WARNING: U.S. budget cuts pose Caribbean security problems

Author:  Edited from CMC
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Caribbean American leaders here have warned that proposed cuts to the United States Department of State’s foreign aid budget could have serious implications for the region at a time when there is increasing concern about terrorism.

Ward CurtisThe warning came in a briefing on U.S.-Caribbean policy hosted by Caribbean American Congresswoman Yvette Clarke and members of the Caribbean Congressional Caucus last month.

The talks focused on security, a bill proposing to tax remittances and the administration of Donald Trump’s recent decision to give Haitians a limited six-month extension in the Temporary Protected Status program, potentially sending 58,000 undocumented Haitians back to their country in January.

‘UNREALISTIC’

“The economy cannot absorb 60,000 people in 60 months,” said Curtis Ward, a former Jamaican ambassador to the U.S. “It is unrealistic, it is inhumane and it should not happen,”

Most of Ward’s remarks, however, were focused on proposed U.S. aid cuts and possible implications for the U.S. third border, as the Caribbean Basin is sometimes known.

The Miami Herald newspaper recently reported that Ward expressed fear that a proposed 28 percent reduction in the State Department’s budget would force it to slash programs like the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), introduced by President Barack Obama in 2009 to improve citizen safety throughout the Caribbean with U.S. aid.

“Despite being under-resourced, CBSI is fulfilling some of its original gains to assist countries in the region to build security and law enforcement capacities to deal with drug trafficking and related criminal activities,” he said.

“Any cuts, any reduction of current funding levels for the CBSI, would adversely affect the security capacity in the region, and the threats to U.S. national security emanating from or transiting the region will increase exponentially,” he added.

“In more recent years there have been increasing concerns about radicalization and recruitment to terrorism, in particular the recruitment of foreign fighters from the region joining ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

“A more serious problem will be faced by the region and the hemisphere when these foreign terrorist fighters return to the Caribbean. They can be expected to pose future significant risks to their countries of origin and to the United States.”

IMPACT

Yearwood SallyHe said a proposed $800 million cut in the U.S. Treasury’s budget would “severely impact U.S. anti-money laundering” and efforts to halt terrorism financing in the Caribbean.

Oscar Spencer, vice president of the Washington-based Institute for Caribbean Studies (ICS), said the cuts would further exacerbate the pull-out by U.S. banks from the Caribbean.

Known as “de-risking,” the withdrawal of the banks “has the potential to destabilize our economies” and increase poverty, he said, noting “there is a clear and present need for strong and friendly U.S.-Caribbean relations.”

In the shadow of the proposed budget cuts, the withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, and ongoing rifts over the financial services industry, Sally Yearwood, executive director of Caribbean-Central American Action, said it might seem that the Caribbean would be inconsequential to the Trump administration.

“In 2016, the Caribbean imported US$21.6 billion of U.S. products and services,” Yearwood explained. “Simply put, the Caribbean is one of the United States’ most important trading partners.”

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