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Caribbean American Legislative Forum to Address US-Caribbean Strategic Engagement

Washington, DC – Plans are underway for this year’s observance of National Caribbean American Heritage Month (NCAHM) in June which will mark the 14th anniversary of this designation.

Fourteen years ago, US President George Bush signed the Proclamation designating June as Caribbean American Heritage month, thereby culminating years of struggle to achieve such designation in recognition of the contribution of Caribbean nationals to the social and economic development of the United States and of the longstanding good relations that exist between the Caribbean region and the United States of America.

Celebrations are also held in cities across the United States where there are significant Caribbean American communities.

Each year Caribbean American Heritage Month is celebrated with, among other activities, Caribbean American Legislative Week in Washington, DC during which key issues affecting Caribbean Americans as well as US/Caribbean relations are addressed by Members of Congress and the US Administration including the White House and US State Department at a series of meetings and briefings.

Representatives of the Organization of American States, the CARICOM Diplomatic Caucus, the International Financial Institutions (IFI’s) including the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and World Bank also participate in the deliberations.

This year Caribbean American Legislative Week will be held June 2 – 8th under the aegis of the Washington based Institute of Caribbean Studies (ICS) which spearheaded the lobby for the designation of June as Caribbean Heritage Month and the annual celebrations which have followed over the years.

The patrons of the week’s activities are Members of Congress Hon. Barbara Lee and Hon. Yvette Clarke.

Caribbean American Legislative Forum to Address US-Caribbean Strategic Engagement with Congresswoman Barbara Lee
Congresswoman Barbara Lee

Co-Chairs of the Planning Committee for this year’s Legislative Week activities are former Guyanese diplomat Wesley Kirton and Eric Walcott, ICS Director of Strategic Partnerships.

This is the sixth year that Kirton, Chair of the Private Sector Council of the Institute of Caribbean Studies (ICS) and President of the Guyanese American Chamber of Commerce (GACC), is co-chairing the planning committee.

Among the major achievements of the work of ICS and its Legislative Week activities has been the advocacy for the introduction and passage of a Bill in the US Congress entitled The US Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act (HR 4939) which was signed into law by the US President Barack Obama in December 2016.

ICS President Dr. Claire Nelson states that the Act which covers a menu of sectors for collaboration between the US and the Caribbean including diplomacy, security, trade and investment, energy, education and health provides for enhanced US support for the development of these sectors in the Caribbean region and will be an integral part of the deliberations this year along with the extension of the Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act (CBREA).

Dr. Nelson further disclosed that ICS has established a number of working groups to plan a strategic agenda for the week’s deliberations which will focus on implementation of projects and programs under the required US/Caribbean 2020 Strategic Engagement Partnership which was tabled in Congress in June 2017.

She adds that the ICS working group on “Prosperity” will encompass a number of sectors covered in the US/Caribbean 2020 Strategy including trade, agribusiness and telecommunications, and expects to have consultations with the US State Department in April.

Nelson further notes that Prosperity working group co-chair Wesley Kirton and other members will be seeking to have discussions with the Caribbean Community Secretariat, Caribbean private sector bodies and Caribbean governments ahead of June’s meeting for their input into the agenda.

Additionally, Wesley Kirton notes that the need for increased collaborative action on the part of the Diaspora, Caribbean governments and private sector to ensure the extension beyond 2020 of the CBERA and the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBTPA) which govern trade relations between the US and the Caribbean.

“This year we will be crafting an agenda which speaks to the need for specific action, implementation of a range of initiatives which are necessary to give more positive and impactful meaning to the instruments in place to enhance Caribbean US relations and the quality of life of the people in the region. The issue of correspondent banking relations will also feature once again on the agenda,” Kirton said.

He pointed out that with the closure of Caribbean Central American Action (CCAA) at the end of 2018, the responsibility has fallen on ICS to “intensify our work” and to serve as an even “louder” voice in support of enhanced US/Caribbean relations.

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