Caribbean agenda advanced at meeting with US Vice President

23rd June 2023

Caribbean leaders have used a recent meeting with US Vice President Kamala Harris to secure pledges of support on several issues affecting the region.

“Strengthening the US-Caribbean relationship is a priority for me, as it is for President Joe Biden,” said Vice President Harris at the 8 June 2023 meeting in The Bahamas attended by CARICOM leaders and President Luis Abinader of the Dominican Republic.

Harris announced that the US will spend in excess of US$100mn in the region to crack down on weapons trafficking, help alleviate Haiti’s humanitarian crisis and support climate change initiatives.

Of this, some US$20mn will be spent through USAID to help Caribbean businesses develop and adopt technologies related to renewable energy, another US$15mn will go toward boosting emergency response and preparedness across the region, with more funded expected to go to climate change adoption.

“We have discussed, for example, powerful storms that can wipe out economic progress, low-lying islands that face erosion, flooding, and deadly storm surge from rising seas,” said Harris, adding that “Caribbean nations are on the front lines”.

She noted that these discussions resulted in the launch of the US-Caribbean Partnership to Address the Climate Crisis known as PACC 2030 at the 2022 Summit of the Americas, to help accelerate the Caribbean’s transition to clean energy and to promote energy security and climate resilience.

“Renewable energy is important, not only because of its economic benefits, but also because of its benefits to the environment. As one of the most vulnerable countries in the world – a country that has become a leading voice on the issue of climate change – it is critical that we practice what we preach on climate change,” said Bahamian Prime Minister Philip Davis, who co-chaired the meetings.

The Vice President also announced that the US has launched a diplomatic campaign to push for the reform of multilateral development banks, in order to improve low-cost financing to Caribbean countries.

“We seek the availability of low-cost concessional financing to nations in the Caribbean. And we believe addressing the climate crisis should be a critical part of the mission of the World Bank… More broadly, new debt must include disaster clauses to allow a pause on debt payments immediately following a natural disaster. And three, we want the banks to better mobilise the private sector in support of these goals,” said Harris.

She emphasised that because of the potential positive impact on countries in the Caribbean, the US is pushing to achieve these key reforms by the G20 meeting this fall.

In recent months, the Caribbean has also intensified calls for the US to help address the trafficking of illegal firearms primarily from US states, as the region grapples with a surge in violent gun-related crime. In response, the US said that it will divert resources to strengthen its response to weapons smuggling.

“I am pleased to announce that the US Department of Justice will create a new position, a Coordinator for Caribbean Firearms Prosecutions, which will help maximise information sharing between our countries to support the prosecution of traffickers. This effort will be aided by the bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which President Biden signed last year, and includes new federal criminal offenses for firearms trafficking and straw purchases”, revealed Vice President Harris.

Additionally, the State Department has pledged to help enhance the forensic capabilities of the region, bolster local law enforcement agencies, and back a unit located in Trinidad and Tobago focused on assisting islands in resolving firearm-related cases.

The US, in collaboration with the UK, will create a programme in the Eastern Caribbean to guide and support local judges and prosecutors, aiming to enhance the prosecution of gun-related offenses in response to the backlog of cases.

Haiti will benefit from US$53.7mn in new humanitarian US aid as the country continues to confront unrest and the impact of natural disasters. Harris said that the Biden Administration will also support the extension of HOPE-HELP trade preferences for Haiti, which are due for renewal in 2025.

“Both the Heads of State and Government of the Caribbean and the US acknowledged that the Meeting ventilated issues critical to the current and future prosperity and security of the region and committed to ongoing dialogue and concerted action towards mutual benefit,” said a communique issued by the CARICOM Secretariat at the end of the meeting.

This is a lead article from Caribbean Insight, The Caribbean Council’s flagship fortnightly publication. From The Bahamas to French Guiana, each edition consists of country-by-country analysis of the leading news stories of consequence, distilling business and political developments across the Caribbean into a single must-read publication. Please follow the links on the right-hand side of this page to subscribe, or access a free trial.

(AP Photo/Kristaan Ingraham)