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India – Caribbean relations : A Quiet and Progressive Transformation

Dr Sunod Jacob
Sun, 01 Aug 2021   |  Reading Time: 11 minutes

India – Caribbean relations: A Quiet and Progressive Transformation

Dr Sunod Jacob

The Caribbean region comprises of 13 countries namely, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Haiti, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago. The combined population is approximately 4.4 crores (2019 estimates)[1]. There are numerous ‘Overseas Territories’[2] and they fall outside the scope of this article. These 13 countries are island nations with 3 predominant languages, namely English, French and Spanish, reflecting their colonial history.

While Haiti was the earliest to become independent (1804) and Cuba (1902), 10 of these countries, achieved political independence over two decades (1962-1983). During the colonial period, the outlawing of slavery in 1833 as a result of the Slavery Abolition Act, and the Indian Slavery Act of 1843, colonials habituated with free labor looked for more innovative means to legitimize and perpetuate this abhorrent practice.

One ‘popular’ recourse was the practice of sending indentured laborers also known as ‘Girimitiyas’. By various accounts, more than a million people from India were transported to work in various places including the Caribbean sugar plantations during 1938-1916. Consequently, these Indian laborers settled over time and have fully integrated into the local society. The vibrant community, their ethnic connections with India and common colonial history has laid the foundations for the India-Caribbean relations that have come to circumnavigate distance and other challenges.

Today, not only is India and the Caribbean countries, members of the Commonwealth, India has been welcomed to be associated with regional and sub-regional groupings such as at the CARICOM (India-CARICOM Summit meetings) and the Association of Caribbean States (India is an Observer State).

India-LAC Economic relations  

On the economic front, recognizing the trade potential in the Caribbean and wider Caribbean region, Government of India launched the Focus Latin America & Caribbean Program nearly 24 years ago. Consequently, India- Latin America economic relations have gradually benefited over the years. The EXIM Banks’ assessment provides useful insights on this growing relationship.

During the period April 1996 to March 2011, India’s OFDI to LAC region, cumulatively stood at US$ 6.3 billion, which accounted for 4.7% of the totals OFDIs originating from India during the period. Indian OFDI, which stood at US$ 3.8 billion in 2011-12, grew by 21% to reach US$ 4.6 billion, in 2013-14.”[3]

A LAC expert, Ambassador Viswanathan provides a region to region comparison. Interestingly, the Latin America has overtaken some of our immediate and traditional neighbors as destination for Indian exports.[4] A few months ago, this author had interviewed H.E BS Mubarak, India’s Ambassador to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador wherein the impressive stature that India presents in sectors such as Pharmaceuticals, automobiles and textiles was well laid out.[5] This could well serve as an inspiration to look beyond distance and freight charges as major constraints. In yet another assessment by the EXIM bank on India-CARICOM relations, it states;

Among the CARICOM countries, Trinidad and Tobago is the largest exporter, accounting for as much as 61 percent of total CARICOM exports during 2009, followed by The Bahamas, Suriname, Jamaica, Guyana and Haiti CARICOM imports have also registered a similar rising 15 trend. Total imports of CARICOM countries have increased from US$ 21.2 billion in 2004 to US$ 48.9 billion in 2008 before decreasing to US$ 37.2 billion in 2009. The Bahamas is the largest importer among the CARICOM countries, with a share of 31 percent of total CARICOM imports during 2009, followed by Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Haiti, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, and Suriname.”[6]

Similarity in views at Multilateral Forums

The region has a rich diversity in their culture and politics. One author[7] has attempted to capture this diversity by adopting the following typology of four categories, namely, Plural-stratified societies[8], Plural-segmented societies[9], Class-stratified societies[10] and fourthly, Folk societies.[11] Despite the political diversity exhibited within this region, from an Indian stand point, all the 13 countries have expressed support for India’s candidature to the UN Security Council membership. This unanimity provides significant impetus to India’s envisioned commitment to a reformed multilateralism to reflect contemporary realities as unveiled by EAM Jaishankar in the document titled, New Orientation for a Reformed Multilateral System.[12]

Beyond the Security Council, India and Caribbean countries have enjoyed a warm relation of supporting each other in various multilateral forums including the Non Aligned Movement, G-77, UN General Assembly etc. Our thematic orientation on Climate change is very well aligned. These reinforce our relations bilaterally as well with the CARICOM as a group.

