348. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • The Need for a Comprehensive Approach to the Caribbean

I have asked my staff to write brief analyses for your use on issues which they see looming on the horizon. The attached paper (Tab A) on the Caribbean focuses on a region of great importance to the United States at a time of great economic and political uncertainty; it also suggests a way to approach the issue which is different than the bilateral approach, which we would probably turn to instinctively.

Given the importance of the region and the need to approach its problems systematically and comprehensively, a PRM on this subject would probably be useful. We have found PRC meetings most productive when the PRM terms of reference set out relatively clear goals and request options for attaining them from the agencies.

With that in mind, I have restated some of the directions which are suggested in the attached study as a way to solicit your guidance on ways to approach the issue.

If you approve, Mrs. Carter’s trip could provide a good opportunity to float some of these ideas, particularly with the Presidents of Venezuela and Jamaica.


That a Policy Review Memorandum requesting an interagency study of options to deal with the problems of the Caribbean in a comprehensive manner should be sent out.

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2. That the comprehensive approach should be multilateral.

a. Including a multilateral consortium of donors.

b. And be channeled through a regional mechanism like the Caribbean Development Bank.

3. That consideration should be given to proposing an international conference to deal with the problems of new and small nations.

4. Mrs. Carter could broach these ideas in her trip to Latin America.2

Tab A

Paper Prepared by Robert Pastor of the National Security Council Staff3


The nations of the Caribbean present a special problem for the United States:

Strategically, the prospect of other “Cuba’s” in the Caribbean providing air or naval bases for the Soviet Union is an unsettling one for the United States.4

Politically, many of the governments and a large proportion of the younger leaders are oriented toward a socialist approach to organizing their societies, and are attracted to the Cuban model, particularly to its reforms in health and education. Many view private enterprise—both domestic and foreign—as part of their country’s development problem rather than a solution to the problem. Most are extremely skeptical that the U.S. will tolerate their different political philosophies.

Economically, the Caribbean is plagued with formidable development problems: chronic unemployment (15–30 percent), a narrow resource and food base (exceptions are Jamaican bauxite and petroleum in Trinidad and Tobago; most countries import food); small internal markets, strong population pressures (one of the highest population [Page 864] densities in the world), and heavy dependence on foreign trade. Many of the newly independent Caribbean states are simply not economically viable. Furthermore, the region’s economic problems are also ours in the sense that they impinge on us in many ways, but particularly by illegal migration.

Traditionally, the United States has responded to these problems in a piecemeal and reflexive way. Because of geographic proximity, substantial U.S. investments ($4–5 billion), the presence of U.S. defense facilities and the sense that the Caribbean is “our lake,” the prospect or the existence of a potentially hostile government in the Caribbean has aroused emotions in the U.S. that are soon translated into political pressure to protect American interests, narrowly defined.

Because of the nature of this three-sided challenge, it is necessary to develop a comprehensive approach which will not only anticipate crises but perhaps preclude them. Such an approach would have to contribute to the economic development of the region while recognizing the political needs for enhanced independence.

This is a dilemma faced by all developing nations—how to reconcile the political goal of reduced dependency and the economic need to obtain external resources. This dilemma is particularly acute in the Caribbean where the economic needs and political aspirations are so compelling, and where the proximity often leads us and them to distort developments.

From the Caribbean, the U.S. is a “colossus,” sometimes oppressive, sometimes benevolently paternalistic, but always telling their countries how to run their own affairs. On our part, we have tended to view the region through a strategic lens, focusing on the Cuban or Soviet threat, and neglecting the very real concerns of the region. (The CIA, however, reports that the Soviet Union has little need for any more air or naval bases than what it has in Cuba.)5

To cope with the region’s economic/political dilemma in a way which will improve our relations with individual countries and place our security concerns in a realistic perspective, we should adopt an approach which will be:

—Respectful of ideological and political diversity.

—Capable of mobilizing resources on a large scale.

Multilateral in its conception, formulation and execution.

