THERE WERE NO BANNER headlines, no lofty editorials. But in contrast to other recent events, the Reagan administration scored a minor triumph in Miami a week or two ago for its much maligned Caribbean Basin Initiative.
The trade, aid and investment initiative, implemented nearly three years ago to help stimulate flailing Caribbean basin economies, had been nailed to the cross by some of the program's most ardent early supporters."The CBI has not fulfilled its lofty promise as quickly as most of us expected and all of us hoped. There isn't one of us who isn't disappointed with the results so far," said Jay Morris, deputy administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The disappointment both in and out of the United States comes with good reason:
* Caribbean exports to the United States continue to drop, despite the initiative's duty-free provision.
* Access to U.S. markets is still denied to key foreign exchange earners
from the Caribbean.
* U.S. investment has barely trickled into those Caribbean industries that can forge real technological development in the region.
* U.S. corporations that export from the Caribbean, not the flailing economies of the Caribbean basin, are turning out to be big winners of the duty preference plan.
Moreover, Caribbean leaders, including "well behaved" ones who play by all the economic rules laid down by Washington and the International Monetary Fund, complain that CBI benefits are disproportionately meted out to certain Central American nations.
This is what led the Barbados Prime Minister Errol Barrow to declare the CBI a cover-up for U.S. aid to El Salvador to fight anti-government rebels.
Small wonder, then, that Costa Rican Minister of Foreign Commerce Muni Figueres raised a couple of big questions: Why do we feel like characters in a cartoon? Where is the spirit of CBI?"
His answers? "For the past three years we have been pedaling with all our might, only to find, when we look for the road signs of progress, that our bike wheels have been turning in mid-air, and that we are, in fact, still at the starting point."
Some didn't even bother to show up. One Caribbean food exporter said: Those conferences are just game playing. The big ones want to show they are doing something for the little ones. Then they find out more about how the little ones are thinking and how to spin them around a little bit more."
So how can the meeting be termed a triumph?
For one thing, Errol Barrow showed up in Miami nonetheless and delivered a keynote address on the closing day. His appearance meant that, like it or not, his country's development is so linked to U.S. policies that he may have done
himself more harm than good by not showing up.
More important, although organizers of the conference had expected no more than 2,000 government officials and business executives to show up, well over 3,000 turned up. They came from Europe, Asia, Canada, the United States, the Caribbean and Central America.
Japan, which made its debut last year, upped the size of its delegation to include 20 business representatives. Last year, the Japanese delegation was made up solely of governmentofficials.
With all the CBI bashing in Miami - complete with a daily demonstration by local Miami residents to protest what they called the sale of the Caribbean basin to U.S. corporations - no one talked about doing away with the program. Rather, it was a question of making the CBI work.
An attitude we cannot help but applaud.