305. Telegram From the Embassy in Barbados to the Department of State1

2415. USUN for Amb Young; NSC for Pastor; ARA for Todman and Shelton. Subject: Why Barbados Sulks: Understanding and Working With the Barbadians. Ref: Georgetown 2123.2

1. It now should be abundantly clear that Barbados may be one of our more difficult neighbors. This proud island almost alone would not send a special representative to Washington for the Panama Treaties ceremonies. Aside from Cuba it is the only Western Hemisphere country not to sign the Declaration of Washington. Furthermore, there is firsthand evidence (Georgetown 2123) that Barbados attempted to dissuade Guyana from participating in the ceremonies and from signing the Declaration.

2. The behavior of Barbadian leaders for several months can be described as bordering on the perverse. It is externalized by adherence to the strictest possible protocol code. Only after persuasion did Prime Minister Adams agree to receive Ambassador Andrew Young.3 Previ[Page 755]ously he would not see Under Secretary Habib.4 The Foreign Ministry advised that while Adams would be in Barbados during the previously projected visit by Assistant Secretary Todman it “is not known” if he could receive Mr. Todman.5 Earlier it was made clear that Adams expected to have a long talk with President Carter in September. Word that he would not see the President, but that Jamaican Prime Minister Manley would, was resented here. Throughout this period of stiff-necked behavior Barbados demanded rather than requested substantial bilateral assistance from the U.S. and was acid in its comments on our assistance to Jamaica and Guyana.

3. The Barbadians must be among the most correct, most pleasant, and most well-disposed of peoples anywhere. What could explain their near-churlish behavior? This cable is my assessment.

4. Barbados is accustomed to having a “special relationship” with the U.K. For centuries it basked in its image as the “brightest jewel” in the British crown. Aptly this island is called a little England in recognition of its profound attachment to most things British. It is a cause for special pride that soon the Queen will visit Barbados for the third time, a mark of distinction few other members of the Commonwealth can claim. For generations Barbados enjoyed a favored place in the British world. Its highly-educated and efficient civil servants were long employed in positions of responsibility throughout the empire. There is a touch of self-satisfaction and a sense of superiority bordering on arrogance in the governing circles of Barbados. Many have “old boy” connections dating from university days in Cambridge, Oxford, the University of London and other elite British institutions.

5. Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Adams, a product of British elitism, is a personage of note and is accustomed to special treatment within the Commonwealth. He has just been host to his Commonwealth Finance Minister colleagues and acted as Commonwealth spokesman in Washington. Unusual courtesies are extended him by the British. When he goes to London he is invited to Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street. His father was knighted by the King and his mother and his wife are English. He finds the American style somewhat strange and not altogether pleasing. Many of his top Ministers share Adams’ general background and orientation. Foreign Minister Forde quipped to a close friend that he considers himself an “Afro-Saxon.” It is such men who formulate Barbadian policy towards the U.S.

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6. With the decline of British power Barbados finds itself able to rely less and less on the heretofore always available British support. Barbados leaders speak of this phenomenon with a surprising lack of recrimination. It is simply a fact that Mother England no longer can provide the support Barbados requires to maintain its relatively high standard of living at a time when this island is experiencing economic difficulties.

7. Enter the U.S. which Barbados sees in the role of a new metropole with which many important links are already forged. Barbados is stunned, outraged, and perplexed to discover that in U.S. eyes there is no “special relationship” for Barbados. Barbados with one of the oldest Parliaments in the Western Hemisphere; some of the deepest-rooted democratic institutions; and unbroken series of free, democratic elections; a literacy rate higher than that of the U.S.; a human rights record second to none and a tradition of friendship and loyalty to the U.S., is incredulous that the U.S., 1) seems to overlook all these attributes and 2) bestows its favors on such undeserving countries as Guyana and Jamaica having none of them. Almost as bad in Barbadian eyes is the tendency of the U.S. either to lump Barbados with the impoverished island states of the Eastern Caribbean or with the Spanish-speaking Caribbean Basin states. In short Barbados suffers from an acute sense of unrequited admiration, isolation and rejection.

8. Exasperation over the disinclination of the U.S. to enter into a “special relationship” leads Barbadian leaders into tactical errors in judgment which make the situation worse. Convinced that to gain our attention they must be a Peck’s Bad Boy among nations, Barbados adopts perverse positions at variance with its tradition of moderation and cooperation. The excessive demands by Barbados for the renewal of the agreement for the small naval facility on the island is a good example of the attitudinal problems we face here. The GOB seeks to escalate almost any problem with the U.S., be it a civil aviation question, U.S. surveillance of a Russian naval force off Barbados or even consular matters, into a vital question of relations between the two countries.

