Relations with Latin American and Caribbean Countries

Caribbean Islands Table of Contents

Jamaica joined the OAS in 1969 in an effort to overcome the tradition of mutual indifference between the English-speaking Caribbean and the Hispanic countries. It and Mexico were the only countries to speak out in OAS meetings in the early 1970s in favor of normalization of relations with Cuba. In addition, Jamaica made a number of exchanges and agreements with Hispanic countries in the 1970s, particularly with Mexico and Venezuela; it also established a shipping line with seven Latin American countries. Jamaica was one of the signatories to the treaty establishing the Latin American Economic System (Sistema Economica Latino Americana--SELA) in 1975 and has been an active member of the IDB. Jamaica supported Panama in the Panama Canal dispute with the United States in the 1970s, and in 1986 the Seaga government sought and received assistance from Puerto Rico, with which it signed a trade agreement. Jamaica's closest non-English-speaking neighbors in the Greater Antilles--Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic--were not a significant factor in its foreign policy, with the exception of Cuba during the Manley administrations (1972-80). Jamaica did, however, play a key role in negotiating the exit of President-for- Life Jean-Claude Duvalier from Haiti in late 1986.

The Seaga government's position on the Central American crisis has been that it can best be resolved on the basis of peace initiatives introduced by the Contadora Group, which initially consisted of Panama, Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela, whose representatives first met on the Panamanian island of Contadora in January 1983 to address the problems of Central America. The Contadora negotiating process later expanded to include five Central American countries. Jamaican relations with Nicaragua were not nearly as controversial as those with Cuba. Jamaica's deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade received the first ambassador of Nicaragua to Jamaica on September 19, 1984. Seaga's government has been concerned, however, about the authoritarian nature of the Sandinista regime.

Jamaica has been an active member of the Commonwealth of Nations. It hosted a conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in 1964 and became the first Caribbean country to host a Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference in 1975. Jamaica's relations with other Commonwealth Caribbean members have been determined more by the nation's incorporation in the British West Indies than by geography. Jamaica has preferred to cooperate more with these members than with its closer Hispanic neighbors; the Manley government's close relations with Cuba in the 1970s were an exception. An advocate of regional economic integration with the other English-speaking Caribbean countries, Jamaica in 1968 joined the Caribbean Free Trade Association (Carifta). On July 4, 1973, Carifta merged with Caricom, formed by Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, and Guyana. Jamaica also joined several institutions associated with Caricom, including the Caribbean Development Bank, Caribbean Examinations Council, Caribbean Investment Corporation, Caribbean Meteorological Council, Council of Legal Education, and the Regional Shipping Council.

Jamaica's diplomatic ties with the Commonwealth Caribbean increased during Seaga's administration. For example, having supported the right of the Belizean people to self-determination and independence, Jamaica welcomed Belize's independence, which was granted on September 21, 1981. The Seaga government declared its solidarity with Belize in the event of an armed attack against it and opened diplomatic relations with Belize in late October 1984. Jamaica also developed closer ties to the Eastern Caribbean microstates. Jamaican-Trinidadian ties, which had long been relatively close, increased. In return for a visit to Jamaica by Prime Minister George Chambers in November 1985, Seaga visited Trinidad and Tobago on March 1-4, 1986.

Jamaica was not close to all of the Commonwealth Caribbean members, however. Jamaica's relations with the Cayman Islands were poor. The islands were close when they were ruled, along with the Turks and Caicos Islands, under the same protectorate from the midnineteenth century to 1962. They drifted apart, however, after Jamaica received independence. As Jamaica suffered financial hardships as an independent state, the Cayman Islands prospered as a tax haven and banking center. In 1985 Jamaica reportedly had a negative image in the Cayman Islands because of Jamaican higglers (street vendors), marijiana, and marriages of convenience entered into by Jamaicans seeking residency status in the Cayman Islands.

Although Jamaica avoided any formal political or military integration with the other Commonwealth Caribbean islands, it actively sought regional cooperation in these areas in the 1980s. At a meeting of regional prime ministers and other high government officials held in Kingston in January 1986, Seaga fulfilled a longheld dream by forming a conservative regional organization called the Caribbean Democratic Union (CDU) to provide a forum for exchange of views on political matters of a regional and international nature. A regional affiliate of the International Democratic Union (IDU), the CDU included the ruling centrist parties of seven other Caribbean countries: Belize, Dominica, Grenada, St. Christopher (St. Kitts)-Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Montserrat. The prime minister of Bermuda attended the inaugural meeting as an observer. Seaga, who was elected CDU chairman, described the organization as an attempt to revive a regional political alliance similar to the West Indies Federation (1958-62).

More about the Government and Politics of Jamaica.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress