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Caribbean Islands Table of Contents

Caribbean Islands

Current Strategic Considerations

Britain's Withdrawal

At probably no time during the last three centuries were Britain's strategic interests in the Caribbean less significant than in the late 1980s. Once its former Caribbean colonies began to achieve independence in 1962, Britain's policy had been to withdraw from individual security, but not economic, commitments to the Commonwealth Caribbean. In early 1987, only five British island dependencies remained: Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, and Turks and Caicos Islands. These are the smallest Commonwealth Caribbean islands, and none plays a significant role in regional politics. British interests in the Caribbean had been reduced mainly to trade, investment, and limited economic and security assistance.

According to one analyst of the British Caribbean, in the early 1980s the conservative government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher fully supported the geopolitical view of the Caribbean held by the United States administration of President Ronald Reagan. As early as 1980, the Thatcher government described Cuba as "a destabilizing force in the area" and accused the Castro regime of exporting subversion. Britain joined the United States in pressuring then-Prime Minister Bishop's government to hold free and fair elections and to release political prisoners.

Despite Britain's cooperation, the Thatcher government, according to an American official, complained about lack of prior consultation in the decision to intervene on Grenada, which became essentially a United States-Commonwealth Caribbean operation. Partly as a result, the Thatcher government declined to endorse the joint United States-Caribbean military action in Grenada in late October 1983. Jamaican prime minister Edward Seaga noted that the English-speaking Caribbean felt "a certain amount of bitterness" at British opposition to the Grenada intervention, and that London could no longer assume "some right of prior consultation in matters that affect us here." Nevertheless, the visit to Grenada by Prime Minister Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth II on October 31, 1985, helped to ameliorate regional resentment against perceived British indifference and to revive British prestige in the region.

Its greatly reduced presence notwithstanding, Britain remained a significant political and economic power in the region in the late 1980s by virtue of its continued status as head of the Commonwealth of Nations. In this capacity, the British still had certain political and security ties to their independent former colonies. For example, the English-speaking islands continued to rely exclusively on the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy, and Britain continued its tradition of providing police training. Apart from the United States, Britain also was still the principal trading partner of the Commonwealth Caribbean.

Data as of November 1987