9. Understanding the problem here is not the same thing as dealing with it. There are disturbing paradoxes. I find it notable that the U.K. and Canada can restrict immigration greatly and the UK can pare back its assistance, and these steps are understood and accepted. On the other hand actions by the U.S. not wholly in accord with Barbadian desires are resented and openly berated by Barbadian leaders in unrestrained terms. A case in point is the incident off Barbados on July 22 of this year. 1500 Soviet seamen and only 24 American airmen were involved, yet we were castigated publicly for showing “utter contempt” for Barbados (Deputy Prime Minister St. John) and as being guilty of [Page 757] “reprehensible” behavior (Prime Minister Adams).6 No public criticism of the Soviets was heard. Do Barbadians perhaps believe we are more responsive to abuse? Do they admire us so much that they will always expect more of us than from others?

10. I believe sound relations between the U.S. and Barbados will come only when both sides have a more realistic appreciation of the relative significance that each country has for the other. Arriving at this stage will be a long and, at times, mutually painful experience; but in the end the coincidence of the basic interests of the two countries will prevail. I am convinced we shall attain a sound relationship with this very special island.

11. Other countries in the area have even more difficult leaders and are far more antagonistic to the U.S. than Barbados. Yet through sympathetic understanding we make headway in our relations with them. With skillful moves we should be able to move Barbados out of the doldrums.

12. My experience to date fortifies my earliest impression that generally we should cut the rhetoric and let our deeds speak for us. However, there are public actions we can take to reassure Barbados that we appreciate its special status. In the process of taking them we learn to appreciate Barbados’ unique worth. In the short term I recommend we consider the following steps:

A. We should focus a favorable spotlight on Barbados: at an early date a leading U.S. spokesman, the higher the better, should in a public statement draw attention to such Barbados attributes as those listed in para 7 above. The President’s message on the November 30 National Day is one opportunity. U.S. statements in the human rights context or in public discussion of “Third World” nations in which company Barbados is a star would be other opportunities. I shall do the same here but it’s not the same thing.

B. We should support Barbados as the site for international meetings and for meeting by U.S. groups. I would hope the next Caribbean U.S. Ambassadors’ conference could meet here.

C. An early visit to Washington by Prime Minister Adams with calls on the President and the Secretary is desirable. Perhaps this would [Page 758] be best arranged after the Barbadians’ more unreasonable expectations on the naval facility renegotiation and on economic assistance are laid to rest. We’re making fast progress on both counts.

D. High level U.S. officials should make it a point to visit Barbados but only after there are assurances they will be appropriately received here. These visits would help lead Barbadians to a more realistic appreciation of U.S. policies.

E. We should consult more often with Barbados in Washington, New York and here.

13. These steps would be helpful mainly in assuaging Barbadian pride, but they would support Barbados’ growth in international stature and as a role model for Third World nations to emulate.

14. The basic question remains as to whether or not we want or could sustain a “special relationship” with Barbados. I use the word sustain because Barbados must understand that we are not prepared to pay a high price for a “special relationship” and that we have a plethora of friendly nations to which we are already closely bound. Our goal should be to reassure Barbados of our appreciation of its unique worth, but to assure that a mutual sense of realism be the single most characteristic element of our relationship.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770365–0954. Confidential; Limdis. Repeated for information to Georgetown, Kingston, Port of Spain, and USUN.
  2. In telegram 2123 from Georgetown, September 5, Blacken described overhearing a telephone conversation between Guyanese Foreign Minister Wills and Barbadian Foreign Minister Forde, in which Forde urged Wills not to send a delegation to the Panama Canal Treaties signing ceremony or sign the OAS Declaration of Washington. A delegation from Guyana attended the event. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770321–0645)
  3. Andrew Young visited Barbados from August 15 to 17. Prime Minister Adams did meet with Young. (Telegram 2643 from USUN, August 18; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770299–0287)
  4. Presumably during Habib’s June 21–22 visit to Bridgetown. See Document 302.
  5. Assistant Secretary Todman visited Barbados from November 25 to 27 but did not meet with Prime Minister Adams. (Telegram 2890 from Bridgetown, November 28; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770440–0698) See Document 307.
  6. This incident, involving a number of vessels and two aircraft near the Barbadian coast, led Barbadian officials to request American assistance to identify them. It was determined that the ships were Soviet and the aircraft were American, surveilling the Soviet ships. Barbados’s daily newspaper, The Advocate-News, reported the Government of Barbados was “annoyed” with the United States “from the supposition that US authorities had long known of presence of Soviet vessels and failed to notify GOB.” (Telegram 1700 from Bridgetown, July 25; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770264–0890)