The Caribbean can count on the United States of America to be at its side “as a neighbour, as a partner, as a friend”, says that country’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
In a bid to strengthen its relationships with the region, Blinken pledged the following:
The appointment of a special prosecutor—Michael Ben’Ary—to serve as the United States’ very first coordinator for Caribbean Firearms Prosecutions; $5.5 million to the region to deal with food insecurity; a commitment to deal with Haiti; a commitment to address climate change in the region; and a commitment to look at de-risking which the Caribbean faces by international banks.
In a statement to Caricom leaders yesterday at the 45th general meeting, which also marked Caricom’s 50th-anniversary celebrations, Blinken affirmed that the US had heard issues raised in the region, through Congress’s Joint Action Committee and the diplomatic posts throughout the region.
“And I think what we’ve heard underscored that to solve some of the biggest challenges facing our people, we simply have to work together—and work together more effectively in genuine partnership. And I know that our Congress shares that view. That’s why this extraordinary delegation of Congress is here at the same time, led by our leader, Hakeem Jeffries, to demonstrate America’s support for deepening our long-standing ties across the region. And that includes strengthening our cooperation at the regional and also at the international level,” he said.
“And the reason that I’m here and the reason that my colleagues are here today on this very powerful occasion is to tell you, to share with you that you can count on America being by your side–as a neighbour, as a partner, as a friend … and together as we work to genuinely build unity and forge the future of our community, this community that we share, and do it together.”
Guns in the region
At the regional crime symposium held in April, regional leaders declared war on guns and called on the United States to take action to stop the illegal exportation of firearms and ammunition into the Caribbean.
“We declare a war on guns to combat the illegal trade which provides the weapons that contribute significantly to crime and violence in our region causing death, disabilities and compromising the safety of our citizens,” the communique had stated.
“We call on the United States of America to join the Caribbean in our war on guns and urgently adopt and take action to stop the illegal exportation of firearms and ammunition into the Caribbean.”
Blinken said the US was working to stem the rising tide of violent crime taking a devastating toll on communities across the region.
He said the US supported the creation of Caricom’s new Crime Gun Intelligence Unit, “which is improving information sharing among our law enforcement agencies and strengthening the capacity of countries to investigate gun-related crimes”.
He said that last month the US created a new position at the Department of Justice to deepen collaboration among us on gun prosecutions. “Today I’m pleased to announce that Michael Ben’Ary—a very experienced DOJ prosecutor—will serve as the United States’ very first coordinator for Caribbean Firearms Prosecutions.”
He noted that in July 2020, Congress passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.
“This included new federal provisions that increase criminal penalties to up to 15 years in jail for traffickers, straw purchasers. This is a tool that’s vital for holding accountable those who smuggle US arms to the Caribbean,” Blinken said.
Meanwhile, US Congressman Hakeem Jefferies, the House Minority Leader, told regional leaders, “We must disrupt the gun trafficking and violent crime plaguing the region by stopping the shipments of arms and holding gun traffickers accountable to the full extent of the law.”
Blinken noted that food insecurity has intensified across the region from a combination of climate change, COVID and the Ukraine/Russia war.
He said that since February of 2022, the US has contributed an additional $13.5 billion to fight hunger around the world and the US remains the World Food Programme’s largest donor, providing more than 50 per cent of its budget.
“But at the same time, one of the things I’ve heard very clearly from talking to so many of our partners is a desire to be able to grow sufficient food to provide for your own people. We’re bringing to bear our expertise from across the entire government to help achieve that goal–from the Department of Agriculture to the Environmental Protection Agency to USAID.
“Today I’m pleased to announce that we’ll dedicate an additional nearly $5.5 million to help small farmers in the Caribbean boost productivity, increase access to technology and markets, and adopt climate smart practices,” he said.
In response, Guyana’s president Mohammed Irfaan Ali said that the commitment was good for the region as they have been lobbying for support.
Ali is the lead head of Government for agriculture in Caricom and is in charge of food security for the region.
He told Guardian Media that the region has to move towards disbursement and ensure that it does not become tied up in bureaucracy.
On the issue of climate change, Blinken acknowledged that most of the communities being hardest hit have done the least to contribute to it. “We recognise that as the world’s second-biggest emitter, and the number one emitter historically–currently the second biggest emitter–we have a unique responsibility, the United States, to address this problem,” he said.
He said the US was working relentlessly to avoid a climate catastrophe and identified the return of the US to the Paris Agreement as one of the very first things President Joe Biden did when he took office.
“He enhanced our national pledges, and he’s dedicating unprecedented resources to meet the targets through the Inflation Reduction Act. This is by far, as I think you all know, the largest commitment to tackling the climate crisis in history by any country anywhere,” he said.
He said that all G7 countries have adopted plans that, if implemented, will actually help keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“We need other major economies outside of the G7 to do the same. Your partnership, your leadership in pressing the biggest emitters to make the necessary commitments–and then holding us to those commitments–is indispensable. And we really deeply value the work that you’re doing on that score,” he said.
He said the US was looking to build greater resilience and adaptation to climate change while accelerating the region’s transition to clean energy.
In addition, he said, the US was working to strengthen disaster preparedness.
This would include improving early warning systems, developing risk maps that predict the areas that are most likely to be hit by storms, and helping countries develop new tools to adapt to emerging challenges.
They are responding to our calls—PM Rowley
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley says that the region has been pressing the United States Government for commitments.
Speaking to Guardian Media following statements made by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Dr Rowley said that the US was responding to calls by the region.
“We’ve been pressing for this rollout. The symposium on crime as a public health issue has attracted their attention, and they’re responding to it, and that is very important. Things are happening,” he said.
He credited conversations with decision-makers in Congress as helping to raise awareness on regional issues.
Rowley noted that before, the region had limited access but his Government has been travelling to Washington to have conversations with decision-makers.
“And we’re going to keep going. Last year, President (Joe) Biden put in place the standing committees, and they’ve been working quite well. A lot is coming together,” he said.