More Engagement Needed Between CARICOM and Caribbean Diaspora in U.S.

Washington, DC Guyana’s Ambassador to the United States Dr. Riyad Insanally has suggested that there be a more structured process of engagement between the Caribbean Diplomatic Caucus  in Washington DC and the Caribbean diaspora to ensure that efforts to advance the cause of the region and its people are well defined and co-ordinated.

In this regard he has recommended that there be quarterly consultations between the caucus and the Institute of Caribbean Studies (ICS) based here and which has been spearheading the work of the diaspora in lobbying the US Congress on issues in US/Caribbean relations.

The Ambassador threw out the suggestion in his address to the opening session of the 20th annual Caribbean American Legislative Briefing Thursday on Capitol Hill put on by the Institute of Caribbean Studies(ICS).

Ambassador Insanally’s address followed that of US  Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Caribbean and Canada Kenneth Merten who formally opened the briefing.

“I once again wish to thank ICS for inviting me to speak today. And even as I commend your constant and tireless advocacy in support of Caribbean interests on the Hill, I would like to suggest that there is scope for closer engagement with the CARICOM Caucus of Ambassadors in ensuring that we are always singing from the same hymn sheet. For this, you have my full support and I would suggest that we pursue meetings, at least once a quarter, to develop a coherent, joint strategy of outreach,”  Ambassador Insanally told the audience to resounding applause.

Congressman Darren Soto of Florida addressing the opening session of the 20th annual Caribbean American Legislative Briefing

Congressman Darren Soto of Florida addressing the opening session of the 20th annual Caribbean American Legislative Briefing

The Ambassadors of Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and The Bahamas were among Caribbean diplomats who also addressed specific issues during the day’s deliberations along with key members of the US Congress including Eliot Engel, Brendan Boyle, Darren Soto, Barabara Lee and Maxine Waters.

Dr. Riyad Insanally: More Engagement Needed Between CARICOM and Caribbean Diaspora in U.S.

Dr. Riyad Insanally

Dr. Riyad Insanally, Ambassador of Guyana address

US-Caribbean Relations: A Multisector Perspective

My thanks to the Institute of Caribbean Studies for their kind invitation to speak at this Opening Plenary.

My congratulations to Dr. Claire Nelson, President and Founder of ICS, and her colleagues, on arranging this 20th Annual Caribbean American Legislative Briefing. I consider this a key component of the celebration of National Caribbean American Heritage Month.

I am honoured to convey greetings on behalf of the Honourable Carl B. Greenidge, Second Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guyana, as well as his sincere regrets for being unable to travel to Washington, as he had hoped, to participate in the lunch panel.  

 I wish to make it clear, at the outset, that I do not speak on behalf of the Caucus of CARICOM Ambassadors to the USA. I am but a poor substitute for the current Chair of the Caucus, the Ambassador of Haiti although, I do speak as a Caribbean Ambassador and will address issues of particular interest to our Caucus.

And whatever errors I make will be readily corrected by my colleague CARICOM Ambassadors from The Bahamas, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago, who, I am happy to note, are part of this engagement today and will speak more directly to specific sectors.  

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This Briefing provides an excellent opportunity to bring together engaged members of the Caribbean American community with Members of Congress, US Government officials, and representatives of the private sector, academia and civil society, to address common interests in the context of US-Caribbean relations.

Permit me, at this point, to comment on the general health of US-Caribbean relations, in addition to what Ambassador Merten has just told us.

As we are all aware, the United States-Caribbean Strategic Act of 2016 (HR 4939) was a real boost for the relationship, providing a platform for closer engagement between the US and the Caribbean region, in the areas of Security, Prosperity, Energy, Education, Health and Diplomacy.

As a result, last year saw a flurry of consultations among a wide range of stakeholders, some of them involving the CARICOM Caucus, which I had the privilege to chair during the first half of 2017. Those consultations gave rise to a number of recommendations in the priority areas, as a contribution to the multiyear strategy prepared by the State Department in coordination with USAID and presented to Congress almost exactly a year ago, on June 19, 2017.

There have, however, been a number of disruptions and distractions, for both the State Department and our Caucus, since then, which have affected follow-up action but which have also served to provide some useful context for what we hope to achieve together.

