitian diaspora in the Dominican Republic reside, thereby catalyzing a new conflict.
Something of this sort briefly occurred during what is now known as the 1937 “Parsley Massacre” during which Dominican forces killed an unverified but assumedly large number of Haitians nearly a decade after the 1929 border treaty between the two was supposed to have put such an issue to rest. Regardless of how many people were actually killed, the event ended up scarring the memories of all Haitians and its emotive legacy could conveniently be abused by Cultural Marxists in order to pressure Santo Domingo into future socio-territorial concessions towards this large group of illegal migrants. If any “continuation” conflict erupts in the future between the two sides on a state-to-state level (presuming that it’s not state-on-migrant like the Parsley Massacre was), then it could result in significant “Weapons of Mass Migration” outflows to Cuba and Puerto Rico from Haiti and the Dominican Republic, respectively, and thus represent a double-edged sword of both opportunities and challenges as it relates to the US’ Caribbean strategy.
The US’ colonial holdover from its victorious showing in the 1898 Spanish-American War allows it to maintain a direct naval presence in the geographic center between the Greater and Lesser Antilles, as well as to control the Mona Passage. The territory is horribly mismanaged and recently filed for the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history. Its final status has yet to be resolutely determined by its citizens, who are split between remaining a territory, becoming a state, or achieving independence. Puerto Rico’s future is uncertain and therefore looks bleak, which is why locals are fleeing from the failed ‘state’ for the American mainland in search of better socio-economic opportunities. It hasn’t yet collapsed on the level that Haiti did, nor will it probably ever get to that point, but the rampant crime, drugs, and poverty on the island have rendered it as little more than a gateway to the US for regional migrants and an on-and-off vacation destination for some Westerners.
There’s nothing particularly unique about any of the Lesser Antilles states and colonies/”dependencies”/”overseas territories” from a geostrategic standpoint that warrants their individual analysis, so it’s most convenient to group them together as a unified whole for the sake of this study. These island entities have a population that’s majority Afro-Caribbean and count differing sizes of Indo-Caribbeans among their most economically prominent minority groups. They survive mostly due to tourism and cruise ships, and there’s little else in any of these countries/colonies to attract outside investment or attention. All of the countries in the Lesser Antilles are members of the ALBA multipolar grouping that will be discussed later on the next chapter as well as its Petrocaribe energy-focused forerunner, and many of these states are part of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) that will also be analyzed at that time.
The Dutch domains abutting the northern coast of Venezuela serve as the perfect unipolar outposts for keeping an eye on Venezuela and hosting US military facilities for use against the Bolivarian Republic. As for Venezuela’s islands, its insular territories in this chain enable Caracas to claim that it’s geographically a part of the Caribbean island community and is therefore entitled to play a role in their affairs. It’ll later be explained how it does this through both Petrocaribe and ALBA, but the point to understand is that Venezuela does indeed border the southern Caribbean and also has actual island territories (however small they may be) which make it a natural player in this region.
Atlantic Exceptions – Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago
The two island nations of Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago are geographic, and in a large way, even political exceptions to the Caribbean region. To begin with, the first one is more Atlantic by virtue of its position than anything else, though just like Trinidad & Tobago, it shares very close historical-demographic ties with its neighbors. What’s most interesting, however, is that it’s on relatively fraternal political terms with Trinidad & Tobago on the international level, especially after having moved past their maritime border dispute in 2006. Barbados is therefore best conceptualized as an extension of Trinidad & Tobago’s regional sway, which will be argued more thoroughly in the next chapter detailing each country’s membership in various international organizations.
Moving along to Trinidad, then, nearly a third of its population is Indo-Caribbean, thereby making it the “most Indian” of all of the regional states. However, that’s somewhat of an inaccurate statement considering that the South American countries of Guyana and Suriname, which host 39% and 27% of Indo-Caribbeans respectively, are often grouped together with the Caribbean due historical-demographic reasons stemming from their colonial experience. In fact, Guyana is even hosts the headquarters of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), which will be talked about in the next chapter. The reason why this is all being brought up in the context of Caribbean geopolitics is because Trinidad and its nearby South American ‘neighbors’ could serve as India’s ‘gateway’ to the region if New Delhi properly leveraged its socio-cultural advantages in pursuit of political-economic dividends.
Trinidad isn’t only geopolitically useful as an Indian gateway, however, since it has the potential to be a regional leader in its own right, such as what it was primed to do during the brief four-year period of the West Indies Federation prior to its dissolution. The island nation is rich in oil and natural gas, which has imbued it with the capacity for leadership if it so desires, but it evidently didn’t want to shoulder the financial responsibilities inherent with this in the run-up to its independence. Nevertheless, it’s telling that Trinidad, its two “allies” (if they can be called that for geographic, political, and demographic reasons) of Barbados and Guyana, and regional rival Jamaica teamed up to found CARICOM in 1973. Additionally, it’s important to note that its capital city of Port of Spain hosts the headquarters of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS).