The CARICOM or the Caribbean Community was created in the year 1973 and is an observer at the UN General Assembly. India-CARICOM Ministerial meetings have become a staple feature in the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, usually attended by the EAM from India. In 2019, the relations received fresh momentum, when PM Modi met with all the heads of the states at the UNGA.

Frequent Ministerial Visits and Interactions

If one were to map official visits and interactions between India and Caribbean states, it is interesting to note the frequency and level of such meetings in recent times. (Information based on 2015-2020 Annual Reports of the MEA. Note: Visits are underway in 2021, but have not been included for the mapping exercise)

Ministerial meetings/interactions
Year Country/countries
2016 Bahamas[13], Cuba[14], St. Lucia[15],Trinidad & Tobago[16]
2017 Antigua and Barbuda[17], Barbados[18], Grenada[19], Bahamas[20], Cuba[21], [Dominica, Dominican Republic Haiti, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago][22], Jamaica[23],
2018 Dominica[24], Barbados[25], Antigua and Barbuda[26], Trinidad and Tobago[27], Cuba[28], Haiti[29], St. Kitts and Nevis[30], Jamaica[31], St. Lucia[32], Saint Vincent and the Grenadines[33]
2019 Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba[34], Trinidad and Tobago[35], Grenada[36], Dominican Republic[37], Bahamas[38], St. Lucia[39], Saint Vincent and the Grenadines[40]
2020 [Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, Bahamas, Dominica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago][41]

This clearly indicates frequent interactions right up to the highest levels. The lead up to these meetings and the follow-up to the same would have been carried out at the missions and at the South Bloc, which has not been captured in this mapping. However, it would suffice to say that it has been a very busy period.

In March this year, Ms. Gloria Gangte, Joint Secretary, LAC Division, MEA, had outlined various aspects of our multifaceted relations in a pubic interaction with this author including the Lines of Credit and Vaccine Diplomacy.[42] Furthermore, Ms. Gloria Gangte highlighted the robust interaction through our ITEC programs. Bollywood, Yoga, Ayurveda and Indian culture through its art forms and spirituality is well received in this part of the world.

Interestingly, Cuba is the only country apart from India that has officially acknowledged Ayurveda as form of treatment in their country. The President of Suriname, a country that is culturally Caribbean, is of Indian origin and served as the Chief Guest to this year’s Pravasi Bharatiya Divas. The million strong, Indian diaspora concentrated in the Caribbean countries shall continue to reinforce our deep connections.

 Blue Economy, Maritime Security and Rules based Order

The Caribbean countries and the peninsular region of India have similarities in terms of geography, specifically access to the seas and oceans. India has 1382 islands and a 7500 plus km coastline. In September 2020, the Economic Advisory Committee to the Prime Minister, unveiled the Draft Policy Framework Document titled, India’s Blue Economy. The document identifies seven priority areas namely;

  • National Accounting Framework for Blue Economy and Ocean Governance
  • Coastal Marine Spatial Planning and Tourism
  • Marine Fisheries, Aquaculture and Fish Processing.
  • Manufacturing, Emerging Industries, Trade, Technology, Services and Skill Development
  • Logistics, Infrastructure and Shipping (including transshipments)
  • Coastal and Deep-Sea Mining and Offshore Energy
  • Security, Strategic Dimensions and International Engagement[43]

While this is a work in progress, similar approaches can be seen in the Caribbean islands countries. The Caribbean countries have a rich history of contributing to the development of the Law of Seas at the United Nations and other institutions. PM Modi unveiled India’s Strategic Vision for the Indian Ocean, Security and Growth for All back in 2015. The vision statement, in addition to Blue Economy, prioritizes Maritime Security and rules based order. Perhaps it would be in India’s interests to consciously invest time and human resources to capitalize on the Caribbean intellectual capital and enrich this quiet growth.

