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Diplomacy in Action

Celebrating Our Caribbean Heritage

Arturo Valenzuela
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
Dialogue With Caribbean Diaspora
Washington, DC
August 5, 2010


ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Thanks very much. Well, I want to welcome all of you to the Department of State and I very much appreciate your coming today. Today’s event is the first that we’re going to be doing and we hope that it’ll be the beginning of a whole host of fruitful interactions that we can have with you and other members of the Diaspora from the Caribbean nations.

Diasporas are vital to the development of their countries of origin and to helping us create a more effective and dynamic U.S. foreign policy. I think this is something that we weren’t as mindful of, in the very recent past, even, how important really the Diaspora communities are in the formulation of U.S. foreign policy. You have direct links to the countries that you come from, and for a long time, we’ve been aware of the fact that Diasporas in other parts of the world have played an important role in formulating foreign policy, but one of the things that I’ve seen lacking over the years is kind of a greater role for in the Western Hemisphere, whether it’s the Caribbean or whether Latin America.

I became acutely conscious of this when I was on the board of the National Council of La Raza over about a period of eight years. And it’s totally understandable that the agenda of organizations like NCLR and other organizations like that are focused on the needs and the aspirations and the concerns of communities here in the United States. But the other thing that’s really, really, very, very obvious to all of us is that we care also about what’s happening in our home countries, and we care about our families in our home countries and we care about our communities in our home countries.

The fact that remittances from the United States to the Western Hemisphere fluctuate around $50 billion a year is an absolutely astonishing figure, particularly if you think that the entire foreign assistance budget of the United States for the world is $40 billion. So the folks that work in gardening or in restaurants or as engineers or as doctors in the United States are – just one region in the world – are contributing far more than the United States and all of its assistance programs for the world as a whole. That tells us something about how much our communities care about their folks back home.

And it’s for that reason also that I think that it’s perfectly valid and perfectly appropriate for communities here to have a say in what our U.S. foreign policy should be towards the countries of the region. This is a natural part of the democratic process. You have a right, you have a responsibility, and you have a duty to stand up and have a say in the foreign policy-making process. And certainly, if you care about some aspects of foreign policy or with specific countries in the world, then you really should – all of us should. That’s all of our responsibilities. It’s what animated me, in fact, in going to public service and leaving academic life, is to see how we can work better to have a greater understanding between our nations.

Let me just say that this is an appropriate meeting for me on a personal level, because last week, I was in the Bahamas, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago. And I met many of the leaders of the Caribbean on an earlier trip that I took with Secretary Clinton, where we met on June 10th with prime ministers and foreign ministers from practically all of the countries in Barbados. And these trips, including a previous trip that I took with the Secretary to Jamaica and Haiti and also some of my own personal background – but these trips have helped me understand much better the challenges and the concerns as well as the opportunities that the nations and the peoples of the Caribbeans have.

Economic prosperity cannot be truly enjoyed, of course, unless citizens live in a safe and secure environment. Our efforts to increase citizen safety encompass a set of partnerships that build on international cooperation, help build governmental institutions to fight transnational crime, and create a secure environment for people throughout the Americas.

Now, through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, CBSI, we work with all of the governments in the Caribbean to develop a more comprehensive and long term partnership to reduce illicit trafficking, increase public safety and security, promote social justice, allow for greater economic opportunity in the Caribbean region.

We’re particularly concerned with the continued flow of illegal drugs and small arms throughout the region. And in the spirit of shared responsibility that the President outlined in April of 2009 at the Fifth Summit of the Americas – this was one of the first important trips the President took outside of the United States; as you know, he went to the Summit of the Americas. And then Secretary Clinton reiterated on June 10th in Barbados the co-responsibility of the United States for many of these sorts of issues, such as, the problem of small arms transfers, illegal drugs. We are a consuming nation; this does put burdens on the resources, on the institutions of other countries. And we pledge on our own side to try to do more in order to be able to meet our responsibilities from our side, in order to help address some of these significant problems.

We currently, I think – I remember so well the conversations in every country have been extremely enriching because there is really a consensus in every one of the countries that the answers to these problems have to be holistic answers. Now, these are not answers that depend exclusively on taking a hard line. The answers of citizen security is not just a matter of being able to address the problems from a police angle; they also need to be addressed from a public health angle. And they have to be addressed from an angle that empowers communities and they – empowers also families.

And I was really quite impressed. For example, in Barbados, there is a ministry of family, youth, and sports, and I was quite taken by the minister because he was very eloquent in weaving why it was important to have a ministry that deals with family, youth, and sports – this integrated view of how we need to sort of build communities, making sure that what we really, really are concerned about is the future of our young people. And it’s our young people that we’re losing; if we’re losing our young people, we don’t really have a future.

