Country Listing

Caribbean Islands Table of Contents

Caribbean Islands

A Regional Security System

The cumulative effect of the various incidents since 1978 and Cuba's activities in the English-speaking Caribbean prompted the WISA to reassess the former practice of providing minimal security and defense. On July 4, 1981, members agreed to replace the WISA, which had proven to be an extremely ineffective decision-making body, into the OECS, headquartered in Castries, St. Lucia. The OECS was designed to strengthen Eastern Caribbean ties and address issues of more specific concern to its seven members, particularly those relating to economic integration and coordination of foreign policy and defense and security matters. As a former WISA member, Montserrat, although still a British dependency, was also admitted into the OECS.

Article 8 of the OECS treaty established the basis for future regional security cooperation by charging the ministerial-level Defence and Security Committee of the OECS with "responsibility for coordinating the efforts of Member States for collective defence and the maintenance of peace and security against external aggression." It also made the OECS responsible for developing "close ties among the Member States of the Organization in matters of external defence and security, including measures to combat the activities of mercenaries, operating with or without the support of internal or national elements." In effect, the OECS treaty served as a regional security arrangement of the OECS countries, none of which had ratified the Rio Treaty. Exercising its prerogative, St. Kitts and Nevis chose not to participate in the defense and foreign policy provisions of the treaty.

Barbados was conspicuously absent from the OECS membership, not being a WISA member, but it was no less concerned about its security posture. One researcher at the College of the Virgin Islands (United States territory) illustrates Barbados' evolving attitudes toward security and defense by contrasting the positions of Adams and his BLP, as contained in their 1976 and 1981 party platforms. The earlier platform stated that the party would not commit the country to any defense pacts and would limit the defense forces to the minimum needed to maintain law and order. The 1981 position, in contrast, emphasized the need for a limited defense force capable of protecting the country against "potential marauders, terrorists, and mercenaries."

For Dominica's prime minister Charles, the creation of the OECS constituted only a first step toward establishment of regional security cooperation in the area of defense and security. In December 1981, Charles emphasized the need for joint training of security personnel in order to develop a defense system to prevent recurrences of attempted coups, such as the one that took place in Roseau, Dominica, on December 19. The prime minister saw such acts as having a destabilizing effect in the region. Charles's concerns were heard in Washington, which increased United States security assistance to the Eastern Caribbean in FY 1983. United States military aid to Dominica rose from US$12,000 in 1981 (it had been nothing in previous decades) to US$317,000 in 1983. United States military assistance to Barbados increased from US$61,000 in 1981 to US$170,000 in 1982. St. Vincent and the Grenadines received US$300,000 in military assistance from the United States in 1982, compared with nothing in previous decades.

On October 29, 1982, Barbados and four OECS countries--Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines--took an important step toward establishing an RSS by signing, in Bridgetown, Barbados, the Memorandum of Understanding. The move was prompted by growing concern among island leaders about the Grenadian regime's intentions. The three remaining OECS members--Grenada, Montserrat, and St. Kitts and Nevis--did not sign. Under the RSS, a member state whose security was threatened or who needed other kinds of emergency assistance could call on other member states. According to the Memorandum of Understanding, members were obliged "to prepare contingency plans and assist one another on request in national emergencies . . . and threats to national security." RSS members could choose not to participate in any RSS operation or training exercise because they were not party to a binding treaty, but rather an informal memorandum. Threats to national security covered by the memorandum included armed insurgencies, mercenary actions, army mutinies, armed seizure of facilities by insurgents, and armed secession attempts by smaller islands. The security arrangement also provided for cooperation in areas such as natural disasters, pollution control, maritime policing duties, smuggling prevention, search-and-rescue operations, immigration, customs and excise control, and fisheries protection.

The accord established the structural basis for the RSS, including arrangements for joint training and cost sharing. Barbados, as the largest participant, assumed 49 percent, or US$240,000, of the cost of supporting the RSS apparatus, and the other islands paid 51 percent, based on an assessment of US$35,000 each. The RSS plan called for creation of an eighty-member paramilitary Special Service Unit (SSU) on each island. In a crisis, the SSUs would be coordinated by an RSS operations room at BDF headquarters at St. Ann's Fort in Bridgetown, Barbados, headed by the RSS coordinator, a Barbadian (see fig. 21). BDF chief of staff Brigadier Rudyard Lewis was elected to serve as the first RSS coordinator. The coordinator reported to the Council of Ministers, which was composed of those government officials entrusted with security in each member country. In a meeting held on February 19, 1983, in Castries, St. Lucia, the heads of government of St. Lucia, Barbados, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines finalized arrangements for the RSS.

Despite the formation of the RSS, the English-speaking islands of the Eastern Caribbean did not follow the United States political and economic boycott of Grenada. They remained convinced that Washington's concern had more to do with strategic competition with the Soviet Union than with the problems of greater concern to the ministates in the region: economic and social problems and efforts to increase Caribbean economic cooperation. The estimated US$23 million that Grenada received in foreign aid in 1982, mostly from Soviet bloc countries, did not go unnoticed by the Commonwealth Caribbean islands. Nevertheless, security issues became of overriding concern in the region as a result of the crisis in Grenada in October 1983.

