I am pleased to welcome you to the State Department this morning. It is a pleasure to have you here in Washington with us to focus on security issues, which are critical to all of our countries.
This Administration sees the Western Hemisphere – Canada, Latin America, and the Caribbean – as a strategic priority for the United States. After all, we are the Caribbean’s largest trading partner. Millions of Americans visit and study in the Caribbean. We share many interests and see incredible opportunities.
This year, we celebrate 10 years of our partnership under the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI). However, the United States has had deep ties to the Caribbean since our founding.
George Washington’s only trip outside the continental United States was to Barbados. Alexander Hamilton was born in Nevis and studied accounting in St. Croix. Thomas Jefferson couldn’t have negotiated the Louisiana Purchase without the freedom fighters in Haiti who forced France to reconsider its global ambitions.
But for a long time, some perceived that the United States had neglected our relationships in the Caribbean, to our great detriment. No more. The Trump Administration is changing that. It has put a new focus on closer ties with the region due to shared interests and the crisis in Venezuela, which require greater cooperation.
This is why President Trump hosted leaders of the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, and St. Lucia at Mar-a-Lago in March and Deputy Secretary Sullivan launched the new “U.S.-Caribbean Resilience Partnership” in Miami with 18 Caribbean governments in April.
We are further building on those efforts to draw on all the tools of the U.S. Government to expand and enhance our relationship with the Caribbean.
Earlier this month, the Department of Energy hosted an energy resilience workshop for the Caribbean in Puerto Rico. In June the Department of Commerce will host the U.S. – Caribbean Business Conference, coupled with USTR’s Trade and Investment Council Meeting with CARICOM and a follow-on roundtable on correspondent banking issues.
We recognize the importance of the Caribbean to the success of this hemisphere and believe that a region united in our shared values and shared interests will result in a more prosperous neighborhood.
Key to a prosperous neighborhood is the issue of security. Our meeting today is an opportunity to chart the course of our partnership to address crime and security in the Caribbean and identify ways together to enhance efforts and build on results.
To demonstrate our commitment to this partnership, I am pleased that many U.S. agencies have joined in today’s Dialogue, including the Department of Defense, U.S. Southern Command, and U.S. Northern Command; Department of Homeland Security, including the Coast Guard, Department of Justice, Federal Aviation Administration, and U.S. Agency for International Development.
These actions show the Trump Administration’s dedication to the region and represent our coordinated investment and bipartisan support of the U.S. Congress with the U.S.-Caribbean 2020 Strategy to improve security in the region.
Under the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), the United States has allocated close to $600 million over the last ten years to support our joint efforts on combatting illicit trafficking networks, increasing public safety and security, strengthening rule of law, and reducing youth crime and violence.
The theme for today’s Dialogue is “A Strategic, Integrated, Smarter and Technological Approach to Security,” and we have an opportunity to recognize our successes and continued challenges under CBSI and discuss ways to take our cooperation to the next level and advance our shared security goals.
Our joint efforts have resulted in extraditing 18 lottery scammers from Jamaica who prey on the elderly so they will face justice for their crimes. So far in FY 2019, our drug interdiction efforts in Bahamas and Turks and Caicos have already exceeded by 150% the amount of illegal drugs seized in all of FY 2018.
In the Dominican Republic, the largest Caribbean transit point for cocaine, CBSI programs have yielded a 250 percent increase in cocaine interdictions from 2017 to 2018. In April 2019, Trinidad and Tobago passed comprehensive civil asset recovery legislation, drafted with support from CBSI’s Caribbean Senior Financial Crimes Advisor, making it the sixth country in the region to pass such legislation with CBSI assistance. USAID has also worked with at-risk youth in over 400 communities, greatly improving their employment prospects.
I commend CARICOM for adopting its first-ever regional counterterrorism strategy last year. More countries in the Western Hemisphere should follow your leadership on this.
These successes have occurred because leaders in government, in the private sector, and in civil society took ownership of problems and the willingness to jointly address challenges.
In addition to achieving clear, measurable results under CBSI, the Caribbean continues to face increasing threats from terrorism, transnational criminal organizations, illicit trafficking, and illegal migration.
Violent extremists from the region have chosen to join ISIS. Trinidad and Tobago is grappling with the highest per capita recruitment of foreign terrorist fighters in the Western Hemisphere. With a total population of 1.3 million, the number of people from Trinidad and Tobago who have traveled to Iraq and Syria is disproportionately large. The government of Trinidad and Tobago recently estimated that number to be between 130 and 160. We continue to deepen our security cooperation to tackle these threats to our communities.
