Tuesday, November 18, 2014

U.S. must increase diplomatic presence in the Caribbean

U.S. must increase diplomatic presence in the Caribbean
11/17/2014 6:19 PM 11/17/2014 6:19 PM

In April 2009, on one of his first trips abroad as president, Barack
Obama visited Trinidad and Tobago for the Summit of the Americas. At the
Summit, he declared that "the energy, the dynamism, the diversity of the
Caribbean people inspires us all and is such an important part of what
we share in common as a hemisphere."

I could not agree more. The countries of the Caribbean are of profound
importance to the United States and particularly to the millions of
Caribbean-American citizens in our country.

Unfortunately, our sparse diplomatic presence in the Caribbean
significantly impedes our ability to engage more deeply with our
partners. That is why I recently introduced the United States —
Caribbean Partnership Act of 2014 in the House of Representatives. This
bill would establish U.S. embassies in the five countries in the
Caribbean with which we have diplomatic relations but no permanent
diplomatic presence: Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis,
St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Passage of my legislation will deepen the relationship between the
United States and the Caribbean and build on the Obama administration's
efforts to enhance economic, energy and security cooperation with the

Why is this legislation so important? Imagine countries where tens of
thousands of American citizens travel for pleasure or business; where
thousands of American citizens go to school; where there is a constant
concern about drug trafficking and the impact of drug-related violence;
but where the United States has no U.S. embassies. That is precisely the
case with these five Caribbean nations. All diplomatic relations with
these countries are managed by the U.S. embassy in Barbados.

U.S. embassies on these five islands would bring major benefits to our
friends in the Caribbean. For example, these embassies could help deepen
our trading partnerships by working with the U.S. private sector to
identify mutually beneficial economic opportunities. And our embassies
could target development assistance to where it is most needed on each
of these islands.

While these countries are small, they cannot be taken for granted. They
are key voting members of the United Nations and other international
organizations. As members of the Organization of American States (OAS) —
the only political organization in the Americas that actually includes
the United States — their votes are extremely important, particularly as
member states choose a new secretary general next year.

With democracy under attack in the hemisphere, it is important that we
work with our partners in the Caribbean to ensure that the next OAS
secretary general is willing to protect these fundamental freedoms.
Interestingly, while the United States has no physical diplomatic
presence, both Venezuela and Cuba have embassies in all five countries.

Without a U.S. presence in these five countries, it is very difficult to
conduct in-person diplomacy with our counterparts on a range of crucial
international issues. Currently, in order to meet with government
officials, the private sector or civil society, U.S. diplomats must fly
in from Barbados or Washington on expensive, infrequent flights, and at
times stay overnight in costly island hotels. Close working
relationships with key leaders cannot develop because our diplomats are
not there to maintain them.

Regrettably, our diplomacy is often reduced to phone calls and emails,
even though we all know that the best interaction is carried out in
person. In addition, U.S. citizens living in these countries do not have
full consular services to assist in the event of emergencies.

Right now, the United States is rightly focused on the many crises
around the globe from the Middle East to West Africa. Yet, we must not
lose sight of our long-term interests closer to home, and we cannot take
for granted our neighbors in the Caribbean. Establishing a physical
diplomatic presence throughout the Caribbean is just one small way that
we can deepen the historic partnership that our countries share.


Source: U.S. must increase diplomatic presence in the Caribbean | The
Miami Herald - http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/op-ed/article3985290.html

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