Enhancing Engagement through new Embassies

In 2017, answering a question on Diplomatic Missions in Small Countries, then MoS for External Affairs, General VK Singh stated that;

the Government of India is expanding ties with small countries and island nations based on its assessment of various relevant factors. The opening of more Missions in such states is under active consideration.”[44]

This position was once again reiterated at the floor of the Parliament the next year.[45] As on 2020, India has diplomatic relations with all 197 UN recognized countries world-wide, supported by 197 missions and 3 representative offices abroad.[46] India has made a conscious choice to enhance engagement through establishing new Embassies.

If we look at the wider Latin American and Caribbean region, there are 33 countries having 14 embassies. Most recently the Cabinet had approved the establishment of two new embassies in the LAC region, one in Paraguay (which was so far represented by the Indian Embassy in Argentina) and one in the Dominican Republic (which was so far represented by the Indian Embassy in Cuba). These 33 countries are represented through 21 embassies in India with the latest one to establish its High Commission being Jamaica in September 2020[47] with the appointment of H.E. Mr. Jason Keats Matthew Hall as the first Resident High Commissioner to India.[48] With physical presence, an impetus to our growth story can be reasonably foreseen.

Pandemic Period and Ministerial Meetings

The year 2020 was an unusual one. The Covid-19 pandemic necessitated new approaches to managing relations. One such outcome was the use of telephonic conversations and virtual meetings at the Ministerial level. The mapping of high level meetings, reflect that in the year, 2020, EAM level bilateral meetings took place with 10 out of the 13 countries. Political level meetings of regular frequency are essential especially through video conference in current Covid 19 situation. This trend is expected to continue during the near future as the world grapples with the pandemic. With limited flight options and bio-bubbles, quarantine restrictions and possibilities of flight cancellations, virtual meetings help in circumventing the listed challenges.

People to People links

Cricket is an important sport for both India and the Caribbean region. Caribbean countries are represented as West Indies in the cricketing world. Sporting icons of both sides are mutually respected by cricket fans. The remarkable send-off that the West Indies team provided to Sachin Tendulkar as he bid farewell, is etched in the memory of any Indian cricket fan. The Indian Premier League, which had its first season in 2007, has had 13 seasons till date. Every season has had players from the Caribbean representing various franchises. IPL has indeed injected new momentum to our cricketing ties. It is indeed a fresh start for people to people links. Furthermore, holiday tourism is an interesting dimension of people to people relations. Several countries in the Caribbean region encourage tourism from India by providing visa free travel.[49]

Conclusion

India-Caribbean relations have gradually increased and intensified over the years. This development has been a rather quiet one. Even during the Covid-19 period, when activity rates generally came down across the world, Caribbean countries greatly appreciated India’s proactive gesture of providing vaccines in the form grants. While ethnic connections and common colonial history had laid the foundations for our relations, there are conscious efforts on both sides to have frequent interactions right up to the highest levels and enhance engagement by establishing new embassies.

A fresh start for people to people links has been infused through the Indian Premier League since the last decade. Likewise, cooperation on developing human resources on maritime matters could further enrich our relations adding a new dimension for the future. Lastly, the new approach of virtual meetings at political levels is essential especially in the current Covid 19 situation.

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Author

Dr. Sunod Jacob, is a Senior Fellow at The Peninsula Foundation where he specializes in International Law and Multilateralism. He has rendered his services to the ICRC in various capacities, including that of Legal Adviser, Advisor for Academic programs and focal point for Multilateral Affairs. He has served in the academia as Associate Professor at GD Goenka University, Assistant Professor at ITM University and Senior Research Fellow at University of Madras. He holds a Doctorate in law and Masters in Public International Law. He has authored the books “Post-Millennium Trends in the Global Energy Security Architecture” and “A Handbook on Contemporary Public International law.”

