ENGLISH CARIBBEAN'S REPORT CARD

Nationalists from the English-speaking Caribbean are writing a report card on 25 years of independence from Britain. The final document should tell a grim tale about life for the region's 5.5 million inhabitants.

Even so, the current depressed state of the Caribbean is no blight on its history, nationalists say.The way they see it, Caribbean Community members have had a mere 25 years to shift from a one- or two-industry economy - with no infrastructure to support economic diversification - to a sovereign global player. And all this with two severe world recessions in the last ten years.

Prices for export commodities are at record lows, choking off foreign exchange earnings needed to expand development projects, further exploit natural resources and repay foreign debts.

The region owes foreigners amounts ranging from $3 billion in Jamaica to $22 million in St. Vincent. While these figures pale beside the debt of Brazil alone, the burden of repayment is greater for islands nations with dwindling income.

To qualify for additional credit from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, or foreign commercial banks, the Caribbean must adopt economic policies that often ramrod domestic attempts to cushion the draining effects of recession.

True, there is some measure of trade relief in arrangements like the Caribbean Community, with its Caribbean Development Bank and Caribbean Multilateral Clearing Facility, President Reagan's Caribbean Basin Initiative, Caribcan - Canada's equivalent to the CBI, the Lome Conventions and the British Commonwealth.

But, as they say in the Caribbean: A hungry man is an angry man."

As competition for world markets intensifies, so does protectionism. This in turn diminishes Caribbean access to significant markets for textiles and apparel, sugar, petroleum products, bauxite - the region's biggest export earners.

With the days of suffocating interest rates and oil prices came what people who live in the Caribbean call dog-eat-dog-ism.

Guyana ran up huge debts with the Multilateral Clearing Facility, putting it on the road to bankruptcy. Then Jamaica gave another kick to the already- downed facility by introducing a parallel tiered exchange rate that, coupled with trade barriers, removed most of the country's market from Caricom suppliers. The smaller states in the eastern Caribbean, led by the redoubtable Dominican Prime Minister Eugenia Charles, latched on to the United States, winning precious finances denied to troublesome" nations too friendly with Russia, like Guyana.

Soviet or U.S. alliances notwithstanding, the economic crunch in the Commonwealth Caribbean shows no sign of letting up in the near future, what with some economists predicting another global recession.

So nationalists in the region are beginning to make loud noises about reviving the short-lived West Indian Federation. The hope is that a politically unified Caribbean will curb any mismanagement of the region's resources.

Thus the clamor for economic cooperation has been raised with renewed vigor. There is a move to reverse the five-year decline in intra-regional trade with the re-establishment of the Clearing Facility.

Individually, Caribbean countries are grappling with the foreign currency dilemma through countertrade and barter arrangements. Some are luring sizable hard currency deposits by offering offshore banking facilities to multinational corporations.

Many now look beyond Britain and the United States - the region's traditional partners in trade and aid.

Caribbean delegations have been wending their way to Africa, Asia, and the Arab world in quest of capital and industrial investment. The nearness of North American markets has pushed manufacturers from newly industrializing Pacific nations to set up production facilities in the region.

While the economic future of the Caribbean is gloomy, it is by no means hopeless. The fall in oil prices should slash the cost of energy imports, affording extra funds for development; lower interest rates in the United States and Europe should ease debt payments.

Income from tourism has already increased in the wake of the terrorist threats in Europe. And, like it or not, drug trafficking has become a principal means of raking in the dollars in the Caribbean.

At a recent panel discussion sponsored by the University of Hartford's African-American Studies Program, the West Indian Independence Celebration Committee and the Caribbean Action Lobby, the 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada was fingered as a turning point in the history English-speaking Caribbean.

The invasion nearly caused the breakup of Caricom, as bitter slurs flew between supporters and opponents of the U.S. move. But Washington's readiness to pump more dollars into the militarization of the Caribbean since the invasion bolsters longstanding nationalist arguments that the superpowers care less about economic advancement of the Third World than their own hegemony over developing nations.

U.S. military assistance to the eastern Caribbean alone jumped to over $7.2 million in 1984 from $1.2 million in 1982.

The Soviet Union brought its own chickens home to roost with its soft stance on Third World development at the June 1984 Comecon summit in Moscow. The Soviet bloc is not part of the Third World's economic problems, the summit communique said, and is therefore not part of the solution.

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