Several notable events in June brought the curtains down on Caribbean-American Heritage Month, which was adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2005 to recognize the significance of Caribbean people and their descendants in the history and culture of the United States. The resolution was passed in the Senate in February, 2006 following which, President George H.W. Bush issued the proclamation in June 2006. Since then, the White House has issued an annual Proclamation recognizing June as Caribbean-American Heritage Month. The Proclamation issued by President Biden for 2021, has been a catalyst for Caribbean action.
Public Diplomacy Engagement Programme (PDEP)
The Washington DC based Caucus of CARICOM Ambassadors to the USA and OAS under chairperson, H.E Anthony Phillip-Spencer, Trinidad and Tobago Ambassador spearheaded an exciting initiative on International Day of the Tropics (June 29th). Under the theme, Public Diplomacy Engagement Programme (PDEP) , the Caucus established programme tracks for advancing US-Caribbean cooperation in an iterative process that takes advantage of the Biden’s administration stated commitments to the Region. This initiative is a direct response to the mandate from the CARICOM Heads of Government meeting in February 2021. In this regard, the CARICOM Region is accustomed to establishing these partnerships with the US over the years with variable results and sometimes disappointments about the under-achievements of their aspirational goals. What is unique about the PDEP is that the 5 engagement tracks evolved out of consultations between the Caucus and the Caribbean Diaspora. Its objectives for success are therefore based on the reality that they converge with the stated priorities of the new US administration.
Among the more specific tracks are those that advocate for the following:
Fostering a Dynamic US/Caribbean Strategic Agenda
There is another initiative that is worthy of note. The Institute of Caribbean Studies, whose founding President is Dr. Claire Nelson of Jamaican origin has presented a multi-year strategy for US-Caribbean relations. Its programmes cover the same areas as the PDEP. Under the theme Fostering a Dynamic US/Caribbean Strategic Agenda Green Paper April 2021, the draft document provides some concrete recommendations for partnerships that include the private sector and civil society in both US and the Caribbean. It builds out a multi-year strategy based on the recommendations of US Public Law No 114-291 (HR 493) passed in 2016 intended to foster US policy to increase engagement between the US and Caribbean.
The The ICS Green Paper is most interesting from the view point that it identifies how COVID has dramatized the need for diversification of Caribbean economies and the role that agencies such as the Private Investment Corporation, the Inter American Foundation EXEM Bank, National Science Foundation and the Wilson Center can play. It acknowledges the role of the CARICOM Consular corps in deepening multilateral diplomacy and partnerships with agencies such as the Inter American Human Rights to achieve what it refers to as citizen security. The interesting point of departure from the PDEP is the emphasis on Citizen Diplomats at the grass roots, advocating among their Congressional, Senate and wide range of state representatives for the value of the Caribbean Sea and to champion the calls for vaccine equity and reducing violent crime. The draft report also places emphasis on the role of multilateral diplomacy of which the CARICOM Consular corps are pivotal to linking the Caribbean Diaspora through agencies like the Inter American Human Rights to address common issue of equity and justice.
That the ICS draft includes some base line information helps to make its case more poignantly.
In relation to trade and Investment it places the Caribbean Basin Recovery Act and the Caribbean Trade Partnership in context. It illustrates that the US enjoys a trade surplus with CARICOM ranging from US$ 3.24b and US$ 4.17b; the Caribbean purchases 75% of food and beverages from US while US purchases 25 % of the produce and services from the Caribbean; and the Tax information Exchange Agreement with all Caribbean countries and migration of skilled labour from Caribbean to US provide the US with immeasurable advantages. ICS recommends the need for more balanced trading relations including access of Caribbean farmers and service producers to US markets that arguably would reduce migration from the Caribbean to US.
Building a Bridge of Hope
Like the PDEP, ICS highlights the need to promote equity due in opposition to the US’ impositions of constraints on financial services and corresponding banking which are the second largest contributor to the GDP in Caribbean countries. The common call is for financial deregulation and digitization for agro-business and enhancing food security. But ICS is bolder in its advocacy for maintaining levels of H1 and H2 visas to Caribbean citizens and for the US offering Diaspora bonds as tax breaks for remittances that contribute to social investment programmes and social safety nets for the Caribbean.
The two initiatives in this blog offer opportunities for a new beginning in US-Caribbean relationship. What is required is a formula for sustained dialogue among the Caribbean Diaspora and the Caucus of Ambassadors; a concerted effort for the initiatives of the Caucus and ICS to be fully discussed and reconciled; and most importantly, for CARICOM leadership, despite commitments to national sovereignty to demonstrate its collective commitment to a common platform of engagement with the Caribbean Diaspora. Both the Caucus of Ambassadors and the ICS have offered some hope. The question is can we marshall these initiatives to ensure that Caribbean-American Heritage Month truly unfolds as a bridge for sustainable US – Caribbean partnership.
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.