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References :

[1] https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/caribbean-population/;website visited on 30 July 2021

[2] Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Montserrat Cayman Islands  (British overseas territory), Turks and Caicos Islands (British overseas territory), Aruba, Bonaire (Special municipality, Netherlands), Curaçao (Constituent kingdom, Netherlands), Saba (Special municipality, Netherlands) Sint Eustatius (Special municipality, Netherlands), Sint Maarten (Constituent kingdom, Netherlands), Federal Dependencies of Venezuela (Territories, Venezuela) Nueva Esparta (State, Venezuela), Guadeloupe, Martinique (Overseas department, France), Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin (Overseas collectivity, France), Navassa Island (Uninhabited territory, United States), Puerto Rico (Commonwealth, United States), United States Virgin Islands (Territory, United States) San Andrés and Providencia (Department, Colombia)

[3] Export-Import Bank of India, Indian Investments in Latin America and Caribbean: Trends and Prospects, Working Paper No. 75, March 2018

[4] https://thewire.in/trade/latin-america-india-exports-trading-partners; website visited on 30 July 2021

[5] https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=3366894326706815&ref=watch_permalink; website visited on 30 July 2021

[6] Export-Import Bank Of India, Occasional Paper No. 144, Caribbean Community (CARICOM): A Study Of India’s Trade And Investment Potential, January, 2011

[7] Colin Clarke, ed., Society and Politics in the Caribbean (Basingstoke, England: St Antony’s/Macmillan, 1991), Introduction

[8] This includes former British colonies that are now independent liberal democracies, such as Jamaica and the small states of the eastern Caribbean, the “associated” and “dependent” liberal democracies in the French départements and the Netherlands Antilles, and the Haiti.

[9] This includes Trinidad and Tobago and Belize, which have robust and established liberal democracies, and Guyana and Suriname, both of which have embraced authoritarianism and state socialism, and are now “fragile” liberal democracies.

[10] This includes a communist state in Cuba, an “associated” liberal democratic state in Puerto Rico, and an emergent liberal democracy in the Dominican Republic.

[11] This includes a scattering of individual islands characterized by highly personalist politics and a dependent relationship with a larger political jurisdiction, including Saba (Netherlands Antilles), Desirade (Guadeloupe), Barbuda (Antigua) and Anguilla (British Overseas Territory)

[12] https://www.mea.gov.in/Images/amb1/INDIAUNSC.pdf; website visited on 29 July 2021

[13] Bahamian  Trade  delegation  headed  by  Minister  of  Foreign  Affairs,  Mr. Frederic A. Mitchell visited India

[14] Vice President visited Venezuela to attend the XVII NAM Summit. He held bilateral meetings with the President of Cuba. Shri Faggan Singh Kulaste, Minister of State for Health & Family Welfare visited Cuba

[15] Shri Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Minister of State of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship visited St Lucia

[16] Shri Ram Vilas Paswan, Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution paid an official visit

[17] 3rd-CARICOM India Ministerial Summit

[18] 3rd-CARICOM India Ministerial Summit, EAM, Visit by Shri Suresh Prabhu, Minister for Industry and Commerce

[19] 3rd-CARICOM India Ministerial Summit

[20] Bahamas hosted the Commonwealth Law Ministers Meeting, Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad, 3rd-CARICOM India Ministerial Summit,

[21] Shri Suresh Prabhu, Minister for Industry, Business and Commerce, 2017, four member Parliamentary Delegation met with MoS, Gen. VK Singh. Minister for Health from Cuba visited India separately the same year, 3rd-CARICOM India Ministerial Summit

[22] 3rd-CARICOM India Ministerial Summit

[23] MoS, Gen. VK Singh visited in 2017, Jamaican Foreign Minister visited India and met with EAM Smt Sushma Swaraj, Minister for Tourism, Health, 5th Round of Foreign Office Consultation held in India