Overall, it’s best for interested observers to conceptualize Trinidad as both an anchor and a pivot state in the Caribbean region. It serves the first function because of its geography and the cultural-musical influence that it exerts on its other Afro-Caribbean insular counterparts in the Lesser Antilles, while its pivotal purpose is achieved by serving as a link between the islands and South America (Guyana and Suriname). However, its advantageous geographic location might also be the reason why it’s become a drug-smuggling haven and has experienced an explosion of crime recently. If the country can stabilize its domestic situation through effective law enforcement and poverty-alleviating policies, then it stands a promising chance at becoming the core of a reconstituted West Indies Federation, which will be discussed in the final chapter.
Before moving onto the next part of the research in examining the various integrational organizations that the Caribbean countries are a part of, it’s useful to concisely list off some of the most relevant trends unfolding in this region:
The Hybrid War On Venezuela
The US’ asymmetrical methods of destabilization have been largely successful in Venezuela, which has had the effect of undermining the ALBA and Petrocaribe regional integration organizations that Caracas leads in the Caribbean. The full scope of what’s at stake will be revealed in the coming chapter, but the takeaway is that this campaign has the potential to send shockwaves all throughout the region and ultimately reverse some of the multipolar gains that have recently been (nominally?) achieved.
Cuba: Round Two
The Trump Administration appears poised to launch a second round of sustained destabilization attempts against the Cuban leadership and its people, at least judging by the President’s open hate for the communist island nation and recent reversal of his predecessor’s comparatively more indirect hegemonic plans. If successful in any shape or form, this could prompt a regional migrant crisis to the US, Haiti (Hispaniola, to reach the Dominican Republic and thenceforth Puerto Rico), and/or Jamaica.
Puerto Rico As A New Failed State:
There’s no intention to exaggerate and pretend that Puerto Rico will become the “next Haiti”, but the fact also can’t be avoided that there is a lot of ‘trouble in paradise’ and that the US’ colonial-era holdover is quickly becoming a failed state. Washington probably won’t ever let Ponce get to the level of Port-au-Prince and would intervene in some “too-big-to-fail” economic-military way before it arrives at that point, but it’s nevertheless expected that Puerto Rico will increasingly figure as an issue in American domestic political discourse so long as its failed state status isn’t properly addressed.
There’s a very real chance that tensions between the Dominican Republic and Haiti will lead to some sort of conflict in the future, whether on the state-to-state level or below it.
Right now there is serious discontent in the Dominican Republic with the large-scale influx of Haitian “Weapons of Mass Migration”, and it’s possible that the state will be compelled to act in a more concerted manner over this issue in order to preempt ‘militia-vigilante’ violence against the new arrivals, let alone any future territorial claims that they may make in the borderland region.
If the problem isn’t decisively settled (which is admittedly difficult to do) and any type of protracted militancy develops because of it, then it might lead to a surge of “Weapons of Mass Migration” into Cuba and Puerto Rico depending on the conflict dynamics.
US Energy Offset:
The US’ rapid rise as an energy-exporting superpower, combined with its Hybrid War on Venezuela, runs the risk of seeing Washington displace Caracas as the main supplier of Petrocaribe’s Caribbean members if the Bolivarian Republic is overthrown.
Additionally, any aggressive American activity in the Caribbean energy marketplace could see Jamaica’s LNG terminal rendered redundant, as well as diminish the regional standing and budgetary revenue of Trinidad, which could interestingly bring these two rivals together under the right circumstances.
This trend is relevant not just for the Caribbean, but the entire Western Hemisphere as a whole, since the US stands to deepen its strategic influence over all of the countries of Latin America as it becomes more of a proportionately larger energy supplier to each of them.
Trinidadian-Jamaican Rivalry And A New West Indies Federation:
Although not a recent development by any means, it’ll be explained in the final chapter how this could affect the geopolitical contours of any revived West Indies Federation and actually serve to reinforce it instead of destroying it like in the past.
In addition, while both countries still compete with one another to influence the Afro-Caribbean states of the Lesser Antilles, the comparatively smaller and weaker objects of their geopolitical desire might end up playing one off against the other in order to “balance” and reap the most benefits.
Nevertheless, Trinidad is the clear candidate for becoming the integrational core of this speculated construction, and it might even be able to leverage its demography to become a transregional bridge between the Caribbean and South America, something which Jamaica is unable to do.
Lastly, the dominant (though not majority) Indo-Caribbean composition of Trinidad, Guyana, and Suriname could serve as an impetus for closer integration between these three states and also attract New Delhi’s attention if it has the will to use this factor to its geopolitical advantage in the Western Hemisphere.
India might not on its own be drawn to the Caribbean for any commercial or strategic reasons, but could find itself compelled to expand its presence there due to the New Cold War dynamics of “countering China”, something which would expectedly be encouraged by the US as Washington and New Delhi tighten their strategic partnership across the coming decades.