Organization of Eastern Caribbean States / Regional Security System
By Wim Sonneveld
History The islands of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States constitute a chain of independent islands and are sometimes referred to as the Leeward & Windward Islands, dating back to the 1700s, when English ships bound for Jamaica followed the trade-wind passage, stopping at islands along the way. Today the island chain consists of seven independent states as well as the remains of British, French and Dutch colonial rule.
Named after one of the Indian tribes that inhabited the area when Columbus arrived, today's Caribbean is one of the geographically and culturally most diversified areas in the world as the islands changed hands quite often. The colonizers brought thousands of black slaves from Africa to the Caribbean to enable them to produce salt and sugar cane. The descendants of the black slaves, the Indian tribes, the European colonists and the East Indians make up the mixed and culturally varied Caribbean population. Influenced by their respective colonizers many of the islands keep a strong colonial flavour.
One of the first attempt to form a federation of islands was made in 1875 when the governor of Barbados attempted to implement a British proposal calling for a Windward Islands confederation. Many attempts followed with altering success, although none of them reached the full Federation status and made it for a more than a few years. The West Indies Federation, the first major change toward greater self-rule and decreasing colonial influences in the region, lasted only from 1958 to 1962. The federation united Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and the British colonies in the Leeward and Windward islands. Following this attempt in 1966 the West Indies States Association (WISA) was formed as a stop-gap administrative arrangement that gave the Windward and Leeward islands limited autonomy and marked their ways to independence. Finally the formation of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States led to greater economic and international coordination among the states and consisted of Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent & The Grenadines. That same year, however, Barbados became the first independent island of the eastern Caribbean island chain and many others followed until 1983 when St. Kitts & Nevis finally became an independent state. Other islands choose to stay under European rule.
Regional Security System
By 1982, thinking on regional policy had begun to focus more on security concerns and less on political and economic issues. The coup in 1979 of the People's Revolutionary Government (PRG), in Grenada, the temporary seizure the same year of Union Island in the Grenadines and the attempted coup in 1981 in Dominica all led to the signing of the Regional Security System Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in October 1982.
The PRG government in Grenada looked to Cuba and other Marxist-Leninist countries as its models and tried to implement the first Marxist revolutionary state in the English speaking Caribbean. But the PRG failed to live up to the expectations of the Grenadian people, however. In the economic sphere only slow and halting progress was made toward socialism. An internal struggle, essentially a contest between the more pragmatic Bishop and his doctrinaire deputy prime minister Coard, led directly to the downfall of the PRG and the murder of Bishop and many others on October 19, 1983. Bishop's murder set the stage for the October 25, 1983, military intervention by the United States and, not surprisingly, the RSS. The RSS maintained internal security in Grenada by deploying Security Service Units (SSU). Grenada itself joined the RSS in 1985, after relations with the United States and neighbouring islands were improved, following the establishment of a new government.
Plans for a permanent Regional Defence Force were shelved in the 80s, mainly because it would be too costly to maintain a permanent force and governments feared a militarization of the Eastern Caribbean. Meanwhile annual exercises and operations with US forces in the Caribbean were conducted throughout the years. From the beginning of the 90s security issues changed from socialism towards drug trafficking and the RSS start to focus on counter drugs operations in the area. Subsequently the US Congress approved the donation of two ex USAF C-26 Metros to the RSS countries in 1996, which included crew training and spare parts. Eventually, operations commenced in 1999 after advanced radar equipment was installed and crews and technicians were trained by the US Department of State.
The acquisition brought an unseen boost in capabilities to the organization as none of the member states operate any military aircraft by themselves. Both aircraft are based at Bridgetown-Grantley Adams IAP in Barbados and are often quoted as belonging to the Barbados Defence Force although carrying RSS related serials. The aircraft carry out counter drugs operations in the Eastern Caribbean and are assigned often to the US Joint Interagency Task Force East working together with British, Dutch, French and US military aircraft patrolling the area.