En­ergy Diplo­macy: How it af­fects the Caribbean.

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By

Dr. Gale Rigob­ert

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 near­for­got­ten 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!

United States VP Joe Bi­den (right) poses for a group photo at the Caribbean En­ergy Se­cu­rity Sum­mit

(AP Photo)

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