21st-Century Geopolitics Of The Caribbean. Part IV.
When predicting the contours of any forthcoming revitalization of the West Indies Federation, it’s important to keep in mind that this prospective entity will probably be comprised of three primary parts constituting an “Atlantic Bloc”, the OECS, and Jamaica, essentially representing the integration of most of CARICOM:
The Atlantic Bloc
The “Atlantic Exception” states of Trinidad and Barbados have a high likelihood of further integrating with one another given their generally allied political relations in international organizations and with one another. For example, neither of these two Caribbean countries are part of Venezuela’s ALBA or Petrocaribe, which implies a deliberate attempt to keep their distance from Caracas. Trinidad sees Venezuela as a regional energy competitor and doesn’t like that the Bolivarian Republic has used its hydrocarbon resources to become a political force in the Lesser Antilles island chain, which is a role that Trinidad had originally envisioned for itself through the combined use of its energy and cultural attributes.
Barbados, however, has no such structural rivalry with Venezuela, and its aloofness to Caracas can probably be read as a sign of unstated political solidarity with its Trinidadian ally. It was mentioned previously in the research just how close the two island states are to one another in social and commercial terms, and there was once a proposal for Trinidad to build an Eastern Caribbean Gas Pipeline to Barbados and eventually onwards to the rest of the Lesser Antilles. The present energy price glut indefinitely offset those plans, as did Caracas’ Petrocaribe system which made it impossible for Trinidad to ever compete with Venezuela for the loyalty of those Caribbean island states. Essentially being in the same ‘boat’ with one another in geographic, political, and logically, strategic terms, it’s sensible that Trinidad and Barbados will deepen their integration with one another in the coming future.
That in and of itself could possibly form a separate component of a larger West Indies Federation, but it can’t be ruled out that Trinidad will also seek to integrate with its southeastern mainland partners of Guyana and Suriname, both of which are historically, demographically, and culturally much more Caribbean than South American. In fact, they’re also members of CARICOM, and Guyana was one of the group’s founding states and even hosts its headquarters. Keeping with Trinidad’s political reticence towards Venezuela and simmering rivalry with it, Guyana would make an “excellent” addition to the Atlantic Bloc because of the territorial dispute that it has with their shared neighbor, one which has profound energy implications as well. From Trinidad’s perspective, it would be “wise” to formalize a partnership with Guyana so that the two can join forces in “countering” Venezuela’s energy and political influence on the other CARICOM members, while weak and impoverished Suriname would have little practical choice other than to join them.
Thus, a transregional Atlantic Bloc can very realistically be formed between the four nations, with Trinidad functioning as the core, anchor, and pivot state in this unipolar construction. Port of Spain has the potential to physically link its members together through a network of undersea gas pipelines which could eventually be expanded to the OECS under the ‘right’ circumstances, namely following the possible overthrow of the Venezuelan government and the coup authorities’ dismantlement of Petrocaribe. This in turn could provide the situational catalyst for integrating the Atlantic Bloc with the OECS, but even without this scenario of events, there’s nothing preventing the Trinidadian-led integration of the four easternmost CARICOM members. In fact, the continued survival of the Bolivarian government in Venezuela actually provides these countries with the impetus to formalize their strategic alliance with one another and discuss taking it to the level of a federation in order to best pool their collective resources.
If a chain reaction of events unfolds whereby the Venezuelan government is overthrown and the Atlantic Bloc – whether as an already pseudo-formalized entity or an official one – accelerates its political-strategic integration with the OECS, then Jamaica is bound to play some sort of a role in this process as well. As it stands, Kingston is friendly with all players and is actually a member of Petrocaribe, so it has no intent in siding with its historical regional rival Trinidad and doing anything to oppose the Bolivarian authorities in its energy patron state of Venezuela. Jamaica and Trinidad are still cultural competitors in the OECS sub-region, just as they were in the pre-independence West Indies Federation, so on the surface it seems improbable that they’d ever find any common ground for reintegrating with one another, especially seeing how miserably the previous attempt failed roughly half a century ago.
The crucial variable which could alter this entire dynamic would be if a successful Hybrid War coup takes place in Venezuela, which could then predictably set into motion the cancellation of Petrocaribe subsidies and even a civil war, the latter of which would mire the South American giant in so much turmoil that it wouldn’t have the time nor opportunity to think about its Caribbean outreach policies. In such a scenario, the Atlantic Bloc could exploit the situation to strategically “seize” the OECS from Caracas and turn it into an indisputably distinct unipolar entity. However, the OECS’ population would most likely be concerned about the lopsided power arrangements between itself and the Atlantic Bloc, seeing as how the former only have roughly 1 million people altogether while the latter would account for almost triple that at approximately 2.7 million. As chance would have it, the Atlantic Bloc’s combined population is just about equal to that of Jamaica’s, which could lead to the OECS requesting Kingston’s membership in any incipient reiteration of the West Indies Federation in order to internally balance the organization.
This would fundamentally alter the dynamics of the New West Indies Federation by counterbalancing the excessive unipolar influence of the Atlantic Bloc with the more nuanced and multipolar-friendly attitude of Jamaica. It would also allow the OECS – as the enduring object of competition between Kingston and Port of Spain – to act as the regular kingmaker in deciding the transregional federation’s affairs, thus allowing a type of stabilizing equilibrium to descend upon what might otherwise appear to be a sharply divided political entity. If this multinational integration project is successfully completed, then it would have far-reaching implications on the 21st-century geopolitics of the Caribbean and the Western Hemisphere more broadly, all of which will be described in the concluding segment of the research below in presenting a possible vision of the future for this region.
Trinidad On Top:
Previously without any worthwhile geopolitical significance at all in terms of hemispheric politics, Trinidad would all of a sudden become a more important player for the Great Powers to engage with due to its pivotal transregional role in connecting the Caribbean (Lesser Antilles) and South American portions of the West Indies Federation.
The Atlantic Bloc, OECS, and Jamaica each bring their own particular regional reaches and relevant strategic advantages to the New West Indies Federation: the first is mostly concentrated on the northeastern coast of South America and has plenty of offshore energy reserves; the second is a tourist hotspot; while the third is crucially located between the Windward Passage and the Panama/Nicaraguan Canal(s).
More than likely, the US-led RSS military bloc presently comprising the OECS would end up being expanded to incorporate the New West Indies Federation’s other Jamaican and Atlantic Bloc (Trinidadian, Guyanese, Surinamese) members, which would pretty much tighten military coordination between most of the states comprising the extant “Partnership for Prosperity and Security in the Caribbean”.
Given the prominence that the Indo-Caribbean ethnicity plays in being the dominant minority in three of the four Atlantic Bloc states, it’s possible that New Delhi could leverage this demographic fact to its advantage in fostering an expanded partnership between India and the New West Indies Federation, one which could give the Great Power a strategic toehold in the hemisphere as the first step in attempting to catch up to China there.
Given the four previously described geopolitical outcomes of any prospective New West Indies Federation, China is predicted to encounter certain challenges with its Caribbean outreach efforts if this polity becomes a unipolar bastion for strengthening the US’ hold on the region, which would thus prevent Beijing from employing the strategic lessons of the South China Sea described in the first chapter of the research.
DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.