The 2017 hurricane season provided an unwelcome reminder of how vulnerable our region is to external shocks in general and natural disasters, in particular, and how critical it is to build resilience in small developing states such as ours.

The 8th Summit of the Americas, in Lima, Peru, in April this year, was a major distraction, with the preparations taking up a lot of our time. But the Summit also proved to be an opportunity for closer engagement at the political level.

It was significant that, in his address to the Summit, US Vice President Mike Pence made specific reference to the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) to stop the flow of drugs, in the context of strengthening security partnerships with nations across the wider region. Moreover, in a side meeting with a group of CARICOM delegations, which discussed, among other things, cooperation on the security and energy fronts, through the CBSI and the Caribbean Energy Security Initiative (CESI), then Acting Secretary of State John J. Sullivan underscored the commitment of the US towards enhancing, in the words of the official release, “engagement with the Caribbean, as envisioned in the Caribbean 2020 strategy, including increasing private-sector investment in the Caribbean; ensuring a steady, long-term supply of clean, affordable energy to the region; building resilience to natural disasters; and supporting economic growth in the region for a more secure and prosperous hemisphere.”

Conclusion: CBSI and CESI are still relevant. They are excellentframeworks for closer cooperation between the US and the Caribbean.

With particular regard to CBSI, I need to highlight the role played by Congress and specifically, Congressman Eliot Engel and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the architects of HR 4939, who have both tirelessly campaigned for higher levels of funding for the region. Thus, CBSI, the premier conduit for US security assistance to the Caribbean, will benefit from US$57.7 million dollars in the Financial Year 2019. This sum, you will recall, was approved through the Omnibus Spending Bill released by the US Congress on March 21, 2018. We are grateful for this level of support.

With regard to Energy, HR 4939 envisages that the US will seek to increase the use of low cost, reliable sources of energy, including renewables and natural gas, to spur economic development that would, in turn, create new opportunities for exports, investments and public-private partnerships by globally competitive US energy firms. It will be up to Congress, Caribbean governments and, of course, our Caribbean-American Diaspora, to help push this approach with the US private sector.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There is a clear understanding of the mutual benefit of a prosperous Caribbean Basin and there are encouraging signs that the US Administration will engage further with Caribbean partners to promote sustainable economic policies, private sector-led growth and job-creation. In this respect, utilising trade preference programmes and mechanisms such as the US-CARICOM Trade and Investment Council will also be of critical importance.

As many of you know, the US has consistently enjoyed significant trade surpluses with CARICOM countries. The US is the primary trading partner of all CARICOM countries and enjoys a trade surplus with our Community of over $4 billion. We, therefore, believe that it is essential that the Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act (CBERA) and the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBTPA), which govern trade relations between the US and the Caribbean, be continued after 2020.

There is, understandably, little likelihood of any movement this year towards enacting the Bill for the extension of CBERA (HR 3849), given the focus on the midterm elections. Enactment would most likely take place in 2019. This should not, however, rule out lobbying efforts to build awareness of the issue, particularly in electoral districts with a strong Caribbean presence. In this regard, this Briefing and the celebration of Caribbean-American Heritage Month are timely for highlighting the importance of extending CBERA beyond 2020.

It would be remiss of me not to allude to one particularchallenge that threatens the mutual benefit of the US-Caribbeanrelationship, that is, the withdrawal by US banks of correspondent banking relations (CBRs) with Caribbean banks because of de-risking in the face of onerous regulations and heavy penalties to counter money laundering and terrorism financing.

The current policy of less regulation in the US is encouraging and I firmly believe that it would be in the mutual interest of the US and the Caribbean for CBRs by US banks to be restored. Here again, there is a role for our Diaspora in helping to lobby for change.

In closing, I once again wish to thank ICS for inviting me to speak today. And even as I commend your constant and tireless advocacy in support of Caribbean interests on the Hill, I would like to suggest that there is scope for closer engagement with the CARICOM Caucus of Ambassadors in ensuring that we are always singing from the same hymn sheet. For this, you have my full support and I would suggest that we pursue meetings, at least once a quarter, to develop a coherent, joint strategy of outreach.

I thank you for your kind attention.

 

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