Magazine article ReVista (Cambridge)

New Pirates in the Caribbean?

Magazine article ReVista (Cambridge)

New Pirates in the Caribbean?

Article excerpt

ENGLISH PIRATES TROLLED THE CARIBBEAN five hundred years ago seeking the best plunder for the British Crown. Spanish colonizers of the Americas shipped the gold and silver from this region to Europe. Later, the United States rose to power and defined the whole Americas as their area of influence through the Monroe Doctrine. The Caribbean lived a particularly intense version of this doctrine. The 20th century began with President McKinley intervening to support the independence of Cuba from Spain and imposing the Platt Amendment on the island, followed by Theodore Roosevelt taking Panama to build the Canal, and finally Reagan invading Grenada and Bush bombing Panama. The Caribbean has been a focal point of the major economic players of the world now for five centuries.

More recently, for a short period, Hugo Chávez's Venezuela became an active player in the Caribbean to fill a gap of an increasingly indifferent United States, disbursing cheap fuel and financing broken economies through the oil alliance Petrocaribe.

Today, a new global power is making waves in the Caribbean. It is the People's Republic of China. In order to satisfy its voracious internal demand, China began to acquire the area's natural resources (bauxite, alumina, nickel) and agricultural products (sugar), as it did in the rest of Latin America. At the same time, it significantly increased its exports of manufactured goods to these countries and is now the largest or second-largest trade partner for almost all the region. Moreover, in countries like Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica, to name a few, Chinese imports are up to five times larger than exports to the Asian republic.

Since 2015, however, China started to go well beyond trade, to concentrate also on investment, especially in infrastructure such as roads, ports, tourism and energy. Through its development banks, the government has multiplied its loans to Latin America sixfold since 2007, according to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, and the Caribbean is not the exception. In a few years, China has become the major foreign investor in this continent, surpassing the United States and Europe. A closer look at some of these investments shows the magnitude of China's impact on the small Caribbean nations.

Known as the "Beijing highway," Highway 2000, completed in 2016, is a state-of-the-art divided road that connects Jamaica north to south. The 41.6 mile artery that cost $732 million, linking the capital city of Kingston with the popular beachside resort of Ocho Rios, may be the single biggest investment by China in the Caribbean thus far. The highway was constructed by the China Harbor Engineering Co. (CHEC), a state-owned global company.

In return, the Jamaican government has handed over to the Chinese 1,200 acres of land along the road for the construction and development of hotels and resorts. Three luxury hotels with up to 2,400 rooms are planned, as well as a host of other investments in the area. Despite some serious questions concerning jobs for local workers, environmental threats to the sites, and potential negative effects on local competitors, the Jamaican government continues to be very supportive of new Chinese investments.

China has also expanded investment and trade in Cuba, despite their limited relationship during the Cold War. Trade between the two countries has increased since 2010, and in 2016 China surpassed Venezuela as Cuba's largest trading partner, with a bilateral trade of $2.5 billion, only 257 million of which were exports to China. Chinese firms have invested in Cuban infrastructure with projects such as renewable energy research, hotel development and tourism. A new Air China Beijing-Havana flight has increased the number of Chinese visitors to Cuba since 2017 and is expected to grow further.

Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, Panama and Suriname have all received a major influx of Chinese funds, varying from economic investments to gifts and direct aid. …

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