The United States and the Caribbean

By Rodriquez Beruff, Jorge | Hemisphere, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview

The United States and the Caribbean


Rodriquez Beruff, Jorge, Hemisphere


The works under review bring a new perspective to the analysis of the relations between the hemisphere's Leviathan and Lilliputians. At first glance, The United States and the Caribbean appears written for the US academic market and can serve as a text for courses on the Caribbean; this book can also be considered a worthwhile contemporary source for policy makers interested in the region. A closer examination, however, reveals the book's more essential character. The United States and the Caribbean contributes to the Caribbean political and intellectual debate on the most effective approach that Caribbean leaders should take, given the huge asymmetries of power and geopolitical reality of existing within the US "sphere of influence." Anthony Maingot consciously places his views within a historically defined "centrist" position. According to Maingot, the region's approach to the US should fall halfway between the polar response of total subservience and intransigent confrontation. Hence, he dissents from the (allegedly) radical anti-imperialist stance of one of his intellectual mentors, Gordon Lewis.

Maingot stresses that from a Caribbean viewpoint, negotiation with the US based on common goals is the only viable approach. Currently, the common goals can be described as the struggle against drugs and its spinoff of corruption and money laundering, regional security, the promotion of democratic institutions and, what he calls the "synergies" of the US-Caribbean relationship: cultural links and trade.

Throughout the book, Maingot offers examples of successful attempts at negotiation by Caribbean leaders--even at the height of the Cold War--and underscores the many failures of leaders such as Cheddi Jagan of Guyana, Michael Manley of Jamaica, and Maurice Bishop of Grenada. Wily Eric Williams of Trinidad and Tobago is seen as a Caribbean politician who knew how to maximize his maneuverability while not openly breaking with the US. Maingot also describes with great relish Williams's twists and turns in playing the "Cuba card." More broadly, Maingot's sympathies lie with the postwar generation of reformist political leaders known as the izquierda democratica, which included Jose Figueres, Luis Munoz Marin, Romulo Gallegos, and Romulo Betancourt.

According to Maingot, nationalism and radical anti-imperialism, grounded on historical grievances, have been obstacles in dealing with the US. Maingot argues that "some of the more enduring attitudes and perceptions have to do with symbolic, not material grievances or satisfactions." The author associates these ideological trends to what he calls "state-centric" conceptions of sovereignty. Consequently, he raises the issue of the meaning of sovereignty in the Caribbean. Maingot believes that sovereignty should not be considered the static and absolute "state of grace" of the Grotian tradition, but a dynamic concept intrinsically related to the democratic expression of the interests of the populations of Caribbean societies. Sovereignty, therefore, should be exercised within the confines of the region's relationship of "complex interdependence" with the US. Consequently, the author pays much attention to the polar cases of Cuba and Puerto Rico.

Regarding the structure of the book, the first three chapters trace, in broad outline, the historical development of US-Caribbean relations from the 19th century through World War II. …

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