On Wednesday, June 15, 2016, less than two days after the passage of The United States-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act (H.R. 4939), Caribbean-Central American Action (CCAA) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) co-hosted an event on Capitol Hill on “Opportunities and Challenges for the United States and Caribbean Region.”
We were honored to have been joined by U.S. Representatives Eliot Engel (D-NY), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Charlie Rangel (D-NY), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Stacey Plaskett (D-VI) and Jeff Duncan (R-SC) at this event. The remarks delivered by HR 4939 sponsor, Representative Engel, are available below and additional presentations will be made available on CCAA’s website in the near future. For questions or more information on this event, please contact CCAA at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 464-2031.
Executive Director, CCAA
Download a copy of the event agenda, HERE.
Engel Remarks on U.S.-Caribbean Strategic Partnership
June 15, 2016
WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following remarks on the U.S.-Caribbean strategic partnership at the Inter-American Development Bank and Caribbean-Central American Action forum on opportunities and challenges for the United States and Caribbean region:
“Good morning everyone and, and Mark, thank you for that kind introduction. Mark is—he doesn’t toot his own horn. But he does such a great job at the Inter-American Development Bank. He just does a great, great job. And I remember him when he was a lowly House employee. Mark, thank you for all you do on behalf of the United States and our partners in the Caribbean.
“I long back to the days when we were in the Majority, and I was the Chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee for the Foreign Affairs Committee. I’ve always believed that the United States and the Caribbean were sort of natural symmetry. And having a constituency which has a decent number of people from the Caribbean, I would argue even more what an asset the Diaspora can be for the United States. I see my good friend and fellow member of the Foreign Affairs Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. And I’m delighted to work with her, I don’t know that I’ve worked with anybody closer through the years on the Foreign Affairs Committee, all over the world-Latin America and the Caribbean, Middle East and your role in doing it.
“So I am very grateful to the Inter-American Development Bank and, and the Caribbean-Central American Action for hosting today’s forum, and particularly to Chris Barton and Sally Yearwood.
“June is National Caribbean-American Heritage Month in the United States, so it’s appropriate that we meet here today to discuss how to improve the relationship between the U.S. and the Caribbean, and to think about how we can further utilize our strong Caribbean-American Diaspora community in these policy discussions.
“You know, the Diaspora communities in this country, I believe, I firmly believe, I will always believe, are such a great asset to this country. Because to the instantaneous bond between the Diaspora and the old country, and the new country being the United States. It just brings the countries closer together.
“So here on the Foreign Affairs Committee, we spend a great deal of time focusing on challenges and opportunities in faraway places. But it’s important that we never lose sight of our interests closer to home. And that’s why I believe we should be working to strengthen our ties with countries in the Caribbean. And with my friend Charlie Rangel, the dean of the New York delegation.
“So, in April 2009, I had the honor of joining President Obama in Trinidad and Tobago for the Summit of the America—one of his first trips abroad as President.
“At the time, the President said, ‘The energy, the dynamism, the diversity of the Caribbean people inspires us all and is such an important part of what we share in common as a hemisphere.’
“So it’s seven years later, those words continue to ring true. And in that time, I really believe we’ve made a lot of progress.
“The Caribbean Basin Security Initiative and the Caribbean Energy Security Initiative have brought us closer to our Caribbean partners on a range of shared concerns. And let me say, Vice President Biden deserves a great deal of credit for this progress.
“But much more remains to be done to deepen our partnership and to ensure that the Caribbean remains a United States priority.
“And that’s why I was pleased to introduce the United States-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act—also known as H.R.4939—in April. And I’m delighted to report that this legislation, you’re the first one I’m reporting this to, passed the House of Representatives on Monday.
“And let me tell you what it does. It’s bipartisan, and it makes it clear that Congress will prioritize U.S.-Caribbean relations for many years to come.
“Let me tell you a little more specifically. My bill requires the Secretary of State, working with the Administrator of USAID, to submit a multi-year strategy for engagement with the Caribbean to Congress.
“The strategy will lay out plans to support the Caribbean in improving energy security, strengthening the rule of law, reducing drug trafficking, and enhancing economic cooperation. The bill requires the Secretary of State to improve diplomatic engagement with the governments of the Caribbean region, particularly at the United Nations and the OAS.
“In my view, one of our best resources as we put together a new strategy toward the Caribbean is to tap into the large and vibrant Caribbean-American community here in the United States, which is what I said before.
“By consulting with the Caribbean Diaspora community and promoting their involvement in economic development and citizen security in the Caribbean, we will tap a great deal of expertise and experience to bridge the waters separating our nations and advance prosperity throughout the region.
“And from my home in New York—I represent a district of New York, the Bronx and Westchester County. From my home, I know there are many Caribbean Americans, many of whom are my constituents, who would be happy to help the country of their heritage take their rightful place in the 21st century.
“The Caribbean-American Diaspora has so much to offer as we increase U.S. engagement with the subregion, and we would be foolish not to take advantage of their expertise.
“Finally, 4939 commissions two reports from Congress’s watchdog agency, the GAO, the Government Accountability Office, one which evaluates the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, and another which assesses U.S. diplomatic engagement in the Eastern Caribbean.
“Now as many of you know, I have long believed that we do a real disservice to our country by having no physical diplomatic presence in five of the countries in the Eastern Caribbean: Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. We don’t have embassies or offices in those countries. People have to go to Barbados in order to do transactions with the United States.
“It makes no sense to me. The fact that Venezuela has an embassy in each of those places, and China I believe does as well, and others as well. There’s no reason. It’s certainly not financial, it’s a de minimis amount of money to do it. We should do it. We should do it forthwith. I’ve been pushing for this from the time I was Chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, and now as Ranking Member of the full Committee, I will continue to press for it and get bipartisan support for it.
“I have introduced separate legislation, which would establish a physical U.S. diplomatic presence on each of these islands. It makes no sense for us to continue to conduct diplomacy on these islands from our embassy in Barbados. They say you can’t conduct diplomacy from a bunker. I agree. It’s also true you cannot conduct diplomacy from hundreds of miles away.
“How do our diplomats get to know the key officials? How can they judge what’s happening on the ground? It’s easier to stay where they are in Barbados rather than come to these others countries. Not to mention that the other countries feel a turn, a turn-off. It’s an insult. It’s a rebuke. It’s ridiculous. We need to have an embassy or consulate in each country.
“So, I plan to work with the State Department to ensure that we expand our diplomatic presence in the Eastern Caribbean as soon as possible. And by the way, as we draw down in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are plenty of diplomats that are coming home that we can send to those regions at, at a very, very minimal cost. And we should not be penny-wise and pound-foolish, so I plan to work with the State Department to ensure that we expand our diplomatic presence in the Eastern Caribbean.
“And I would be remiss, finally, not to mention the important work that the IDB does in the Caribbean. The IDB’s support for countries in the Caribbean that depend on heavily subsidized oil from Venezuela to transition to a more sustainable path is invaluable. The IDB has encouraged governments to improve efficiencies in domestic energy sectors and develop cleaner sources of energy.
“I was also pleased last October when the IDB joined with the Caribbean Development Bank to launch a new $70 million energy fund to help Eastern Caribbean countries develop their sustainable energy potential—with a focus on geothermal energy—through public-private partnerships.
“And finally, with global climate change—an increasing threat each year—the IDB’s work strengthening the Caribbean’s ability to respond to natural disasters is more important now than ever.
“So a continued, strong U.S. investment at the IDB will continue to pay dividends for both our regions. So I look forward to working with all of you to strengthen the U.S.-Caribbean relationship. Thank you all for the good work you do.”