On the surface the recently concluded Caribbean Energy Security Summit can be seen as a move by the United States of America to help the Caribbean reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and to facilitate access to cheaper, greener, more sustainable forms of energy. This Summit was convened at a time when the price of oil was plummeting on the international market. Therefore, the questions must be asked: Why has the price of oil dropped so precipitously, and what are the geo-political implications for Russia, Venezuela and certainly the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean?
The Caribbean has not in recent decades enjoyed the geo-political importance it once did in 1947-1989, when the islands were caught in the throes of an ideological Cold War between the Communist Soviet Union and the USA that espoused a political and economic philosophy that hinged on the principles of democracy and western capitalism. Their respective satellite states either benefitted from or were severely punished for aligning with one side or the other.
In the English speaking Caribbean, the example of Grenada is a poignant reminder of the outcome of the carrot-and-stick policy that undergirded US foreign policy at the time (and to this day); while Cuba stood resolute in its own articulation and practice of Socialism.
In the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, the Caribbean—the Anglophone Caribbean in particular— lost much of its geo-political salience, some argued, as evidenced, for example, by declining FDI flows and a waning CBI that lost its significance in the Caribbean economic development discourse. Many Caribbeanists wondered if the new dispensation, dubbed the New World Order, with attention being diverted to the breakaway republics of the former Soviet Union, meant that the Caribbean would never again benefit from its historic diplomatic significance to the USA.
The American drug problem of the late 1990s and early into the 21st century kept the Caribbean on the radar, so to speak, if for no other reason than that it served as a major transshipment point for trade in illicit substances. Hence the Shiprider agreement as a policy corrective to stem a thriving drug trade. The provision of aid, technical assistance and training were geared at controlling the drug trade that threatened the social fabric of American society.
The flurry of activity in the Middle East, too, and the rise of new wars triggered by a clash of religions, or a clash of civilizations, as Samuel Huntington would have us believe, made it seem the geo-political importance of the Anglophone Caribbean in particular had diminished significantly. Concerns with terrorism assumed humungous importance to the USA and it was felt the Caribbean region was a much lesser threat in that regard. There was great unease and fear that the Caribbean would become insignificant and a failed FTAA did not do well to offer any reassurance. Diplomatic appearances in fora such as the OAS did little to reignite that confidence.
Notwithstanding, if for no other reason, the blessing of geography means that the USA can neither ignore nor forget the islands of the Anglophone Caribbean because we still form that protective chain around the American landmass. But perhaps our greatest opportunity in recent times, (not necessarily of our own doing), is the resurgence of the Left in Latin America, and Chavismo in Venezuela, which has assumed its own posthumous tone, valor and manifestation. It has also resuscitated near-forgotten empirical ambitions of Venezuela with respect to its perception of itself and perception of its smaller, weaker neighbours. But that in and of itself would not resonate, except that it coincides nicely (or not so nicely) with an emerging global oil war, yes, with the USA again at the forefront.
Oil is at the centre of Venezuelan foreign policy, and the late President Chavez spared no effort to consolidate his power in the region and also to strengthen his extra-regional relations through diplomatic channels such as PetroCaribe and ALBA. That deliberate policy posture by Venezuela continues to cause some discomfort to American hegemony!
So recent utterances by the US administration on new oil deals demonstrate a confluence of issues that have impelled the US government to initiate this move. Apart from the instinctive impulse to embrace its altruism, it simultaneously addresses concerns about energy security, cheaper and more sustainable forms of energy, and environmental sustainability. But most importantly, it is an effort to reassert American hegemony in the region. My only fear is whether it has come one day too late, because Venezuela, through its energy diplomacy, has made some significant inroads, fortifying its presence in the Anglophone region. Some beneficiaries too, have allegedly been able to use PetroCaribe (and ALBA) as the vehicle through which they trample on the well-established democratic principles of the people of the region and have been afforded access to resources that appear to escape the traditional institutional scrutiny (transparency and accountability).
Will the USA soon find that it will have much more to do than to facilitate the supply of forms of energy that are cleaner, more sustainable and cheaper? Time soon will tell!
Dr. Gale Rigobert is the Leader of the Opposition and parliamentary representative for Micoud North