A Socialist Labor Party Statement—

Imperialism in the Caribbean

What’s U.S. Capitalism After?

Since taking office, the Reagan administration has taken a belligerent stance in support of U.S. imperialism’s global interests. Reviving strident cold war rhetoric, the administration has tried to blame the “communist menace” for all the problems confronting U.S. imperialism.

Cut from the same jingoist cloth was Reagan’s Caribbean Basin Initiative, which was presented in a speech delivered last month to the Organization of American States in Washington. Brazenly reasserting the “rights” of U.S. capitalism to plunder other countries and to try to crush those who resist, Reagan accused the Kremlin and its allies of trying to establish “a new kind of colonialism” in the Western Hemisphere. According to Reagan, Cuba “has trained, armed and directed extremists in guerrilla warfare and economic sabotage” for the purpose of establishing “Cuban-style Marxist-Leninist dictatorships.”

Reagan Affirms Imperialism

Reagan paid lip service to the principles of “democracy, self-determination, economic development and collective security,” which he claimed are “at the heart of U.S. foreign policy.” But with an arrogance befitting imperial Rome, which declared the Mediterranean Mare Nostrum (Our Sea), Reagan spoke of “our Caribbean basin,” which he said is “a vital and strategic commercial artery for the United States.” To emphasize that, he called attention to “the markets of the Americas” and the region’s “vast reservoirs of food and raw materials.”

Declaring that “what happens anywhere in the Americas affects us,” Reagan argued that the Caribbean basin is particularly important because it is “very close to home.” In support of that argument Reagan noted that El Salvador “is nearer to Texas than Texas is to Massachusetts.” (For that matter, Canada is closer to the New England states than the New England states are to California, and Mexico City is closer to Corpus Christi, Texas, than Corpus Christi is to New York or Chicago or San Francisco. That would hardly justify U.S. interference in the internal affairs of Canada or Mexico.)

U.S. interests in the Caribbean are threatened, according to Reagan, by an “economic disaster [that] has provided fresh openings to the enemies of freedom, national independence and peaceful development,” i.e., the Soviet Union and Cuba along with Nicaragua and Grenada. Reagan tried to exonerate the United States of any responsibility for this “economic disaster,” blaming it instead primarily on the increased costs of imported oil.

Caribbean Plundered

However, it is the economic underdevelopment fostered by imperialism, decades of ruthless exploitation at the hands of imperialist and local ruling classes, pervasive poverty, repressive dictatorships supported by the United States and the current global economic crisis of capitalism that have fueled social unrest in the Caribbean basin and caused many workers and peasants to take up arms against their oppressors.

Since the late 1960s, U.S. imperialism has promoted the production of export commodities in all sectors of the Caribbean economies. In agriculture, traditional export crops such as coffee, bananas and sugar have been supplemented by new cash crops and cattle raising. This expanded agricultural production for export has been accomplished through the concentration of land into large estates and the mechanization of agriculture.

All of the benefits of the emphasis on production for export have been reaped by the imperialists and their local ruling-class allies. Peasant landholders practicing subsistence agriculture on small plots have been expropriated and forced from the land. All this has led to a decline in the production of crops for the domestic markets and dependence on imported foodstuffs from the imperialist countries. The high prices of imported food have led, in turn, to increased malnutrition and starvation.

Concurrently, imperialist capital has opened up labor-intensive light manufacturing industries to exploit the new urban proletariat formed from the displacement of the rural population. Taking advantage of low wages resulting from massive unemployment, the capitalists have been able to reap huge profits.

The export-oriented manufacturing industries do little to aid economic development of the host country. They import most of the needed raw materials or unassembled parts, process or assemble the products, and export them for sale on the world market. Paying low wages, receiving huge tax exemptions and investment incentives from proimperialist governments, and repatriating virtually all their profits, these industries simply exploit local labor power for the benefit of imperialist profit. Moreover, since these companies don’t manufacture products for the local markets, expensive consumer goods are imported from the imperialist countries.

(It should be noted that this process of imperialist plunder also does little to benefit U.S. workers. Attracted to Caribbean and other low-wage third world countries, runaway plants have left hundreds of thousands of U.S. workers jobless. Many of those workers who still have jobs face the threat of additional plant closures and capital flight unless they grant concessions to their exploiters.)

U.S. imperialism has found these arrangements in the Caribbean quite lucrative. During the 1970s, for example, U.S. private investment in Central America, excluding Panama, increased by 40 percent to slightly over $1 billion. And from 1970 to 1978, loans from international finance capital, much of it originating in the United States, needed to keep the ravaged Central American economies afloat and to further imperialist exploitation, increased 500 percent—to over $5.1 billion.

Reagan’s Economic Plan

The economic proposals of Reagan’s Caribbean Basin Initiative are intended to further the imperialist plundering of the region. “The centerpiece” of his program, Reagan said, “is free trade for Caribbean basin products exported to the United States.” The proposed “duty-free treatment” of such exports for 12 years is intended to stimulate additional imperialist investment in export-oriented industries.

To make sure that U.S. capitalists receive favorable treatment, duty-free status will be negotiated bilaterally with each country concerned. In private briefings conducted before Reagan’s speech, Caribbean diplomats were told that these agreements would have to include new incentives for foreign investment, a general “responsiveness” to the needs of private capital and the removal of trade barriers. As Reagan noted in his speech, his proposals will thus mean “new markets” for American exports.

Reagan devoted a substantial portion of his speech to saber rattling against alleged Soviet subversion in the Caribbean. The reason is not difficult to comprehend. Since Reagan’s proposals are likely to worsen the Caribbean “economic disaster,” the U.S. ruling class needs some ploy to induce U.S. workers into acquiescing to increased military involvement to quell rebellions against imperialist exploitation.

