After spending my entire professional life in the field of diplomacy and international relations, including four years as ambassador in Washington D.C., I never thought I would ever see the day when the US would become the major threat to the peace, stability and good order of the world.
While the US was never a major financial contributor to the economic development of Barbados – that role fell to Canada in our first two decades – the US has over the years provided valuable security assistance, and in trade there was the Alliance for Progress launched by President Kennedy, the Caribbean Basin Initiative launched by President Reagan, and the Free Trade Area of the Americas, proposed by President Clinton.
But perhaps most important of all, was the lead role that the US played in the creation of a stable international system after the Second World War had destroyed the dog-eat-dog anarchy of the 1930s that led to the Second World War. In the new post-war era of decolonisation, international relations began developing a truly global character in which each nation began finding its national interests inseparably bound up with the interests of other nations as well as with international interests of peace, security, and development. Of course, there was still conflict, but this played out within a stable rules-based system. It was in such a system that small states like Barbados had the best chance of surviving and thriving. It was the US that was the anchor of strength in what was, relatively speaking, a period of peaceful and cooperative international relations.
Now it is the US, led by Trumpian populism and isolationism, that is hell-bent on destroying the current system and ushering in a new dog-eat-dog world of powerful predator nations. Trump has sought to undermine NATO, withdrew from the Paris climate change agreement, denounced the Iran nuclear agreement, is provoking a trade war with China, wants to destroy NAFTA and other free trade agreements along with the World Trade Organization, offended or verbally attacked America’s closest allies like Canada, and is interested only in one-off bilateral transactional agreements that can be discarded the next day on a whim. All this amounts to America abandoning its leadership role as the rest of the world can no longer trust the US. Other nations will step in to fill the void.
Although the relationship is lopsided, the Caribbean has never feared the power of the US when American leadership is exercised in pursuit of goals that America historically stands for: freedom, human rights, democracy, and dynamic market economies functioning within a just society. Indeed, the Caribbean supported the Desert Storm war against Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait and took part in the UN-backed multinational invasion of Haiti to restore freedom and democracy to the Haitian people.
Now, we can only watch in fear and trepidation as our powerful neighbour to the north goes rogue. Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau once described being next door to the US as sleeping in the same bed as an elephant: you might be crushed without the elephant even intending it. So pity the poor Caribbean mini-states, especially now that the spectre of the Monroe Doctrine allowing the US to intervene militarily at will in the hemisphere has been resurrected by the Trump administration.
We now hear talk of an American military intervention in Venezuela. This should be condemned in advance by all the nations of the hemisphere, but the problem is that a strong minority of nations, some from the Caribbean, are enablers of the corrupt, dictatorial Maduro regime in Venezuela. More than two million people (seven per cent of the population) have fled the economic and social catastrophe that is Venezuela since 2014. Those at home, except for the wealthy corrupt elites surrounding Maduro, are close to starvation. The dysfunctional OAS has failed to deal with the Venezuelan situation despite the Maduro assaults on democratic institutions, the press, and the rule of law that have been well documented by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
We should have no doubt that the next major crisis in the Caribbean will stem from the Venezuelan situation. God help us all.
(Dr Peter Laurie is a retired permanent secretary and head of the Foreign Service who once served as Barbados’ Ambassador to the United States)