Actually, the CBI piece on 60 Minutes lasted eighteen minutes; sufficient time to inhale in anticipation of a mauling. It could have been worse. 60 minutes is an influential program. At times, its content has direct and latent links to government policy.
Unhappiness with our CBI program is well-known. It is felt as visa restriction, a punishment for daring to challenge the “Manifest Destiny” mindset and the associated external and unilateral projection of power.
What about the legitimate interests of the island states in the Caribbean? 60 Minutes made fleeting reference to CBI as an economic stimulus and survival measure. Rather, CBI was portrayed purely as a security threat to the United States. The storyline being that high net worth individuals, can and do pay “cash for passports” from “cash-starved” Caribbean island states where a “blind eye” is turned to “official corruption”. Such narrative is code for island states on the continental doorstep being vulnerable to being overrun by “nefarious actors”.
The program’s takeaway was an undisguised warning shot across the bow from the defense establishment. “Making America Great Again” also means building a border security wall through the Caribbean archipelago. Malta’s flourishing CBI is matter more for the European Union.
Curiously, while 60 Minutes identified St. Kitts and Nevis as the CBI pioneer, there was no interview with an official – government, opposition or Civil Society. Furthermore, there was no acknowledgement of the CBI-driven successes in infrastructure development, and support for education and micro-businesses. Surely, there should have been mention of the fact that our economic citizens include United States persons with impeccable credentials.
A more honest picture would have been painted had 60 Minutes explained the background to our “cash-starved” situation. Economies of small states are the first to stagnate, wither and die when their export markets buckle. It is a truism that when the United States’ economy sneezes, the Caribbean gets a “heavy cold”. Sneeze it did in 2008 then nearly crashed on Obama’s watch because of credit default swaps and kindred manipulations of the global financial market.
By 2010, St. Kitts and Nevis was on the cusp of failure because of an external-origin shock called “the global economic downturn”. Central government revenue dropped precipitously by 20% in 2009 and 25% in 2010. Increments and salaries were frozen. Bond investors took a significant haircut. Mercifully, a lifeline was thrown when the IMF justifiably accepted our government’s “invitation” to participate in a “homegrown” recovery program. While the small slices (aka tranches) of IMF budgetary support helped, it was the CBI that provided us with real cake. The economy rebounded. When the going was good, service providers made a killing and there was a modicum of “fair share” with the masses.
Sustainability of small island economies means diversification. The harsh lessons of singular dependence on agriculture or tourism are inculcated. There are new game changing realities. Extremes of whether associated with Climate Change will destroy the topsoil and food crop production. Nothing is more fickle than Tourism as shown by every terrorist event in our region, mosquito-borne or human-origin.
PM Brown of Antigua and Barbuda was correct ask: What are we to do? To my mind the options are clear: starve for fear of reprisal or be bold and decisive. In St. Kitts and Nevis, the political and policy directorates chose the latter. We learned to play the “big boys” games called Off-Shore Finance and Citizenship by Investment. The treasuries overflowed with surpluses, in Nevis in the late 1980s then in St. Kitts and Nevis by 2012.
The “big boys” reacted with in the form of blacklisting (Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering) and bank account snitching (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act - FATCA). This penchant for control has a notorious history which includes mercantilism, colonialism, slavery, indentureship and Test Cricket’s “one bouncer per over” rule. Then came the devices of economic hitmen such as globalization, unconditional intellectual property rights and debt. Added to this motley mix is bullying by caption such as “devil’s island”, “tax haven”, “sex tourism”, “drugs transshipment point” and “murder capital”.
Admittedly, the nationalist in me was affronted by CBI knowing that the country’s afro-centric demography and verdant aesthetics can be substantially altered by a few large cheques from culturally alien sources. Notwithstanding, a successful CBI program is an economic stimulus measure par excellence. The strength and the stability of the economy and currency lie principally in export performance. Our comparative advantage is location, location, location. The Federation and the rest of the OECS are nice places to live and invest. Therefore, the CBI baby cannot be thrown out with the bath water. Risks and threats can be addressed by a framework of security guarantees negotiated on the basis of mutual respect and cooperation.
As Margaret Thatcher famously and shrewdly said of Gorbachev, I think Trump is someone we can do business with. Prediction: No wall will be built around CBI.
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