373. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to Secretary of State Vance1


  • US Policy to the Caribbean—Guidelines (U)

I have reviewed the “Guidelines for US Policy to the Caribbean” paper which was transmitted by the State Department on December 8, 1979,2 and while I have no objection to the paper, I do question how useful it is in helping us address the major problems in the region. Perhaps, it would be more helpful if we focused on only the Eastern Caribbean, and addressed three difficult but important issues:

1. How do we assist moderate, parliamentary trends in the area? It seems to me that the best way for us to show both moderates, radicals, and would-be radicals that we support moderate currents is to concentrate our assistance and attention on moderate leaders, groups, and governments. This means, for example, that we would be relatively more helpful to Barbados, Dominica, and St Vincent than to St Lucia, Grenada, Jamaica or Guyana. The message of our support needs to be unambiguous. Everyone in the area should know that the US will be more helpful with moderates than with others. What more could we [Page 930] do to increase the incentives for moderation in the region? What more can we do in St Lucia to inhibit any undemocratic changes in the government? (S)

2. How should we respond to requests from friendly governments in the area for rapid police or security support to cope with disturbances or political take-overs? In the past, we have deferred to the British. Now, we are probably inclined to let the Barbadians take the lead, and I agree with that. Barbados’ quick and positive reaction to the recent request by St Vincent for police support was commendable, but it’s not clear to me that there is no role for us to play in similar episodes. I am not certain what that precise role should be, but I do not think that our interests in the region were well served by our non-response to Prime Minister Cato’s request.3 Of particular concern is the possibility of a connection between the rebels and the Grenadian government. We should try to determine whether there was such a connection. If there was, or if there is such a possibility, what steps should we consider? Assuming that we deem it appropriate to respond positively to requests for help such as Prime Minister Cato’s, what capacity do we have, and how long would it take for us to provide support? Should we consider developing a police capability for such episodes? (S)

3. How do we help to shape an environment in the Eastern Caribbean in which the Cubans are on the defensive rather than us? Too often we have found ourselves on the defensive, trying to explain or defend what we were doing. Local leaders were impelled to keep their distance. The recent episode in Jamaica involving the Cuban Ambassador4 suggested that the Cubans are not immune to this problem, but they are also not as vulnerable because of the controlled press in Cuba. There is not as much information available on what the Cubans are doing politically, and also on the Cuban-Soviet relationship, in the region. Although the strategy implemented by the State Department to heighten international awareness of the Cuban-Soviet relationship is proceeding well worldwide, I wonder whether we should not develop a more specialized mechanism within the US Government for rapidly conveying such information, when appropriate, to friendly governments or even to [Page 931] the newspapers in the area. How can we do this, and what kinds of information should we disseminate?

Please coordinate with the Department of Defense and prepare a paper on these questions for transmittal to the National Security Council by January 15, 1980.5 (U)

Zbigniew Brzezinski
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, Records of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, and the Special Assistants to both, FRC 330–82–0205, Caribbean 1979. Secret. A copy was sent to Harold Brown.
  2. A copy of the paper is in the Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Brzezinski Office File, Country Chron, Box 28, Latin America, 12/79.
  3. Telegram 5109 from Bridgetown, December 7, reported that Prime Minister Cato asked the Embassy for U.S. assistance after the seizure of Union Island by “armed, uniformed men.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790565–0617)
  4. In telegram 6893 from Kingston, September 21, the Embassy reported that the Cuban Ambassador to Jamaica, Ulises Estrada Fernandez, “publicly and emotionally attacked Jamaica’s opposition party, the Jamaican Labor Party, and Jamaica’s big independent newspaper, the Daily Gleaner. He accused them both of lying about him and Cuba, and threatened some unspecified retaliation. Opposition leader Seaga was pleased at the outburst.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790436–0435)
  5. The paper, submitted on January 15, 1980, by Tarnoff, stressed that U.S. officials had supported moderate, parliamentary trends through the expansion of ICA, diplomatic activities, and the Peace Corps; security needs in the Caribbean were being dealt with on a case-by-case basis; Cuba was being marginalized through increased foreign aid and a stronger U.S. presence in the region. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 46, Latin America, 12/79–1/80)