President Trump proclaimed June 2020 as National Caribbean-American Heritage Month, where “we celebrate the rich history and vibrant culture of the more than 4 million Americans with origins in the Caribbean.” This year marked the 15th annual Caribbean-American Heritage Month in the United States and though commemorations looked different than previous years, there was much to celebrate.
While we may be separated physically during this pandemic, the U.S.-Caribbean relationship remains closer than ever. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the U.S. government has committed nearly $22 million in COVID-related assistance to the Caribbean. Our assistance includes providing critical equipment, supplies, and training for testing and treating COVID-19 to first responders and medical experts throughout the Caribbean; supporting contact tracing and surveillance efforts; and providing mental health and psychosocial services to frontline workers and caregivers. U.S. federal agencies including CDC and HHS are also working with public health agencies and top-tier health care providers from around the world to broadcast free instructional webinars on many aspects of effective COVID-19 response, providing detailed guidance to first responders and medical experts throughout the Caribbean. CDC’s investments in health systems strengthening to enhance preparedness and response to emerging public health threats, which pre-date the current pandemic, have allowed countries to access those same platforms to respond to COVID-19.
Our diplomats overseas have worked tirelessly to provide assistance to U.S. citizens and permanent residents throughout the region. As borders closed and people were stranded overseas, our embassies and consulates in the Caribbean helped more than 30,000 U.S. citizens and permanent residents return to the United States on more than 260 flights from the Caribbean.
Our ability to respond effectively to this pandemic is possible because of initiatives like the U.S.-Caribbean Resilience Partnership, through which the United States and the Caribbean share experience and expertise on disaster resilience, an issue that affects all of us. When our friends are in need, such as now with the COVID pandemic, and just last year in The Bahamas during the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, we respond. With the leadership of Bahamian authorities, the United States, Caribbean countries and other nations shared their resources – food, logistics, shelter, healthcare – to help those affected by disaster. Our $34 million in assistance to The Bahamas helped address humanitarian needs in the aftermath of the storm, and on the ground U.S. forces rescued over 400 Bahamians from the ravages of the hurricane. This is what friends and neighbors do.
We also promote our common interests in the areas of security, prosperity, energy, education, health, and diplomacy through the U.S-Caribbean 2020 Strategy. We’ve achieved a great deal under this strategy, which was created in response to an act of Congress to increase engagement with the Caribbean, including the Caribbean diaspora. Many of these efforts can be found in our 2019 Report to Congress. As we look to evolve this strategy beyond 2020 and well into the future, we are consulting with the diaspora to meet today’s needs and lay the foundation for tomorrow’s successes.
Although Caribbean-American Heritage Month has passed, there is much work left to be done to continue to promote our relations as well as our collective prosperity and security. To do that we draw on our shared values, where we have work to do as well. Events this month have highlighted the fragile race relations present in our society as a result of the tragic death of George Floyd. Although our laws provide protections against racial discrimination, racial tensions and the legacy of slavery are an unfortunate part of the United States’ history. It also underscores the need for ongoing dialogue, justice, and reform.
Protesters peacefully expressing their anger at police brutality and racism are a reminder that we are not a perfect society. Democracy requires diligence and constant dialogue as we seek to strengthen our country, our institutions, and our region. Our dedication to upholding civil rights and democracy defines our region and provides the foundation for the strong relations we celebrate this June.
Cooperation between governments is important, but at the end of the day, these achievements are made possible through the hard work, determination, and fortitude of the amazing men and women who make up the fabric of our societies. We look forward to continuing our dialogue with the Caribbean-American diaspora. Together, we continue to build a more prosperous Caribbean region and work towards a hemisphere that reflects our shared values, goals, and our democratic aims.