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Kamala Harris: Strengthening U.S. - Caribbean relationship is a priority

 

Below is most of the transcropt from the opening address by United States Vice-President Kamala Harris at the start of the U.S. - Caribbean Leaders Meeting, Paradise Island, Bahamas, on Thursday, June 8.

 

As neighbors, the United States shares common bonds and interests with the Caribbean nations.  Our partnership, we strongly believe, is essential to our mutual security and prosperity. 

Our nations have extensive people-to-people ties.  In fact, in the United States this month, we celebrate Caribbean American Heritage Month.

Strengthening the U.S. - Caribbean relationship is a priority for me, as it is for President Joe Biden.  And these meetings have proven — I believe, at a leader level, have proven to be very important and essential to the strength of these relationships.

This, in fact, is the fourth multilateral meeting I have hosted with Caribbean leaders.  I first convened this group and asked them to join me virtually in April of 2022, where I committed to the leaders here that we would meet at least once a year.  We then met in person in Los Angeles in June of last year at the Summit of the Americas.  And last September, a smaller group of us met in Washington, D.C.

Throughout all of these engagements, we have discussed the priorities of the leaders at this table and identified specific areas of collaboration.  I have then, after those conversations, often raised the issues that we have discussed with other world leaders and — outside of the Caribbean — and worked on these priorities in Washington, D.C.

Since we last met, I do believe we have made significant progress. 

Regarding the existential threat of the climate crisis, Caribbean nations are on the front lines.  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.

These discussions resulted in the launch of our U.S.-Caribbean Partnership to Address the Climate Crisis — or, as we call it, PACC 2030 — last year at the Summit of the Americas.  PACC 2030 is designed to help accelerate the Caribbean’s transition to clean energy and to promote energy security and climate resilience.

Since we last met in Los Angeles, the United States has helped to facilitate clean energy projects throughout the region. 

I’ll offer some examples: in St. Lucia, the work that we have done thus far to deploy solar microgrids to power schools, hospitals, and water treatment plants; Dominica and St. Kitts, to develop commercial geothermal power projects; Antigua and Barbuda, to train a clean energy workforce; and the Dominican Republic, to integrate battery storage in their energy grid.

Our work together has also helped build capacity for disaster preparedness.  For example, the administrator of NOAA led a group of U.S. export — experts to Barbados to support regional resilience, including early warning systems and sharing climate information with communities.

We established a network of Caribbean-based scientific experts to create new climate mitigation and adaptation methods.

And in Jamaica, we are helping develop a national emergency commercial infrastructure and commu- — communications — pardon — infrastructure.

Since we last met, we have also worked to bring investors to the Caribbean to identify new opportunities for clean energy infrastructure, including through trade missions.  We have provided $28 million in food security assistance.  And we have invested in the Blue-Green Investment Corporation, spearheaded by Barbados, which we expect to unlock up to $210 million over three years.

And today, it is my pleasure to announce additional PACC 2030 investments.

One, specifically, a $20 million investment in the Caribbean Climate Investment Program to help incentivize the private sector to partner with Caribbean nations to develop more clean energy technologies, like microgrids and energy storage systems, and to help businesses become more energy efficient in their operations.

And, second, a $15 million investment to support emergency response efforts and strengthen the capacity of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency.  This investment is intended to help develop new early warning systems and pre-position first aid equipment and generators. 

As a follow-up to this convening, in fact, tomorrow the Atlantic Council and RMI are hosting a PACC 2030 summit here in Nassau.  There, we will work with these and other organizations to facilitate connections between the United States government, the private sector, NGOs, and philanthropic organizations, and officials here in the Caribbean to identify, build, and operate new clean energy projects. 

Another key area of our work with the Caribbean, through PACC 2030, is to increase access to development financing.  To that end, earlier this week, I met with the new President of the World Bank, Ajay Banga, and informed him that the United States will lead a diplomatic campaign on multilateral development bank reform. 

My conversations with the leaders at this table helped inform our administration’s approach.  We seek more available and — 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 bank to better mobilize the private sector in support of these goals. 

Implementation of these reforms will have a major impact on countries in the Caribbean, and we aim to achieve these key reforms by the G20 meeting this fall.

At my invitation, President Banga will join our meeting today virtually in just a few minutes. 

On the issue of security, too many people in all of our countries are dying from gun violence.  I will reiterate that our administration is committed to disrupt gun trafficking.  We are committed to interdict shipments of arms and ammunition and hold traffickers accountable. 

And today, I am pleased to announce that the United States Department of Justice will create a new position, a Coordinator for Caribbean Firearms Prosecutions, which will help maximize 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. 

In addition, through the U.S. law enforcement agencies, we are supporting a recently established Caribbean Crime Gun Intelligence Unit in Trinidad and Tobago to train officials in firearms investigations and help bring criminals to justice. 

And we will stand up a Haiti Transnational Criminal Investigative Unit in collaboration with the Haitian National Police to facilitate investigation and prosecution of firearms and human trafficking, which affects the entire region. 

More broadly on the issue of Haiti: First, I will say that our hearts go out to those who have lost loved ones and all who have been impacted by, just this week alone, the flooding and the earthquake.  The international community must continue to support the Haitian people in light of the devastating humanitarian and security crisis in that country. 

The United States supports the development of a multinational force to Haiti.  And today I’m pleased to announce $53.7 million in new humanitarian aid for Haiti.  In addition, our administration will support the extension of HOPE-HELP trade preferences for Haiti, which are due for renewal in 2025. 

Finally, in response to longstanding requests from our Caribbean partners, I am pleased to announce that the Biden-Harris administration has begun to process to establish an expanded diplomatic presence in the Eastern Caribbean, including two new embassies. 

In conclusion: From the climate crisis, to development financing, to security, and Haiti and diplomatic presence, we have achieved substantial progress in the last two years based on shared priorities, many of which have been formed and discussed through these convenings that we have had over the last two years. 

We are neighbors in the Western Hemisphere.  And the security and prosperity of this region requires the type of collaboration and partnership that we have developed and continued to grow over the last two years. 

It is the full intention of our administration and the United States to continue this good work, knowing, of course, there is more to do but that progress has been made. 

 

Click on the audio icon above to listen to Vice-President Harris's speech.

                                          


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