And we have several projects – they’re ongoing – with several countries in the Caribbean to address the issues of youth at risk to resist the participation – also that they can resist the participation of getting involved with gangs or other kinds of illicit activities. And these projects can serve as models for other regions as well.

The United States also works in partnership, as I alluded to, promoting inclusive economic growth. Trade lifts all economies at growing world prosperity. Earlier this year, President Obama signed the Haiti Economic Lift Program and a 10-year extension of the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act, which has helped create jobs and greater access to U.S. markets. But trade alone is not enough, as we all understand today. Expanded opportunity for all citizens is critical to building prosperous, safe, democratic, and just societies. In a competitive and a globalized world, expanding opportunity requires two things: investment in infrastructure and investment in people. And I would add to that a third critical component and that is, in order to be able to invest in infrastructure, to invest in people, to make societies more competitive, to make them indeed more productive, we also need to have strong institutions; strong institutions are critical, institutions of the state.

We’re working together to promote partnerships in clean energy and climate change. The United States has committed $8 million in funding for climate and energy programs throughout the Americas, through the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas, the ECPA program. Caribbean nations can make enormous contributions in developing new forms of clean energy in combating the threat posed by greenhouse gas emissions that contributed to global climate change.

When I was in Trinidad, of course, one of the things that becomes immediately apparent – and this is a country that is extraordinarily rich in hydrocarbons – it’s the principle source of gas – LNG, liquefied natural gas – for the United States. And yet they’re also looking at the fairly near horizon when these enormously rich resources are going to become depleted. And it means that you have to come up, as they are working on, with smart policies to be able to diversify the economies and to find alternative energy sources. Without alternative energy sources – in fact, this is one of the greatest, greatest challenges the Caribbean has – economic development is not sustainable over the long haul.

The Caribbean Diaspora can assist these countries, I think, to achieve their energy goals in many ways, directly and indirectly, by supporting ongoing projects in the countries, by pooling resources with other Diaspora groups to create and support private regional projects. Diaspora partnerships on specific projects with local governments can become a win for everyone.

Lastly, we’re focused on working with neighbors throughout the region to strengthen democratic institutions. I stressed that earlier. It’s just simply so obvious that capable, legitimate institutions, including vibrant civil societies – what’s called a third sector, what’s called secondary associations or whatever you want to refer to them – are absolutely vital to meeting people’s goods – needs and aspirations. This kind of notion of the state out here and the amorphous people out there is just simply a construct that is – it’s not only valid, but it’s also a dangerous one, a notion of the omniscient state and a people that just follows. Democracy is robust and responsive in as much as people are able to also work through their own civil society organizations to support their own activities, and at the same time, of course, guide and be responsive citizens in holding the state institutions as well accountable.

Let me just simply say to end, that coordinating the work with Diasporas can multiply the impact in the region. I think that that’s quite clear. And we would look forward to hearing from you. We appreciate very, very, very, very much the fact that you took time out of your busy schedules to come here. But I am excited to share not only some of our views, but also to be able to listen and to hear and to get your suggestions as to how we might move ahead.

And we have now a briefing coming up on how we can look at the importance of secure transactions to create local mechanisms for growing small businesses. One thing I found out, by the way, in all of these sort of efforts is that it’s not the grand design that is what makes us succeed, because grand designs often tend to be highly abstract, general sorts of rhetorical instruments and figures. It’s the concrete, specific, clear steps that we take in a whole range of areas, whether it’s on economic development, whether it’s on social exclusion or whether it’s on citizen security, whether it’s on how to promote alternative energy, whether it’s addressing climate change or whether it’s a whole host – it’s very specific sorts of things. We have to do a lot of things.

But of course, we also have to have a strategic vision for those things. To put it another way, it’s sort of – put my social scientist hat on – we don’t want big deductive models. We want inductive models. We want them to come from the bottom that speak to experience where we can share best practices. But all these inductive models, these specific best practices that we may have also have to feed into a broader vision, and it’s through that broader vision. And what is a broader vision? A broader vision is one where we want to have vibrant, prosperous, stable societies where our children, our grandchildren can dream and can achieve their best aspirations.

So I’ll leave you with that, and again, I want to thank you again. It’s your contribution that is as important as what we can do in government. But working together, I think we can achieve a lot. And this Administration, this Secretary of State, the President are committed to the Caribbean. We’ve reiterated that. We want to make it a reality, but we can’t do it alone. We also need your help. Thanks very much.

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