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Eastern Caribbean leftists flirting with Libya

Coincidence of expanded relations with Muammar Qaddafi with terrorist attacks in U.S. gives headache to small islands.


Although Washington officials deny it, a behind-the-scenes struggle for the hearts and minds of the people in the small Eastern Caribbean states is underway following a visit by a number of their leaders to the Libyan leader a month ago.

Following the visit the announcement of a Libyan proposal to buy bananas from the islands was rejected by island leaders. Accepted was a program of access to Libya’s $2 billion development fund and $21.5 million in loans and grants.

Participating in the visit to Qaddafi were Prime Ministers Pierre Charles (Dominica), Keith Mitchell (Grenada) and Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent & the Grenadines (SVG). Other heads of government, like Prime Ministers Lester Bird (Antigua & Barbuda), Denzil Douglas (St. Kitts & Nevis) and Kenny Anthony (St. Lucia) backed out or sent representatives.

Also traveling to Libya with the group were former St. Lucia foreign minister George Odlum and Antigua & Barbuda newspaper publisher and former member of Parliament Tim Hector, both long time friends of the Libyan leader.

The expansion in relations between the Eastern Caribbean States and Libya couldn’t have been timed worse because of their coincidence with the  subsequent terrorist attacks in the U.S.  Libya’s relations with the islands dates back 20 years. The Revolutionary Grenada government (1979-83) had diplomatic relations with Libya and the North African nation had an embassy in Grenada when the U.S.-led invasion took place in 1983. At the time it also had diplomatic relations with Cuba and Nicaragua under the Sandinistas. Now it is linked to the Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chavez through the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) of which both are members.

Since that time Libya maintained a loose association with leftist parties in the islands which were then in opposition and today in some cases control their governments. St. Lucia’s Odlum has had a falling out with Prime Minister Anthony and Antigua’s Hector is no longer in the opposition party there.

Islands feel marginalized by U.S.

The increased activity by Libya in the small islands comes at a time of increasing frustration in them with U.S. policy in the sub-region which has been widely criticized because of the controversy over bananas and declining U.S. assistance. Marginalization is the word often heard. The banana situation has continued under the last three U.S. presidents with successive U.S. governments supporting Latin American exports by U.S. multinationals to Europe which have jeopardized Eastern Caribbean exports.    

A close observer of the Eastern Caribbean States indicate that “not much is going to come out of the relationship with Libya. He points to “the traditionally religious, conservative character of most of the inhabitants of the islands and the fact that many of their relatives live in the U.S.” While acknowledging that U.S. policy “toward the islands has essentially been one of benign neglect since the end of the Cold War,” he indicates that Caribbean immigrants who vote in the U.S. “overwhelmingly voted Democratic in 2000 even though President Bill Clinton was a hardliner against the islands on bananas.”

Another expert said that “relations with Qaddafi, like the friendship which most of the islands have with Cuba, are examples of how they can flaunt their foreign policy “independent” of the U.S. but they’re not going to go out of their way to harm it either – there’s too much at stake.” He cited the recent visit of SVG’s Gonsalves to Havana recently. While conceding that it had been prearranged long before, he said “the timing, a week after the terrorist attacks, couldn’t have been worse.”

Not all of the Caribbean leaders are happy about the Libyan connection. Three, Prime Ministers Lester Bird (Antigua & Barbuda), Owen Arthur (Barbados) and Basdeo Panday (Trinidad & Tobago) have all criticized the visit of their fellow leaders to Libya. Commenting editorially, the Barbados Advocate said “Aback of their minds is Libya’s dubious record as a haven for insurrectionists and a major training ground for persons who choose violence as a way to gain political power.”  

CIA watching Trinidad

Now reports have emerged of officials of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) arriving Trinidad in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks to identify persons who trained in terrorism in Libya and who may in some way be linked to criminal mastermind Osama bin Laden, the Saudi dissident suspected of involvement in a series of massacres.

A center of attention there is one Yasin Abu Bakr, a former Trinidadian policeman who now heads Jamaat al Muslimeen, a Black Muslim group. Abu Bakr has close ties to Libya and in fact was also visiting Qadaffi earlier this month. Abu Bakr brags about the assistance he receives from the Libyan leader.

He is notorious for mounting an attempted coup against the government in 1990. Although aborted, it resulted in looting and fires that caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. Prime Minister Panday has accused the Jamaat of planning another attempted violent takeover. Abu Bakr has denied any connection with bin Laden. Washington is concerned about stability in the twin-island nation which has massive U.S. investment in its oil and natural gas sectors.

A Washington expert on the Caribbean-Libyan connection said that the U.S. “isn’t going to pay much attention to it.” He indicates that Washington “has a tacit agreement with Qaddafi that he can do whatever he wants in Africa, the Caribbean or elsewhere, as long as he stays out of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East.”

December 1, 2001

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