Trespassing in the Basin

Language can be very revealing. For several months now our newspapers have been filled with earnest discussions of the turmoil in the "Caribbean basin," especially since President Reagan addressed the Organization of American States (OAS) on February 24. The term "Caribbean basin" is being used to lump together all the islands and Central and South American nations that have Caribbean coastlines (including El Salvador, which doesn't) as a single region. It is a region that didn't exist until United States policy-makers declared it to be one because it was in U.S. economic and military interests to do so.

The people who live in those countries speak three different languages and come from diverse racial backgrounds. The one thing they have in common is that, at least since 1898, the countries of Central America and the Caribbean have had their existence defined in terms of U.S. interests rather than their own.

U.S. interests in the nations of Central America and the Caribbean are considerable, and as is often the case, form an inseparable blur of business and military-strategic concerns. The primary business concerns are in oil and shipping. As President Reagan pointed out in his speech, nearly half of U.S. imported goods pass through the Panama Canal or the Gulf of Mexico, including two-thirds of our imported oil. In addition, 56 per cent of the refined oil imported to the U.S. comes from refineries in the Caribbean islands, the oil companies having been lured there by deep-water ports, cheap labor, and the absence of environmental regulations. Enormous and attractive oil reserves lie in Mexico, Venezuela, and Trinidad, with the probability of similar untapped oil supplies in other countries, particularly Guatemala. The region also supplies almost all U.S. bauxite, the ore used to make aluminum, and it has sizable investments from U.S. agribusiness corporations.

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