A bilateral program of assistance might be effective and might improve our relations with individual governments in the short-term, [Page 865] but in the long-term, the Congress would probably set conditions on human rights and foreign investments which would irritate rather than improve our bilateral relations. Secondly, by giving more money to country X than to country Y, we are more likely to win the enmity of Y than the friendship of X. And lastly, a bilateral program would not be able to command as much resources as if we encouraged a multilateral burden-sharing approach.6

The approach should be multilateral at both ends. We should seek to establish a consortium of donors, including industralized governments like Britain and France and middle-level developing countries, particularly those like Venezuela and Mexico with an interest in the Caribbean. Rather than have development funds channelled directly to individual governments, we should adopt the principle of the Marshall Plan, and urge the individual governments of the region to decide on a collective basis the allocation of development funds among them. This would promote economic integration in the region while avoiding duplication of many public sector services.

There are mechanisms for making such regional decisions—for example, the Caribbean Development Bank established in 1970 and the Caribbean Common Market (CARICOM)—and perhaps we should encourage their use and expansion.

The development task that awaits such an effort is considerable. Many of the economies are highly dependent on the same sources of earnings—sugar and tourism. The World Bank has estimated that $1.5 billion of additional public investments are needed in the period 1975–1979 to raise growth levels to five percent per annum.

The problems of the small Caribbean islands are, of course, not unique in the world. Many countries in Africa and in the Pacific are similarly lacking in resources and similarly desirous of political autonomy. Traditionally, a single industralized country has assumed the role of trustee for these nations, but a more diversified set of relationships with potential donors is more likely to be responsive to the twin goals. In the long-term, we may want to think about calling for an international conference to deal with the specific problem of small economically non-viable states in a global context. In the short-term, while dealing with the Caribbean, we may just want to engage the support of those Latin and European nations which have had a stake in the region in the past.

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To summarize:

—The United States needs to focus comprehensively on the region and to take steps to mobilize sufficient external resources for internal developmental and institutional purposes.7

—A multilateral consortium of donors should be organized to allocate resources to a regional mechanism, which in turn will allocate them to individual countries with the purpose of promoting integration, development, and complementarity of the economies and public services.8

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 45, Folder: Latin America, 1–8/77. Confidential. Sent for action. Printed from an uninitialed copy. Although no drafting information appears on the memorandum, Pastor forwarded a draft to Brzezinski on April 26, noting that it had been “written in response to your request for short three-five page, medium to long-term, political and/or economic analyses.” “As you may recall,” he added, “you approved my request to write an analysis on the Caribbean in late-February, but only now have I had the opportunity to write it. In some ways, the time for such an analysis is not only opportune, but urgent. The other day, I heard that Ray Marshall and Griffin Bell are apparently proposing a $100 million plan for the Caribbean to deal with the illegal alien issue in just the piecemeal and haphazard manner which I criticize directly in my paper.” In a marginal comment, Inderfurth suggested circulating the memorandum to “Hormats and Hansen before submission to the President.” Aaron agreed and instructed Inderfurth to “return to Pastor and circulate.” (Ibid.) Hansen’s handwritten comments on the attached paper are provided below.
  2. None of the items for consideration was checked; however, in the margin, Aaron wrote, “After we do the PRM, we can answer these questions.” No PRM for the Caribbean was written.
  3. Confidential. At the top of the page, a handwritten note reads, “Roger Hansen’s comments.”
  4. Hansen wrote in the margin under this point, “Can the Soviets afford another Cuba? Do they want one? Without some analysis, this ¶ unconvincing.”
  5. Hansen underlined this parenthetical comment and wrote in the margin, “Emphasizes need for dropping or rewording security ¶ on p. 1.”
  6. Hansen underlined this sentence and wrote in the margin, “I suspect this conclusion is quite wrong. Where do you envision ‛multilateral burden-sharing’ to come from?”
  7. Hansen wrote in the margin under this point, “With Cuba the model? Amount & origin of external resources will reflect domestic choices.”
  8. Hansen wrote at the end of the paper, “These seem like policy guidelines in an empirical vacuum. Where will $ come from? What will they be spent on? What can be said about appropriate directions for Caribbean development? What levels of intra-Caribbean cooperation are needed? How would they be evolved? A ‛Marshall’ Plan for the Caribbean is really a non-sequitur in so many ways that it highlights more fundamental problems than it serves as an appropriate model. It is both the ‛quick fix’ orientation and the implicit policies in the presentation which I simply don’t agree with. I would only concur in a memo which proposed a study asking appropriate questions but not assuming answers, e.g. ‛mobilize sufficient external resources,’ ‛multilateral consortia,’ etc.”