The U.S. Congress passed the the United States-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act (HR 4939) earlier this month in a move that will force the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to propose a long-term strategy for increasing the nation’s trade and integration with Caribbean nations.
Energy, educational exchange, and combating violence are key components of the legislation, which was sponsored by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and signed by President Barack Obama on December 16.
“With constant crises around the globe that demand U.S. attention, we must not lose sight of our long-term interests close to home,” said Engel. He added that, “it is long past time to have a multi-year strategy that will allow us to increase engagement with the Caribbean, especially when it comes to energy and security.”
The law specifically mandates that the included agencies reach out to Caribbean community members residing in the United States as well as the private sector both on the mainland and abroad. It also “outlines an approach” to increasing partnership with Caribbean governments to fight the drug trade, strengthen the rule of law, and improve the effectiveness of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), which includes Trinidad and Tobago, the Dominican Republic, and every member of the Caribbean Community.
The legislation prioritizes diplomatic outreach from the U.S. embassy in Barbados to Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“I look forward to seeing this important legislation implemented in order to advance our own national security interests,” said Ros-Lehtinen, who has specifically seen the law as a way to reassert the U.S. worldview in a region where she believes Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Cuba have gained an undue influence.
“Our influence and friendship with these nations has waned, allowing the negative influence of the dictatorships in Cuba and Venezuela to take root in the Caribbean,” she said during a House debate of the bill in June.
Photo: U.S. Embassy to Barbados