Meeting in Barbados on October 21, the Defence and Security Committee of the OECS requested assistance from Barbados and Jamaica and nominated Dominican prime minister Charles to formally notify Britain and the United States of the OECS decision to take joint action to restore order in Grenada. The request for United States intervention reportedly was made orally to United States diplomats in Barbados that evening. In its formal request for United States assistance, made in writing on October 23, the OECS cited the consequent unprecedented threat to the peace and security of the region created by the vacuum of authority in Grenada and violations of human rights, including killings. The OECS request also noted the likely imminent introduction of military forces and supplies to consolidate the position of the government, the potential use of the island as a staging area for aggression against its neighbors, and the unnecessary expansion of the Grenadian army's capabilities.

In an emergency session held in Trinidad and Tobago on October 23, the Caricom heads of government were unable to reach a consensus on the proposals for joint action. They agreed only to impose sanctions on Grenada, including suspension of its Caricom membership. Trinidad and Tobago's prime minister George Chambers, the Caricom chairman, and Guyana's Forbes Burnham led the opposition to invading the island; they were supported by the Bahamas and Belize. Chambers reportedly was subsequently excluded from final planning for the military action, which was conducted by the nine other Caricom member states, including Jamaica, that favored the operation. The OECS actively supported the joint United States-Caribbean operation of October 25, 1983, although three OECS members--Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Montserrat--did not participate in the voting (see Current Strategic Considerations, this ch.). An OECS statement noted that "the extensive military buildup on Grenada over the past few years has created a situation of disproportionate military strength between Grenada and other OECS countries."

In keeping with their prior positions, the Bahamas, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago publicly condemned the intervention. Chambers's stance was not shared by the Trinidadian press, however, which portrayed him as out of touch with other Caribbean nations. A poll published in the Trinidad and Tobago Express on October 30, 1983, also showed 61 percent of Trinidadians and Tobagonians supporting the invasion and United States involvement and 56 percent in favor of committing Trinidadian troops to the assault.

After the Grenada operation, the United States, Britain, and neighboring states such as Barbados began assisting the island to rebuild its security forces. The 350-member, multinational Caribbean Peace Force (CPF) maintained security on the island for the rest of the year, and United States combat forces departed Grenada on December 14, 1983. Following the departure of the combat forces, British and Barbadian police and United States Green Beret advisers regrouped and retrained the 270 personnel left in the Grenada police force and incorporated them into a new force. Barbados contributed by instructing some of the Grenadian recruits at the Regional Police Training Center in Barbados. The United States military team supplemented the British and Barbadian police training by forming an eighty-member Grenadian SSU and providing it with basic light infantry training and equipment.

At the specific request of the OECS, the United States also began increasing its military training assistance to the RSS member states. In February and March 1984, eight-member United States Green Beret teams trained eighty SSU personnel on each of the RSS islands, including newly independent St. Kitts and Nevis. The latter was admitted into the RSS at a meeting of the RSS Council of Ministers in Bridgetown on February 7, 1984. United States efforts also went into developing and equipping a coast guard force for the region.

When the RSS Council of Ministers met again in Bridgetown on March 17, 1984, the leaders of the 6 RSS islands adopted a plan for creating a mobile, 200-member task force and a coordination agreement among the various island coast guard services. The heads of government in the region discussed regional security again at a meeting held on November 23, 1984. CPF forces withdrew from Grenada on September 22, 1985.

On November 30, 1984, United States, Canadian, and British representatives met with officials from the RSS member states in Bridgetown, Barbados, to discuss financial and material support for the RSS. They also reportedly discussed the establishment of a Barbados-based central command and training structure, as well as the provision for suitable logistical support. Under the proposed structure, each nation would have an SSU consisting of police or defense forces capable of acting on their own or in a regional capacity.

Testifying before the United States Congress during hearings on the foreign assistance budget for the Eastern Caribbean in early 1985, officials from the Department of State and the Department of Defense stressed the fragile economies of the islands and the absence of foreign threats to regional security. Accordingly, the 1986 United States budgetary request, as in the past, balanced military and economic assistance on a ratio of one to four. United States military assistance for the region in FY 1986 was set at US$10 million, the same as for FY 1985. The FY 1986 United States military aid package was primarily for logistical support for patrol boats and communications equipment, with an additional US$400,000 for military education and training for the SSUs. Having acquired coast guard boats from the United States in the mid-1980s, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia, and Grenada were among the five Eastern Caribbean nations to carry out joint maneuvers with six United States Navy vessels in November 1984. The joint naval exercises involved search-and-rescue operations and other coast guard functions. Grenada was admitted into the RSS at a meeting of Eastern Caribbean leaders held in Kingston, Jamaica, on February 26, 1985.