Illicit trafficking – whether of drugs, firearms, or people – ruins lives and destabilizes societies. Transnational criminal organizations exploit permissive environments to conduct their illegal activities, and their actions steal sovereign resources, sap economic vitality, and threaten all our citizens. Better coordination of law enforcement efforts, stronger democratic institutions and judicial systems, and a vibrant civil society are essential to tackling these challenges.
Further to this, I urge all our Caribbean partners to join the United States and ratify the San Jose Treaty, an agreement that will give our maritime authorities an important law enforcement tool to secure our shared economy and the safety of our citizens.
We must also work together to manage the destabilizing crisis of Venezuela and the thousands of Venezuelan migrants who have sought refuge in the Caribbean. In some of your countries, the numbers now reach as high as ten percent of your populations. We want to support you as you respond to increasing migration flows and resulting impacts in your communities, and we will be sending the USNS Comfort to the Caribbean to offer assistance.
We cannot ignore the political, economic, and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. It will only continue to worsen as people do not have food, water, medicine, or electricity; the Russians and Cubans continue propping up the illegitimate Maduro regime; and the narco-criminal groups continue funneling drugs and crime north into the Caribbean. This instability will spread further in the region while Maduro remains.
The only truly non-interventionist path is to join the critical mass of countries in the Hemisphere who have chosen to support the Venezuelan people and the leader they have chosen via their Constitution, Interim President Guaidó.
A truly non-interventionist view cries foul when foreign powers like Russia and Cuba stake their claim by overtly landing military forces on South American territory. The United States, and all freedom-loving countries, should be deeply concerned, to the point of action, closer cooperation, and support to our neighbors in need.
Moreover, we also need to be prepared to expand our cooperation to counter future threats. I’ve talked in the past about the transformational nature of 5G technology, the need to fully factor security into procurement decisions, and cybersecurity challenges. As countries in the region make decisions about how to build out their 5G infrastructure, I urge you all to look to best practices and incorporate security into these critical networks from the start.
For instance, aging infrastructure, ports, highways, and telecommunications systems need upgrades. As the Caribbean consider options for addressing these issues, look to the United States – our technical expertise, transparency and business acumen, and U.S. companies – as resources and as partners.
As you know, China has more equity capital invested in the Caribbean on a per capita basis than it does in the rest of Latin America. If Chinese companies operate on a level playing field, in ways where they play by the rules, this investment could benefit your countries.
However, far too often China has departed from international best practices; and when it does, its opaque methods have enabled corruption, eroded good governance, and stolen countries’ sovereignty and natural resources.
In the Western Hemisphere, all countries should require that infrastructure development projects feature a transparent procurement process, uphold environmental and social safeguards, and foster inclusive growth in line with the standards of international financial institutions.
In the Caribbean, there are at least nine so-called Confucius Institutes spreading Chinese Communist Party propaganda throughout the region, which is incompatible with the region’s deep democratic legacy and respect for free expression.
Russia’s presence in the Caribbean is also now stronger than at any time since the end of the Cold War. New embassies, military cooperation agreements, Russian spy ships being spotted by the U.S. Navy, and Caribbean ports and mines being opened to Russian companies create strategic vulnerabilities for potential Russian exploitation of the Caribbean.
I realize you know all this and are aware of the implications. However, I want to underscore that the United States is your neighbor, we share values and cultures, and we have much at stake – together – at shaping the future of the region through efforts like CBSI. Our investment decisions today will have a generational impact on our citizens in the future.
In conclusion, the United States under the Trump Administration is engaging more in the Caribbean. We see a lot of positive movement from your countries, and we are joining with the rest of the hemisphere to create an engine for economic vitality, innovation, and growth. A secure environment is essential to achieving these goals, so we have more work to do together in the Caribbean.
In just over a week, Caribbean American Heritage Month in the United States will commence. Here at the State Department, we are also kicking off what we’re calling the “Year of the Caribbean” to highlight our growing engagement in the Caribbean under U.S.Caribbean 2020.
We look forward to the results of today’s CBSI Dialogue and, more importantly, actions and results to improve the lives of all our citizens. Thank you for being here and for your countries’ commitment to CBSI, the U.S.-Caribbean 2020 Strategy, and the U.S.-Caribbean Resilience Partnership. Let’s consider how we can make more of a difference in the days ahead through our efforts together.