Caribbean Foreign Ministers meet with Trump officials

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Posted: Friday, July 7, 2017. 11:37 a.m. CST.

Wilfred Elrington

By BBN Staff: Caribbean Foreign Ministers, including Belizean Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington, attended a meeting in Grenada yesterday with two officials from the new U.S. administration of President Donald Trump.

“Basically I thought they wanted to tell us they still have an interest in us and to hear our concerns and interests, and so we told them the various ills confronting our region,” Elrington told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) following the talks.

UnderSecretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas A Shannon Jr. and Acting Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Francisco Palmieri, met with the foreign ministers on the sidelines of the 38th meeting of Caricom leaders that also ended in Grenada yesterday. The foreign ministers were due to present a report to the leaders.

The State Department said that the two officials of the Donald Trump Administration were there to discuss “regional and bilateral issues of mutual interest”.

Shannon also met with incoming Caricom Chairman and Prime Minister of Grenada, Keith Mitchell to discuss stronger coordination between the United States and the Caribbean Community. He was also expected to hold bilateral talks with Caricom leaders.

Elrington said that the Caribbean had listed a number of concerns, including de-risking of banks, crime and security, adding that the US officials gave the impression they are taking it on-board and to seek to do something about it.

“I was particularly concerned, personally, with the disparity, the gap we have in knowledge. This is the 21st century, an information age, and the kind of education attainment that exists in the United States is so different from the ones that exists in our country…it is very difficult for us to catch up with that and at the same time we are expected to compete with them,” said Elrington.

He said the issues of crime and security, which the Americans raised during the deliberations, in his view, are issues of symptoms of a major problem.

“The problem is absence of education, absence of skills and, of course, absence of employment opportunities,” he said.

The focus, he added, has got to be on “greater education, training and narrowing that gap in our knowledge. The divide is too huge.”

The State Department said that in keeping with a mandate from the US–Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act, after being signed last year by former President Barack Obama, the US last month released a “Multi-Year Strategy for Engagement with the Caribbean”.

The US Department of State said it has, in coordination with the US Agency for International Development (USAID), submitted the strategy to the US Congress that establishes a framework for enhancing the security and prosperity of the United States and its Caribbean partners.

“Considered the ‘third border’ of the United States, the Caribbean is a vital part of our efforts to counter organized crime and illicit trafficking, support democracy throughout the Western hemisphere, strengthen energy security, and create jobs through increased trade and investment,” said the State Department.

“A secure and stable Caribbean contributes to a safer and more prosperous United States by securing the US border, protecting US citizens abroad, and increasing opportunities for US exports,” it added.

Elrington described budgetary cuts announced by the new Trump Administration that have so far affected some programmes to the region as a “very serious matter”, including the HIV/AIDS project.

“For many years the United States has been a kind of escape valve…when things got tough for us we were able to go to the United States, now that is going to be severely curtailed by the emphasis they are putting on the wall and the border security.

“And of course a reduction in aid, coupled with the fact that they are charging our citizens a tax on the remittances that they send to us, all those things are going to impact us very negatively, and I think it is something the entire Caribbean society will have to look at very carefully,” he added.

 

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