John Bartlow Martin is a longtime observer of the Caribbean scene, as part of his career as perceptive journalist, author of distinguished books, staff adviser to U.S. presidents and presidential candidates, Ambassador to the Dominican Republic and twice special envoy to that nation in the 1960s, and presently professor of journalism at Northwestern University. Despite Martin’s professional experiences and intellectual achievements, as well as extensive travel and access to key people and vital information while writing this book, the result does not rank with his important works.
Martin addresses his book to U.S. policymakers. If they have limited time, he advises them to read only the first and last chapters; unfortunately, these are sketchy at best. His main argument is that the Caribbean region (defined so as to include the Antilles, Central America, Venezuela, Guyana, and, peripherally, Mexico) has in recent years undergone profound political and social changes with which U.S. policy has not kept up. He urges that the United States place very high priority on the region and develop a truly special relationship with it. The heart of the book traces the history of U.S. policy toward the Caribbean. After reviewing the historical legacy (“From Jefferson to Eisenhower”), individual chapters are devoted to the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon-Ford years (the last is 138 pages long, taking up almost half of the total narrative). He devotes a brief chapter to the nature and strategies of economic development.
Martin’s basic thesis is that the United States, for at least a decade, has neglected its vital Caribbean economic, political, and strategic interests, and that an entirely new set of policies should be adopted. He claims to reject both the activist approach of the Kennedy administration and the passive posture characterizing the Nixon-Ford years. But his own list of policy recommendations for improving U.S-Caribbean relations is, in my view, randomly articulated, sometimes platitudinous, and largely anachronistic, with many of the assumptions and proposals reminiscent of Alliance for Progress goals listed in the Punta del Este Charter. An impressively wide range of subjects is treated, but individual nations and issues receive haphazard analysis. Specialists will have specific quarrels with the author’s generalizations and interpretations.