A Military ‘Solution’

Indeed, despite Reagan’s emphasis on some $350 million in additional economic aid and the free trade plan, U.S. policy has definitely tilted toward a military “solution” in the Caribbean. In 1982 U.S. military aid to Caribbean countries will be more than 12-1/2 times the amount sent in 1980, while the total of all aid will increase less than threefold over the 1980 level. Not surprisingly, the bulk of the military aid—and much of the economic aid—is to go to the bloody junta in El Salvador.

Reagan ominously vowed that the United States “will do whatever is prudent and necessary to insure the peace [sic] and security of the Caribbean area” lest “new Cubas…arise from the ruins of today’s conflicts.” In justification of this vow, he cited the 1947 Rio treaty, which, he said, “established reciprocal defense responsibilities.” Incidentally, it is relevant to note that the 1947 Rio treaty was invoked by Lyndon Johnson in 1965 to justify his sending of 20,000 U.S. Marines to invade the Dominican Republic.

What U.S. imperialism deems “prudent and necessary” is evident from the history of—and the continuing—U.S. intervention in the Caribbean: gunboat diplomacy, support for brutal dictatorships, CIA-initiated coups and destabilization programs. And Reagan is actually proud of this shameful record. For he pointed to the Seagra government in Jamaica as an example of how his plan could be made to work.

During the 1980 Jamaican election campaign, the CIA successfully employed destabilization tactics similar to those used to overthrow the Allende government in Chile. A major conservative newspaper, the Daily Gleaner, cooperated with the CIA in a psychological warfare campaign against the government of then-Prime Minister Michael Manley. The tactics included disinformation, subliminal propaganda and character assassination of government ministers. There were also an attempted coup, assassination plots against Manley and his colleagues, and a terrorist campaign that claimed 700 lives. U.S. aid was cut off and U.S. corporations closed their doors.

Seagra defeated Manley. Upon taking office, the Reagan administration doubled U.S. aid to Jamaica and supported a $600 million International Monetary Fund loan for the Seagra government.

U.S. Intervention

Current U.S. intervention in the region is most blatant in El Salvador, the details of which have been reported in previous issues of The People. But El Salvador isn’t the only place where the United States is carrying out its nefarious activities.

In Nicaragua, for example, a large-scale destabilization campaign is under way. While it has cut off aid for the Nicaraguan government, the United States has continued substantial aid for anti-Sandinista forces in the private sector. These include the Supreme Council of Private Enterprise, which includes most business organizations in the country, and a conservative trade union group that is receiving aid from the infamous American Institute for Free Labor Development, an AFI-CIO-sponsored organization that serves as a front for the CIA. The CIA is also working with the bourgeois newspaper La Prensa in a psychological warfare campaign.

Some 6,000 or more troops from the former Somoza government’s brutal National Guard are established in Honduras from where they launch forays into Nicaragua. Newsweek reports that the United States is also in contact with Nicaraguans training in Florida for an eventual invasion of Nicaragua. In addition, the United States is planning to recruit some of the Miskito Indians for intelligence operations and commando raids.

Honduras itself is reportedly the center of CIA operations in Central America. Its key geographical position, bordering El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, also makes it important militarily. The United States is currently sending more military aid to Honduras than to any other Latin American country except El Salvador. U.S. military advisers are training the Honduran army in the use of U.S.-supplied helicopters for counterinsurgency operations. Operations against Salvadoran guerrillas based in areas bordering with Honduras are reportedly being planned.

Guatemala is also involved in U.S. plans for the region. Last year, the Reagan administration reclassified a shipment of jeeps and trucks as “nonmilitary” to circumvent a congressional ban on military aid to Guatemala. Reagan’s 1983 foreign aid budget includes a request for funds for training the Guatemalan army. During the January 1981 rebel offensive in El Salvador, some 2,000 Guatemalan troops massed along the Salvadoran border, and some units actually crossed over into El Salvador. Recently, the head of Guatemala’s army met with Salvadoran and Honduran military leaders to propose establishing a joint military command.

Cuba, too, is targeted for a series of provocative moves. According to the State Department’s apologist for U.S. policy in Latin America, Thomas Enders, the United States will soon start beaming radio propaganda to Cuba, shut down daily air service from Miami to Havana, and reinstitute a policy barring ships that dock at Cuban ports from calling on U.S. ports.

Also under consideration are a new naval blockade to cut off petroleum supplies and possible air strikes against Cuban military installations. NATO forces were scheduled to hold their first Caribbean area naval maneuvers between March 8 and 18 near Cuba in the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida straits. In April U.S. war games will include a landing at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Cuban exile groups in the United States openly conduct military training without interference.

Defeating Imperialism

The record of U.S. subversion and intervention in the Caribbean basin belies the claim Reagan made in his speech that the United States will not attempt “to resolve human problems by brute force.” It belies, too, his claim that U.S. foreign policy is based on the principles of “democracy” and “self-determination.” It proves that the United States acts ruthlessly solely to advance its own imperialist interests.

It is not in the interests of U.S. workers to support the imperialist ventures of their exploiters. On the contrary, it is in the interests of U.S. workers to oppose the ruling class’ imperialist machinations in the Caribbean and throughout the world. In doing so, U.S. workers would support the struggles of their fellow workers who are already resisting U.S. imperialism.

But the coup de grace to U.S. imperialism can only be delivered by U.S. workers. Politically and industrially organized along class lines, they can attack and destroy capitalist exploitation at its roots and replace capitalism with a new socialist society, thereby ending once and for all the threat of imperialist war.


Socialist Labor Party of America, P.O. Box 218, Mountain View, CA 94042-0218 • www.slp.org • socialists@slp.org

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