The plan, which is in keeping with a mandate from the U.S.-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act or HR 4939 signed into law last year by former President Barack Obama, is called the “Multi-Year Strategy for Engagement with the Caribbean”.
According to the U.S. Department of State, it has, in co-ordination with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), submitted the strategy to the U.S. Congress “that establishes a framework for enhancing the security and prosperity of the United States and its Caribbean partners.
“Considered the ‘third border’ of the United States, the Caribbean is a vital part of our efforts to counter organized crime and illicit trafficking, support democracy throughout the Western hemisphere, strengthen energy security, and create jobs through increased trade and investment,” the State Department declared in a media note issued on June 21.
“A secure and stable Caribbean contributes to a safer and more prosperous United States by securing the U.S. border, protecting U.S. citizens abroad, and increasing opportunities for U.S. exports,” it added.
The State Department said the U.S. Congress mandated the Caribbean strategy as it “underscores U.S. interest in enhanced relations with the governments of the Caribbean, the Caribbean Diaspora, the private sector and civil society.”
It noted that the U.S. is the primary trading partner for the Caribbean, representing a “vibrant economic partnership” that, in 2016, resulted in a $4.6 billion trade surplus for the U.S., 14 million American tourist visits and 11,042 Caribbean students studying in the U.S.
The strategy added that the U.S. and the Caribbean face many common threats.
“As the United States works to secure its southern border, we should prepare for transnational criminal organizations to shift more of their operations to the Caribbean as a transit point for drugs, migrants, weapons and other illicit activity.”
The strategy also identifies the U.S. Department of State’s and USAID’s priorities for U.S. engagement with the Caribbean region in the areas of security, diplomacy, prosperity, energy, education and health.
In partnership with Caribbean governments, the strategy states the U.S. will strengthen mutual national security and advance the safety of citizens by pursuing programs to dismantle transnational criminal and terrorist organizations, curb the trafficking and smuggling of illicit goods and people, strengthen the rule of law, improve citizen security and counter vulnerability to terrorist threats.
The strategy outlines that the U.S. and the Caribbean will support law enforcement and border-control agencies, defense forces, and regional security institutions with training, equipment, institution-building programs, technical assistance, and operational collaboration to strengthen the partnership in the fight against transnational criminal and terrorist organizations.
The strategy also notes the State Department, with the support and participation of relevant interagency and Congressional leaders, will convene an annual consultative meeting with Caribbean leaders that “will provide a venue for advancing” the strategy’s agenda.
If funding becomes available, the strategy states that the department could explore expanding its diplomatic and consular presence in Eastern Caribbean countries that do not currently host a permanent U.S. diplomatic mission, and will “tap into the robust Caribbean Diaspora community in the United States to promote” strategy’s goals.
The strategy states that the U.S. will engage with its Caribbean partners to promote sustainable economic policies and job-creating, private sector-led growth, utilizing trade preference programs and key forums, such as the U.S.-Caribbean community (CARICOM) Trade and Investment Council.
The U.S. also pledges to provide targeted technical support to countries with the capacity and interest in pursuing energy sector and utility reforms to spur private investment and U.S. energy technology exports, according to the strategy.
The strategy promises to leverage U.S. and international public finance resources to help energy project developers mitigate technical and political risks.
Noting that educational and cultural programs between the Caribbean and the U.S. build stronger economic partnerships, counter vulnerability to crime and extremism, promote the export of U.S. higher education services, and advance cooperation on science, technology and development, the strategy outlines it will support public-private sector collaborations that facilitate higher education and workforce development strategies in the U.S. and the Caribbean, as well as the efforts of U.S. colleges and universities to recruit qualified students from the region.
The strategy will also leverage U.S. experts, digital communication, and other messaging resources to reduce crime and counter violent extremism. It will also send U.S. academic experts to the region to develop early literacy curricula and will foster educational collaboration between U.S. and Caribbean professionals, students and scholars.
In addition, the strategy will provide technical assistance programs and virtual tools to teachers, policymakers and civil society.
To improve the safety of U.S. citizens and promote the health of Caribbean citizens, “we will assist CARICOM countries through the GHSA to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease threats and comply with the International Health Regulations,” the strategy states, adding that it will work with Caribbean countries to combat non-communicable diseases, and to develop their emergency response capacity and infrastructure resilience to natural and man-made disasters.
New York Democratic Congressman Eliot L. Engel, ranking member of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Florida Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairman emeritus of the committee, authored the U.S.-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act.