Sinking in the Caribbean Basin
Robert Pastor is a Faculty Research Associate at the School of Public Affairs, University of Maryland at College Park, where he will direct a research program on Caribbean Basin Studies. He is the author of Congress and the Politics of U.S. Foreign Economic Policy, and is currently writing a book on U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean. He served as the Senior Staff Member responsible for Latin American and Caribbean Affairs on the National Security Council from 1977 to 1981.See more by this author
If someone asked about a "Caribbean Basin" 20 years ago, you might have referred him to a geographer or to a West Indian plumber. When President Ronald Reagan announced his Caribbean Basin Initiative on February 24, 1982, however, all the questions concerned the initiative. Apparently, everyone now knows where the Caribbean Basin is; indeed, there is a growing impression that we are sinking in it.
Deepening U.S. involvement in the conflict in El Salvador and the possibility that the conflict might spread are doubtless the principal reasons why Americans are beginning to get that sinking feeling about the Caribbean Basin, but hardly the only ones. Boatloads of Haitians and Cubans, Mexican pride and a porous border, a formidable narcotics traffic which eludes the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, Nicaragua defiant, Cuba undaunted, Grenada oblivious-these are some other examples of why U.S. ability to influence, let alone control, developments in the region seems to be slipping.
Many of the problems facing the United States and other nations in the region precede the Reagan Administration and in part explain the initial appeal of the Administration's tough talk and aggressive posture. However, while the Reagan Administration's language is the most belligerent of any Administration since the United States traded in its big stick for dollar diplomacy, Washington still hasn't plugged the holes in the ship of state. It hasn't gained control of its southern border; it still hasn't cowed Castro or preserved pluralism for Nicaragua or saved El Salvador. Needless to say, this is not for want of trying.