Foreign Relations

Caribbean Islands Table of Contents

Relations with Latin American and Caribbean Countries

Barbados played a leading role in Caribbean affairs both before and after independence. Grantley Adams was an advocate of regional federation and served as the prime minister of the short-lived West Indies Federation. As noted earlier, his successor, Barrow, labored during the immediate preindependence period to pull together the Little Eight islands. This effort did not reach the stage of formal union, however, mainly because of the protracted nature of the negotiations. By the time Britain agreed to continue grant-in-aid monies, the momentum toward federation had been lost in acrimony. Barrow marched out of the last negotiating session in April 1965, taking with him the viability of potential union. Barbados declared its independence from Britain the following year.

Barrow did not abandon his belief in Caribbean integration after the collapse of the Little Eight negotiations. Instead, he helped to shift the regional approach to the concept. As the islands moved toward independence as separate entities, the notion of political association lost much of its appeal. The attraction of economic cooperation was strong, however, given the precarious economic status of these new ministates. Recognizing this, Barrow lobbied for the establishment of Carifta as a means of promoting regional economic viability and as a way of keeping the integration movement alive. The principle of foreign policy coordination among Commonwealth Caribbean countries, as advocated by Barrow, was achieved in theory with the advent of Caricom. Barbados also advocated the creation of such other regional institutions as the UWI, the CDB, and the West Indies Shipping Corporation (WISCO--see Appendix C).

By the time the BLP returned to power in 1976 under the leadership of Tom Adams, economic integration was an ongoing process, albeit not a particularly smooth or dynamic one. Adams maintained the Barbadian commitment to this process and made some limited efforts to expand beyond Caricom and establish new economic links with Latin America. Indeed, from 1976 until 1982 Barbadian foreign policy seemed to be driven primarily by economic imperatives, such as the promotion of trade (including tourism), the attraction of capital, and the expansion of domestic industry.

By 1982, however, it was clear that Adams's thinking on regional policy had begun to focus more on security concerns and less on political and economic issues. The motivation for this change in emphasis was the establishment in Grenada of the People's Revolutionary Government (PRG). From Adams's perspective, the PRG was a regional aberration that threatened to destabilize other island governments by its example and rhetoric if not by possible active support for subversive groups. Barbados' concern over Grenada surfaced pointedly in 1982 at the third Caricom heads of government meeting in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. It was there that Adams, supported by a number of like-minded leaders, pushed for the alteration of the Caricom treaty to commit members to the maintenance of parliamentary democracy and the defense of human rights. PRG leader Bishop, the target of this effort, argued for the incorporation of economic rights, such as employment, health care, and education, under the human rights rubric; he also gave private assurances to the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago that Grenada would hold elections, although not necessarily under the Westminster system. Adams's amendment eventually was rejected in favor of a declaration affirming Caricom's support for ideological pluralism and the right of each state to select its own pattern of development. Although it appeared at the time to be a foreign policy victory for the PRG, the conference revealed the uneasiness and divisions within the Caribbean community over the course of events in Grenada; it also furthered an attitudinal split as to how best to deal with the situation. This drift was thrown into sharp relief by the events of October 1983.

Adams was a prime mover in the events that led up to the United States-Caribbean intervention in Grenada (see Current Strategic Considerations, ch. 7). The regional relationship most seriously affected by adverse reaction to the intervention was that of Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. The flare-up between the two was marked by charges and countercharges over the issue of whether or not Adams had informed Port-of-Spain of the operation in advance of its execution. At the height of the dispute, the Trinidad and Tobago envoy to Barbados, who contradicted Adams's claim of prior notification, was expelled. In contrast to the debate provoked in other parts of the world by the intervention, the issue of notification seemed to be the real crux of the argument between these two states; disagreement over the inherent merit of the action in Grenada appeared to be a secondary consideration for both parties. The diplomatic dispute exacerbated already existing tensions based on Trinidad and Tobago trade restrictions. This rift, although not deep or irremediable, was not healed within Adams's lifetime and was employed as a campaign issue by Barrow and the DLP in their successful return to power in 1986.

Upon his return to the country's leadership, Barrow signaled his reservations over the previous government's approach to regional security issues. Despite some rhetorical salvos against the RSS, the United States, and some more conservative regional leaders such as Dominica's Mary Eugenia Charles, Barrow took no substantive action before his death to withdraw Barbados from the existing regional agreements. It is significant to note, however, that Grenadian prime minister Herbert Blaize did not request Barbados to send forces to Grenada in December 1986 to prevent possible unrest growing out of the verdict in the Bishop murder trial (see Grenada, National Security, this ch.).

Within the wider Caribbean, Barbados continued to maintain formal and correct relations with Cuba even after the Grenada intervention. Barbados, along with Guyana, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago, had defied both the United States and the Organization of American States to establish relations with Cuba in 1972 in keeping with a general commitment to ideological pluralism. The relationship between Cuba and Barbados since that time, however, had been decidedly distant, the result perhaps of the competitive nature of both countries' major export (sugar) and their incompatible political systems.

Barbadian relations with Latin American countries traditionally had been limited. Nevertheless, Barbados was one of only two Commonwealth Caribbean beneficiaries of the 1980 San Josť Accord between Mexico and Venezuela (Jamaica being the other), whereby the two large producers agreed to provide oil at preferential rates to a number of Caribbean Basin states. Barbados had also benefited from low-interest loans for infrastructure and housing projects through another provision of the San Josť Accord. As of 1986, the DLP government was reported to be seeking new export markets in Latin America, particularly in Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela, apparently perpetuating the efforts of the BLP government.

Along with the other nations of Caricom, Barbados supported the territorial integrity of Belize in the face of a long-standing claim by Guatemala. The Barbadian foreign minister held talks with Guatemala's ambassador to Venezuela in August 1986, presumably on the subject of Belize as well as the possibility of BarbadianGuatemalan commercial and diplomatic relations. Progress seemed to be anticipated by both sides after the 1986 assumption of power by a civilian government in Guatemala.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress