Published On: Wed, Nov 19th, 2014

US called on to increase diplomatic presence in the Caribbean

ENGELHINEW YORK, USA -- New York congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY16) recently introduced the United States-Caribbean Partnership Act of 2014 in the House of Representatives. This bill would establish US embassies in the five countries in the Caribbean with which the US has diplomatic relations but no permanent diplomatic presence: Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

In an op-ed piece in the Miami Herald, Engel explained that the countries of the Caribbean are of profound importance to the United States and particularly to the millions of Caribbean-American citizens in the US.

“Unfortunately, our sparse diplomatic presence in the Caribbean significantly impedes our ability to engage more deeply with our partners,” he said.

Passage of the 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 region, Engle continued.

He went on to explain that the Caribbean comprises 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 US embassies.

“That is precisely the case with these five Caribbean nations. All diplomatic relations with these countries are managed by the US embassy in Barbados,” Engel said.

According to the congressman, US embassies on these five islands would bring major benefits to friends in the Caribbean. For example, these embassies could help deepen trading partnerships by working with the US private sector to identify mutually beneficial economic opportunities. And US 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,” he said.

Engel pointed out that, while the United States has no physical diplomatic presence, both Venezuela and Cuba have embassies in all five countries.

Without a US presence in these five countries, it is very difficult to conduct in-person diplomacy with counterparts on a range of crucial international issues. Close working relationships with key leaders cannot develop because US diplomats are not there to maintain them, he added.

“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 neighbours 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,” Engel concluded.

However, given that current and/or former US embassy officials in Bridgetown have been accused in a lawsuit filed in US District Court in Washington, DC, of meddling in Saint Lucia politics, Engel’s calls for increased US diplomatic presence in the region may not be greeted with the positive response he might have expected.

Last year, a decision by then US ambassador to Guyana, Dr Brent Hardt, to implement a governance project, or at least aspects of it, by USAID despite strong objections by the government of Guyana was described by the Cabinet as “arrogant and contentious”.

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