The Postwar Strategic Vacuum
After the war, the Commonwealth Caribbean temporarily reverted
to the British sphere of influence and looked to Britain for
defense and security needs. Although the Caribbean colonies held no
strategic importance for Britain after World War II, the British
remained interested in the region, owing to moral, constitutional,
and economic obligations. Continuing a course it had started during
the war, Britain gave its Caribbean colonies increasingly more
self-government but retained an unlimited obligation for their
defense against external aggression. The United States demonstrated
its reduced strategic interests in the English-speaking Caribbean
by closing most of its bases on the islands by the mid-1950s.
Nevertheless, Barbados and the Turks and Caicos Islands were added
to the 1941 Lend-Lease Agreement in November 1956.
As the Cold War intensified in the 1950s, the United States and
Britain became increasingly concerned about the threat of communism
in their respective spheres of interest in Latin America and the
English-speaking Caribbean. For example, Britain, at American
urging, sent troops to British Guiana (present-day Guyana) in 1953
to prevent a perceived communist takeover threat posed by Cheddi
Jagan's People's Progressive Party. Except for British Guiana,
however, the Commonwealth Caribbean remained on the periphery of
America's Cold War concerns during the 1950s. America's
preoccupations in the Western Hemisphere were centered mainly on
events in Hispanic countries, such as the military coup in
Guatemala in 1954, and the new situation created by the fall of
long-time pro-American dictators in Colombia in 1957, Venezuela in
1958, Cuba in 1959, and the Dominican Republic in 1961.
Fidel Castro's seizure of power in Cuba in 1959 and the
increasingly evident pro-Soviet orientation of his regime prompted
the United States to devote increased attention and resources to
its interests in the English-speaking Caribbean. Thus, the United
States signed military agreements with Jamaica and Antigua in 1961.
The pact with Jamaica gave the United States basing rights,
including the right to operate a loran station on the island. The
accord with Antigua allowed the United States to open a naval base
on the island for use in oceanographic research and submarine
surveillance, as well as an air force base for electronic tracking.
The United States also retained a small naval base in Barbados and
an electronic tracking facility on St. Lucia. In Trinidad and
Tobago, however, the late Prime Minister Eric Williams negotiated
the withdrawal of the American military presence. The naval base in
the Chaguaramas Bay area was closed in 1967, and the Omega
navigational aid station was removed in 1980 (see the Road to
Independence, ch. 3).
By 1962, when Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago became
independent, it had become increasingly evident that security and
defense responsibilities for the Commonwealth Caribbean were
beginning to shift from Britain to the United States. For example,
Britain requested and received American assistance in 1962, when
British military forces were again sent to British Guiana during a
period of racial and labor union violence confronting the
government of Prime Minister Jagan.
From the 1950s to the 1970s, the United States closely
monitored internal political developments in the Commonwealth
Caribbean. American cultural and economic influences became
increasingly important in the English-speaking Caribbean in the
1950s and 1960s. American economic influence in the region,
deriving particularly from heavy investments in oil in Trinidad and
Tobago and bauxite (see Glossary) in Jamaica, worked to the
American advantage until the 1970s, when the West Indians became
more sensitive about their economic dependence on the United States
and Western Europe.
Data as of November 1987