Caribbean lands eager for 'big four' aid, but only Jamaica likely to get it

By , Latin America correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

The countries of the Caribbean, enthusiastically looking for a share of the action in President Reagan's Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), have drawn up lists of projects they would like to have funded.

But no one in the Caribbean has much hope any more that current aid, now totaling about $1 billion yearly, will jump to the $3 billion that Prime Ministers Edward Seaga of Jamaica and Tom Adams of Barbados envisioned when the concept came up early in 1981.

That $1 billion figure is what the CBI's four big funders--the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Venezuela--provided in 1981. If totals go to $1.3 billion in 1982 and $1.5 billion by 1983, the islanders will be pleased.

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They worry now that even this slight increase will not be forthcoming - and that only one or two islands will benefit.

Jamaica is expected to be the major recipient of the increase.

But what of Dominica? asks its Prime Minister Eugenia Charles. ''We desperately need aid to take care of the ravages of Hurricane David (which hit in 1979), to say nothing of our perennial backwardness.''

Roads in many parts of the island are still impassable; a third of the telephone service has yet to be restored; power is still out for parts of the island; and homes, jobs, and even cultivatable fields exist, for many Dominicans , only in memory.

Hurricane damage may make Dominica a special case, but other Caribbean nations share that nation's perennial backwardness. Their leaders echo Eugenia Charles's concerns.

Caribbean leaders attending a conference on the area in Key Biscayne, Fla., in early December listed their problems and concerns over whether any United States aid would be forthcoming. And they worry still, even now that President Reagan has announced the long-awaited CBI.

Here in Jamaica, however, optimism remains. Most Jamaicans seem to feel that economic recovery, though still unrealized, is just around the corner. And after all, Jamaica is to be a major recipient of CBI aid.

Prime Minister Seaga is very upbeat these days, although he admits that there are lots of problems ahead.

One of the reasons for his optimism is oil drilling in western Jamaica that began late last year. No oil has yet been found, but like other Caribbean islands Jamaica has launched a major effort to locate ''black gold.''

If oil is found, it would significantly alter Jamaica's economic prospects. Jamaica's yearly oil-import bill now runs more than $400 million. A decade ago it was a mere $50 million. That leaves pitifully little, from total foreign earnings of $692 million, for other purchases. With bauxite, Jamaica's main export, in slow demand on the world market, substantial increases in foreign earnings are unlikely.

Except for US aid under the CBI, only tourism offers any immediate relief from Jamaica's continuing cash crunch.

Like other Caribbean islands, Jamaica depends heavily on tourism. But tourism is fickle--fluctuating because of economic conditions facing tourists at home orbecause of political conditions in their destination countries. This was the lesson Jamaica learned in the late 1970s, when visitors stayed away, frightened by political violence.

Yet tourism is the mainstay of many island economies. They feel they should get off the tourist hook, but they don't know how to do it. Without CBI help, they may remain tied to tourism.

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