--From CBI to TBI Analysis by Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
February 26, 2002

THE WAR cries of President George W Bush may be so upsetting for some that they can fall into the error of losing hope for the future prospects of our Caribbean region in its relations with the United States of America. The relations that, irrespective of ethnicity, nationality, religion or ideology, we certainly consider important to maintain.

Within the Bush administration where 'hawks' are better known and influential than 'doves', there is at least one 'dove' of particular significance in the forging of better relations between Washington and what is being promoted as America's "third border", the Caribbean region.

I refer to Mr Colin Powell, the first African-American, and, better yet of Caribbean roots, to rise to the powerful position of Secretary of State of the world's sole superpower.

In writing about the recent just over two-hour meeting between Powell and Caribbean Foreign Ministers in The Bahamas, I spoke of the contempt shown for some 14 countries of this region by the manner in which that event took place after its initial postponement some seven months earlier at the request of U.S Secretary of State.

Since then, the U.S diplomatic missions in the region have been at work circulating to the media an article written by Powell for 'Diario las Americas' on the USA and the Caribbean in a partnership for prosperity of this region.

Some of the ideas and sentiments can be found in the May 1997 'Bridgetown Accord that resulted from the summit meeting between then President Bill Clinton and Caribbean heads of government, hosted by Prime Minister Owen Arthur.

I am not sure whether Mr Powell is trying to cover lost ground from his first-ever scheduled official meeting with the Foreign Ministers of the Caribbean in The Bahamas where he took copious notes, according to reports. Or is seeking to influence some of his less caring or unenlightened colleagues in the Bush administration about the value to the USA in being of help to this region that forms a bridge between the two Americas.

It is, nevertheless, reassuring to know, as Powell wrote, that neither President Bush nor his administration "has lost sight" of America's commitment to what it views as its 'Third Border', which connects us to "our neighbours in the Caribbean".

Having made the usual official American anti-Cuba swipes---Powell then dealt with what he accepts as a reality but the existence of which is not really known in any precise form to the governments of the Caribbean, namely, a "Third Border Initiative", TBI for short.

There is no known text about President Bush's TBI, in the sense that we came to know of former President Ronald Reagan's much publicised Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI). Yet Secretary of State Powell has informed us, via his newspaper article, that:

"The Bush administration's Third Border Initiative (TBI) seeks to broaden our engagement with the Caribbean based on recommendations by the region's leaders on the areas most critical to their economic and social development. The Initiative is centred on economic capacity-building and on leveraging public/private partnerships to help meet the pressing needs of the region...".

In view of some fundamental differences, or agreement to disagree, at their meeting in The Bahamas, I wanted to know more about the precise "recommendations by the region's leaders" that have informed the shape of President Bush's TBI under discussion by Powell.

What I managed to gather is that "a work may be in progress" on the TBI and that the U.S Secretary of State is seeking to give a favourable projection of things to come. In which case, of course, the Caribbean would evidently be pleased to know what's new and what to expect beyond what's already outlined in the Bridgetown Accord.

When, for example, Secretary of State Powell wishes to again recite what he considers to be "substantial gains" to the region since the inauguration some 18 years ago of the CBI, he needs to get his assistants to be more sensitive to the realities of trade and economic aid from the USA to the Caribbean since the CBI and even after the summit with President Clinton.

Between the launching of the CBI and the signing of that 'Bridgetown Accord' on "Partnership for Prosperity and Security in the Caribbean" in 1997 United States exports to this region had more than doubled from US$1.8 Bln to US$4.2 Bln. In comparison, Caribbean exports to the vast U.S market increased by some US$1Bln to reach US$2.8 Bln.

In terms of economic assistance there was a sharp decline, against the background of aid flows within the context of a cold war anti-communist thrust in the Caribbean-Latin America region, including the invasion of Grenada in 1983, and the 1997 USA-Caribbean Summit.

From a high of US$216 Mln for the CARICOM region, and not including Haiti---the nation currently being starved of frozen U.S and other international aid---in 1984, U.S economic assistance had dwindled to merely US$55 Mln by 1997.

However, as we keep hope alive for better progress from the CBI of almost two decades ago to a "TBI" that is supposed to be "in progress", Caribbean peoples, longing for the "prosperity" envisaged in the 1997 "Bridgetown Accord" and now by Mr Powell, would be looking forward to what concrete benefits this latest "Initiative" to come from Washington will bring, particularly if it will really be based "on recommendations of the region's leaders".