No one writing on the Caribbean demonstrates greater or more magisterial command of the area and the interdisciplinary literature than Anthony Maingot. This book illustrates the case. Maingot’s definition of the Caribbean covers not only the conventional islands and continental enclaves but also the Central American states, and he persuasively justifies their inclusion.
In this provocatively thoughtful, three-part comparative study, the author insightfully examines the unpredictable reciprocal political interplay of these neighboring small states and limited resources existing in the shadow of a major international power. The first part of the book explores the increasing U.S. interest from the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 to World War II, when hegemony was achieved almost by default. The second part analyzes five dimensions of local action and U.S. reaction during the post-World War II period: Costa Rica in 1948, British Guiana in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Cuba in 1959, and a number of Caribbean states that played “the Cuban card” after 1959. The third part—the most fascinating and original—deals with a number of contemporary Caribbean regional problems: the threat to social cohesion and national security, offshore banking and other development strategies, the impact of migration, and the intractable problems of Haiti. The conclusion is a veritable gem of thoughtfulness on the difficulties of small states in articulating and executing concepts of sovereignty within the geopolitical sphere of the United States.
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of this book is the refreshing absence of all the confusing buzzwords common in academic writing over the past 30 years. There is no mention of dependency, underdevelopment, or the neocolonial sphere. Nor is the region considered a part of any exploited periphery. Maingot employs the term synergies of mutual interdependence as an efficacious way of evaluating the degrees of independence pertaining to either the United States or the individual Caribbean states. He maintains that only empirical evidence, not “a priori ideologically driven paradigms” (p. 231), can explain the variable conduct of any of the small Caribbean states or the United States in any of the major crises of the past 50 years. Similarly, only by looking at the actions of particular Caribbean states can their degree of independence be established. Finally, he implies that sovereignty is compatible with dependence, provided that a democratic form of government exists.
Both for its perceptively detailed individual case studies and its overall theoretical treatment of the complex and nuanced relations between the United States and the Caribbean states, this work constitutes an outstanding contribution to the field. Overcoming the tendency toward empty clichés and hackneyed phrases, as well as challenging some conventional wisdom, it certainly emerges as the most sophisticated study presently available.