Americans Appreciate Caribbean Marijuana, but It Is Not Merely Drug Control That Has Spurred Bill Clinton into a Summit with the Islands' Leaders

By Howe, Darcus | New Statesman (1996), May 30, 1997 | Go to article overview

Americans Appreciate Caribbean Marijuana, but It Is Not Merely Drug Control That Has Spurred Bill Clinton into a Summit with the Islands' Leaders


Howe, Darcus, New Statesman (1996)


Earlier this month President Clinton held a summit meeting with Caribbean leaders in Barbados. A cynic might say it was a visit to his farthest flung constituents, for in the past 20 years these islands have become closely integrated with the US socially, economically and culturally.

There are more English-speaking West Indians in New York than in the Caribbean today. Remittances from the US, in cash and kind, are a major source of income on the islands and guarantee survival for many. At the heart of it is the "barrel culture": the West Indian New Yorker purchases over time a range of goods of the three-for-a-dollar variety and stacks them in barrels. Once full, these are shipped to relatives in the Caribbean. Clothes, detergents, batteries, pens and pencils you name it, they post it. A couple of barrels a year is standard for a family.

On most of the islands the citizen is free to open a bank account to deposit and withdraw foreign currency. US dollars are the main currency in these accounts. US dollars are accepted by roadside vendors in the most remote parts of the islands. The proliferation of radio stations ensures the presence of a US broadcaster in every home; even local broadcasters speak with American accents.

American companies have also swept up most of the state businesses that the governments have been forced to privatise. I remember visiting the late Morris Marshall, minister of works in the Trinidad government. There was a white American ensconced in the next-door office. Morris explained that the water and electricity boards had owed the US banks a great deal of money and were being forced to privatise their operations. The American represented the banks, and was there to supervise the privatisation.

Just about the only thing the Americans do not now own is the state itself. These islands are sovereign: but for how long?

Clinton's recent visit was in part to do with the "Ship Rider Agreement", a measure that goes to the heart of the continued sovereignty of the Caribbean states. The agreement gives the US law enforcement agencies the power to board vessels belonging to any nation within the territorial waters of the signatories, to seize, arrest and arraign before the US courts those found in possession of illegal drugs, whether bound for the States or not. …

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