254. Memorandum From the Director of the Office of Caribbean Affairs (Hewitt) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Vaky)1


  • Reversing the Negative Trend in U.S./Bahamian Relations

As Representative Dante Fascell stated in his recent letter to President Carter (Tab 1),2 The Bahamas is our third border. Our relations with The Bahamas are typified by the same range of interests and issues as our relations with Canada and Mexico. Although the total volume of day-to-day business with respect to The Bahamas is clearly less than with our two larger neighbors, Bahamian issues are of intense interest to those in the United States who are directly affected. Obviously, Bahamian problems have an immediate and significant [Page 604] impact on important interests in Florida. It is no exaggeration to say that The Bahamas, along with other areas in the Caribbean, impact on the southeastern United States as much as Mexico on the southwest.

Although The Bahamas occupies a position with respect to the United States similar to that of Canada and Mexico, it has not gotten anything close to equal attention. The Bahamians are acutely aware of their third-class status. As a result of our lack of attention to The Bahamas and Bahamian sensitivities, relations have recently shown a tendency to deteriorate. This tendency has been exacerbated by Bahamian administrative inexperience and incapacity, and by the growing belief in The Bahamas that only by confrontation tactics does one succeed with the U.S. The recent fishing boat seizures in which a U.S. resident alien was shot through the head are a chilling example of what the future might hold unless this negative trend is reversed.

Broader issues are involved as well. Since independence, The Bahamas has seen its future as increasingly bound up with the United States and has tended to support us in international fora. Its views on most issues are conservative or middle-of-the-road. As a Black developing nation that is not unsympathetic to the United States, The Bahamas can form a useful bridge to the third world.

Perhaps more important, waters in dispute between the U.S. and The Bahamas may cover important oil bearing structures. The future exploitation of these resources depends on a cordial, working relationship between the two countries.

Our relations with The Bahamas lend themselves to examination by an interdepartmental group type exercise because of the wide range of issues, the number of actors involved on our side, and because in most cases the State Department lacks the means to effect solutions or improvements by itself. A summary of current issues between the U.S. and The Bahamas and the status of each is attached at Tab 2.3

A brief examination of the list of issues in our relations with The Bahamas suggests that in all but a few cases we are the demandeur. Hence, it would appear that there is little advantage to explicitly linking these issues one to another and seeking an overall package settlement with The Bahamas. There are a few trade-offs between issues possible for us. The net result of linking issues would probably be to strengthen the Bahamian position relative to our own. In the few areas such as bilateral economic assistance and U.S. tax laws where Bahamian interest and concern are great, our hands by and large are tied and we have little or no flexibility permitting us to meet Bahamian desires.

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Although seeking a quick package solution to most of our outstanding problems with The Bahamas does not seem desirable or even possible, prompt action to devote more high-level attention to The Bahamas and its problems could have a positive effect on the entire context of our relations with The Bahamas and greatly facilitate achieving solutions to separate issues. In addition, there is no reason why we should not have an internally integrated and coordinated strategy with regard to The Bahamas, even though there is little merit in explicitly linking the various issues.

I recommend that we launch an interdepartmental group type exercise on The Bahamas at once,4 roughly paralleling the Presidential Review Memorandum exercise on Mexico5 and following the same timetable—that is, reaching conclusions and making decisions no later than early November. This exercise would consider, along with other things, the suggestion made by Dante Fascell for the establishment of a permanent joint commission to deal with our periodic problems with The Bahamas.

I also strongly endorse Fascell’s suggestion that the President devote a few hours of his time to The Bahamas in the near future. The simplest method would be for the President to invite Prime Minister Pindling to Washington as Fascell suggests. Since The Bahamas are perceived generally as having a common border with the U.S., an invitation by the President to Pindling would not necessarily increase pressure from other Chiefs of State in the Caribbean or elsewhere for similar treatment.

An alternative which might have an even greater impact on The Bahamas and actually be easier for the President would be a brief “wheels-down” visit of five or six hours to Nassau by the President while en route to some place else. This would be the clearest demonstration of U.S. interest and concern for The Bahamas at the highest level while avoiding many of the scheduling difficulties the President finds in Washington. A Presidential “laying on of hands” would not necessarily have to await the completion of an IG exercise.

Should you approve the suggestion of an IG type exercise on The Bahamas, we will need your guidance on authority, format, and methodology. In view of Fascell’s letter and the need for high-level attention, there is some merit in making it an NSC exercise. Sally Shelton, Luigi Einaudi, and I should meet with you this week to discuss how to proceed.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850176–1995. Confidential. Sent through Shelton. Copies were sent to Einaudi and Lamberty.
  2. Dated August 17; attached but not printed. In the letter, Fascell cited a recent incident when the crew of an American fishing boat got into a gunfight with Bahamian officials in disputed waters, resulting in the shooting of a 13-year-old boy. Fascell urged the President to begin talks with the Bahamas on bilateral issues, including a fishing agreement and a maritime delimitation agreement.
  3. Undated; attached but not printed.
  4. No record of such a group was found.
  5. See Document 144.