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Caribbean Islands Table of Contents

Caribbean Islands

The Postwar Strategic Vacuum

After the war, the Commonwealth Caribbean temporarily reverted to the British sphere of influence and looked to Britain for defense and security needs. Although the Caribbean colonies held no strategic importance for Britain after World War II, the British remained interested in the region, owing to moral, constitutional, and economic obligations. Continuing a course it had started during the war, Britain gave its Caribbean colonies increasingly more self-government but retained an unlimited obligation for their defense against external aggression. The United States demonstrated its reduced strategic interests in the English-speaking Caribbean by closing most of its bases on the islands by the mid-1950s. Nevertheless, Barbados and the Turks and Caicos Islands were added to the 1941 Lend-Lease Agreement in November 1956.

As the Cold War intensified in the 1950s, the United States and Britain became increasingly concerned about the threat of communism in their respective spheres of interest in Latin America and the English-speaking Caribbean. For example, Britain, at American urging, sent troops to British Guiana (present-day Guyana) in 1953 to prevent a perceived communist takeover threat posed by Cheddi Jagan's People's Progressive Party. Except for British Guiana, however, the Commonwealth Caribbean remained on the periphery of America's Cold War concerns during the 1950s. America's preoccupations in the Western Hemisphere were centered mainly on events in Hispanic countries, such as the military coup in Guatemala in 1954, and the new situation created by the fall of long-time pro-American dictators in Colombia in 1957, Venezuela in 1958, Cuba in 1959, and the Dominican Republic in 1961.

Fidel Castro's seizure of power in Cuba in 1959 and the increasingly evident pro-Soviet orientation of his regime prompted the United States to devote increased attention and resources to its interests in the English-speaking Caribbean. Thus, the United States signed military agreements with Jamaica and Antigua in 1961. The pact with Jamaica gave the United States basing rights, including the right to operate a loran station on the island. The accord with Antigua allowed the United States to open a naval base on the island for use in oceanographic research and submarine surveillance, as well as an air force base for electronic tracking. The United States also retained a small naval base in Barbados and an electronic tracking facility on St. Lucia. In Trinidad and Tobago, however, the late Prime Minister Eric Williams negotiated the withdrawal of the American military presence. The naval base in the Chaguaramas Bay area was closed in 1967, and the Omega navigational aid station was removed in 1980 (see the Road to Independence, ch. 3).

By 1962, when Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago became independent, it had become increasingly evident that security and defense responsibilities for the Commonwealth Caribbean were beginning to shift from Britain to the United States. For example, Britain requested and received American assistance in 1962, when British military forces were again sent to British Guiana during a period of racial and labor union violence confronting the government of Prime Minister Jagan.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, the United States closely monitored internal political developments in the Commonwealth Caribbean. American cultural and economic influences became increasingly important in the English-speaking Caribbean in the 1950s and 1960s. American economic influence in the region, deriving particularly from heavy investments in oil in Trinidad and Tobago and bauxite (see Glossary) in Jamaica, worked to the American advantage until the 1970s, when the West Indians became more sensitive about their economic dependence on the United States and Western Europe.

Data as of November 1987