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Caribbean Islands Table of Contents

Caribbean Islands


During its long history as a British colony, Jamaica looked to London for its defense and security needs. Unlike many Hispanic countries of Latin America, including nearby Cuba and the Dominican Republic, Jamaica remained immune from foreign military intervention while under British protection. Jamaica reciprocated by supporting Britian's war efforts. As a member of the British West Indies, Jamaica participated in World War I by sending over 10,000 men to the front.

With the outbreak of World War II, the United States became the recognized protector of the British West Indies, acquiring a ninety-nine-year lease for base rights in Jamaica and other islands under the Lend-Lease or Bases-for-Destroyers Agreement of 1941 (see The Strategic Setting, ch 7.). Jamaica also became a part of North Atlantic defense preparations, hosting United States naval and air bases. Many volunteers from Jamaica joined the various services, particularly the Royal Air Force; the Jamaica Contingent of the First Battalion of the Caribbean Regiment went overseas in May 1944. With the close of the war, the United States deactivated its bases in Jamaica, and Britain reassumed responsibility for Jamaica's defense and foreign affairs until independence. On August 7, 1962, the day after independence, Bustamante announced that the United States was free to establish a military base in Jamaica without any obligation to provide aid in return, but the offer was declined. Nevertheless, as the Castro regime consolidated its power in Cuba during the 1960s and the Soviet military presence in the region expanded, Jamaica's importance to United States national security interests grew.

Jamaica experienced no direct military threat during its first twenty-five years as an independent state; in the early 1980s, however, it had to deal with indirect threats to its national security interests posed by Cuban activities in Jamaica and by the events in Grenada. The Seaga government handled the issue of the Cuban presence in Jamaica by expelling the Cubans and breaking diplomatic relations (see Relations with Communist Countries, this ch.). Seaga's concerns about Grenada's undemocratic practices in the 1979-83 period and its close ties to Cuba and the Soviet Union also prompted his government to take a more active regional security role. Jamaica did not, however, sign the 1982 memorandum that established the Regional Security System (RSS) in the Eastern Caribbean (see Appendix E; A Regional Security System, ch. 7). When Maurice Bishop was overthrown and assassinated by the short-lived Coard-Austin regime in October 1983, the Seaga government's concern turned to alarm. Jamaica joined several members of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS--see Glossary) in an appeal for United States military intervention in Grenada to restore order and democracy, and then participated in a joint United States-Caribbean military operation in Grenada (see Current Strategic Considerations, ch. 7). Jamaica, whose population favored the joint military action by a 56-percent majority, also provided the largest Caribbean contingent (250 troops) to the peacekeeping force in Grenada from late October 1983 to June 1985. The Seaga government continued actively to support security cooperation among the Commonwealth Caribbean islands by having Jamaican troops participate in regional military exercises, such as "Operation Exotic Palm" in September 1985. In addition, Jamaica cooperated with the United States and RSS-member states on regional security matters, by holding joint military and narcotics interdiction exercises and by offering some training and technical assistance to the Eastern Caribbean.

Data as of November 1987