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US-Carib strategic engagement

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Two high-ranking United States congressional representatives have introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives legislation that they say would “prioritize” U.S.-Caribbean relations.

New York Democratic Congressman Eliot L. Engel, ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Florida Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a former chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced H.R. 4939, a bill that would require the US Secretary of State and the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to submit to the US Congress a multi-year strategy focused on outreach to the countries of the Caribbean and Diaspora communities in the U.S.

Engel and Ros-Lehtinen said the measure would also improve energy security, counter violence, and ramp up diplomacy, among other priority areas.

“While they are sometimes overlooked, the countries of the Caribbean are profoundly important to the United States, and particularly to the many Caribbean-American citizens in the United States,” Engel said.

“With so many crises around the globe that demand U.S. attention, we can’t lose sight of our long-term interests closer to home but should instead strengthen and expand ties with our Caribbean neighbors,” he added. “This legislation makes it clear that Congress will prioritize U.S.–Caribbean relations for many years to come.”

Ros-Lehtinen said she was “pleased” to join with Engel in introducing this “important bill.

“As someone who represents South Florida and a large number of individuals from the Caribbean Diaspora community, I’m well aware of the unique importance of the Caribbean and a strong U.S.-Caribbean relationsh­ip,” she said. “Now that the Caribbean should be less dependent on a deteriorating Venezuelan economy, this bill will go a long way in improving those strategic relationships and show the region that the U.S. is redoubling its efforts to remain engaged in the Caribbean to enhance our diplomatic and economic ties.

“It’s also more important now than ever that we increase coordination and cooperation on security related issues, especially in conjunction with our leaders at SOUTHCOM [Miami-based U.S. Southern Military Command].”

According to Engel and Ros-Lehtinen, the legislation would require the U.S. State Department and USAID to identify agency efforts to prioritize U.S. policy towards the Caribbean, outline an approach to broaden outreach to the Caribbean Diaspora community in the United States, and outline an approach to partner with governments of the Caribbean region to improve citizen security and reduce drug trafficking.

The bill would also establish a comprehensive, multi-year strategy to improve energy security and increase access to diverse, reliable, affordable and sustainable power; and outline an approach to improve diplomatic engagement with governments of the Caribbean region.

In addition, the congressional representatives said the legislation would also develop an approach to assisting Caribbean countries in the diversification of their economies.

The bill would require the Government Accountability Office to produce two key reports: An evaluation of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) and a breakdown of CBSI assistance provided to each country, and an evaluation of U.S. diplomatic engagement with the Eastern Caribbean.

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