The RSS regional security concept was put into practice in a five-day exercise by United States, British, and RSS forces in September 1985. Called Operation "Exotic Palm," it was the first regional military exercise to be held in the Eastern Caribbean. Operation Exotic Palm involved 200 Caribbean troops from 7 West Indian nations, including Jamaica, and 300 United States troops, as well as a United States Navy destroyer and a British frigate and support ship. Under the scenario, thirty to fifty insurgents seized an airport in St. Lucia, whereupon RSS forces retook the field and flushed the fleeing rebels out of a forested area. Despite heavy rains during the first two days, the US$1 million exercise was considered a success. Trinidad and Tobago did not participate but sent observers. St. Vincent and the Grenadines was the only RSS member to decline any involvement; it did so because of the opposition of its prime minister, James F. "Son" Mitchell, to the regional military roles of the RSS and the United States.

St. Lucia's prime minister, John G.M. Compton, proposed extending the RSS to include the other islands within the thirteen- nation Caricom. Neither of the two principal West Indian nations lying just outside the RSS region--Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago- -was interested in joining, however, in part because of fears that they would be expected to assume most of the financial burden. In an October 20, 1985, news conference, Jamaican prime minister Seaga pledged his country's willingness to provide technical training and other assistance for the RSS forces, but he reaffirmed his government's unwillingness to join any such regional grouping.

Despite its stance on RSS membership, Jamaica participated-- along with forces of the United States, Britain, and all RSS members except Barbados--in an exercise called "Ocean Venture 86," held in April and May 1986. The maneuvers--involving 700 members of the United States Green Berets, Marines, and 101st Air Assault Battalion units, and 160 RSS personnel--included landings on Grenada and the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.

Convening in Castries, St. Lucia, in October 1986, the RSS Council of Ministers decided, in its first meeting in twenty months, not to adopt a treaty making the RSS a formal organization but to continue operating the system under the 1982 Memorandum of Understanding. Dominica's prime minister Charles argued unsuccessfully that a formal RSS treaty would permit some kind of official agreement with France and Venezuela. For two weeks later that month, joint exercises called "Upward Key 86" were conducted on and off the coast of Barbuda. The maneuvers involved 240 troops from the United States, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Kitts and Nevis in a series of land, sea, and air operations.

Their stated objections to the RDF proposal and the military features of the RSS notwithstanding, prime ministers Errol Barrow of Barbados and Mitchell of St. Vincent and the Grenadines retained their island nations' RSS memberships. Barbados went its own way on the issue of United States coast guard training by signing a coast guard training agreement with Canada on August 29, 1986. Barrow affirmed in September 1986 that Barbados was willing to continue hosting the RSS headquarters and to participate in United States and British training of RSS forces. Both Barrow and Mitchell also were on record as staunchly supporting the RSS's coast guard role in narcotics interdiction, search and rescue, and other law enforcement activities. Barrow pledged that Barbados would continue to regard the RSS as a means of furthering regional cooperation in the areas of narcotics and contraband control, maritime training, and fisheries protection. St. Vincent and the Grenadines, for its part, was one of only two RSS-member countries not in arrears with RSS payments in late 1986 (the other being St. Kitts and Nevis).

Operation "Camile," the first exercise to include units from all RSS members, was held in early May 1987. RSS troops, as well as forces from Jamaica, Britain, and the United States, participated in the maneuvers. The exercise emphasized civil defense, disaster relief, and coast guard functions, rather than military operations, and included a rehearsal of evacuation of civilians endangered by a volcanic eruption.

By mid-1987 the RSS member states undoubtedly were better prepared to cope with security problems as a result of the modest security measures implemented by the Eastern Caribbean islands with outside assistance, the RSS training exercises, and greater regional security cooperation. Nevertheless, the English-speaking island nations remained a largely undefended concentration of island democracies that were still highly vulnerable to subversion and attacks by terrorists or mercenaries, as well as to social violence. Four years after the October 1983 intervention in Grenada, declining economic prospects and rapidly increasing population growth had raised social tensions throughout the English-speaking Caribbean, potentially making the subregion vulnerable to a new generation of radicals. Without outside assistance, they were also defenseless against any possible future military aggression by an extraregional power. The Soviet Union, Cuba, and Libya did not abandon their interests in the subregion after their debacle in Grenada.

In addition, beginning in the summer of 1984, Libyan agents appeared to be playing an active role among dissidents on the English-speaking Caribbean islands. According to the United States Department of State and the Department of Defense, the loss of the Libyan People's Bureau in Grenada in October 1983 forced Tripoli to attempt to establish subversive centers in other diplomatic posts in the region, including an "Islamic Teaching Center" in Barbados. The State Department also claimed in August 1986 that Libya was providing covert funding to radical groups in at least seven Caribbean countries, including Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and St. Lucia, and urging leftist leaders in the region to use violent means to achieve power.

Data as of November 1987

Country Listing

Caribbean Islands Table of Contents