[24] Minister of State for Health & FW of India Mrs. Anupriya Patel visited Dominica

[25] Minister of State for Law & Justice and Corporate Affairs Shri P. P. Chaudhary visited Barbados in April 2018

[26] Minister of State (Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution and Commerce & Industry), Shri C.R. Chaudhary, visited Antigua & Barbuda from 23-25 April 2018. On the sidelines of the UNGA, External Affairs Minister Smt Sushma Swaraj met Foreign Minister, Mr. Chet Greene, on 26 September 2018

[27] Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi met with Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago Dr. Keith Rowley in London on 19 April 2018, on the sidelines of the CHOGM Summit

[28] President Shri Ramnath Kovind visited Cuba

[29] Shri Vijay Sampla, Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment visited Haiti

[30] Minister  of  State  (Consumer  Affairs,  Food  &  Public Distribution and Commerce & Industry), Shri C.R. Chaudhary, visited St. Kitts & Nevis

[31] Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and Prime Minister of Jamaica Mr. Andrew Holness met on the margins of CHOGM in April  2018  in  London,  BRICS  Summit  in  July  2018  in Johannesburg;  and,  G20  Summit  in  November  2018  in Buenos Aires

[32] Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi met with St. Lucia Prime Minister Mr. Allen Chastanet on 19 April 2018 on the sidelines of CHOGM in London

[33] Shri P.P.Chaudhary Minister of State Law & Justice and Corporate Affairs visited St. Vincent

[34] Cuban Vice Minister of Public Health, Alfredo Gonzalez visited India

[35] The first ever India-CARICOM meet at Head of State/Government level at New York

[36] Minister of Foreign Affairs and Labour of Grenada Mr. Peter David visited India, The first ever India-CARICOM meet at Head of State/Government level at New York

[37] Minister of States for External Affairs, Shri V. Muraleedharan visited the Dominican Republic

[38] PM Minnis met with PM Modi on the sidelines of India-CARICOM Leaders’ Meeting in September 2019

[39] PM Modi met his counterpart Prime Minister  Allen  Chastanet  on  the  margins of UNGA, Agriculture Minister of St. Lucia participated in the UNCCD Conference held in New Delhi in September 2019

[40] Ralph E. Gonsalves, Prime Minister of  Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) paid an official visit to India, The first ever India-CARICOM meet at Head of State/Government level held at New York

[41] In light of the Covid situation in person visits did not take place. EAM held telephonic conversation with each of his counterparts bilaterally.

[42] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtH9jjAB8NM&t=2556s; website visited on 31 July 2021

[43] https://incois.gov.in/documents/Blue_Economy_policy.pdf; website visited on 31 July 2021

[44] Unstarred Q. No. 564, Lok Sabha, https://mea.gov.in/lok-sabha.htm?dtl/28644/question+no564+diplomatic+missions+in+small+countries; website visited on 31 July 2021

[45] Unstarred Q.No. 3030 Lok Sabha, https://mea.gov.in/lok-sabha.htm?dtl/29618/question+no+3030+missions+in+small+countries; website visited on 31 July 2021

[46] Shri V. Muraleedharan, MoS for External Affairs, Unstarred Q.No.1366, Rajya Sabha, https://mea.gov.in/rajya-sabha.htm?dtl/33040/question+no1366+indias+diplomatic+relations;website visited on 31 July 2021

[47] https://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/relations-between-india-jamaica-headed-for-new-highs_217589; website visited on 31 July 2021

[48] https://meaprotocol.nic.in/?a1Jamaica?; website visited on 31 July 2021

[49] https://www.skyscanner.co.in/news/15-visa-free-countries-for-indians-in-america-and-the-caribbean; website visited on 31 July 2021

 

Image credit: www.geology.com

 

 



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POST COMMENTS (1)

Nitesh Bhardwaj

Aug 11, 2021
Thanks for this knowledgeable information.

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