Both houses of Congress have passed a bill requiring the U.S. Secretary of State to formulate a plan for the Caribbean region concerning drug trafficking, energy, health care and other topics, and the legislation awaits President Barack Obama’s signature to become law.
H.R. 4939, the United States-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act of 2016, was sponsored by Reps. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL.) It requires the secretary of state to give Congress annual briefings on the Caribbean and a progress report no later than two years from the inception of the plan. The plan is due within 180 days of the bill’s enactment into law.
"The passage of this bill represents an acknowledgement of the importance of the Caribbean and more importantly a commitment to more substantive engagement toward energy security and drug trafficking interdiction in the region,” Delegate Stacey Plaskett said in a statement to the Source.
“Further consideration of the Caribbean region in the long-term National Security strategy of the United States will only serve to advantage the territory, as it can lead to increased resources to mitigate these issues," Plaskett said.
Engel said, “At a time when our friends in the Caribbean need us more than ever, this bill will prioritize our partnership with the subregion for many years to come. It is long past time to have a multiyear strategy that will allow us to increase engagement with the Caribbean, especially when it comes to energy and security."
In a joint release with Ros-Lehtinen, Engels continued, "The countries of the Caribbean are profoundly important to the United States, and particularly to the many Caribbean-American citizens in our country.”
Ros-Lehtinen said, "We must strengthen our relationship with Caribbean nations so that they view the U.S. as a reliable partner and push back against the negative influence of (Venezuelan President Nicholas) Maduro’s corrupt regime in the region."
She continued, "It is vital to work proactively and collaboratively with Caribbean nations to promote close cooperation in the areas of security, trade, illicit trafficking and energy, and I look forward to seeing this important legislation implemented in order to advance our own national security interests.”
The plan from the secretary of state is supposed to outline an approach to improve diplomatic engagement with the governments of the Caribbean region, including with respect to human rights and democracy. It also should describe how the United States can help Caribbean countries use their own resources to diversify their economies. And it should look at ways to boost Caribbean residents’ participation in the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs existing programs.
While aimed at the wider community of Caribbean nations, the U.S. Virgin Islands is a part of the region and many Virgin Islanders have family and relatives all over the region who may be impacted by the change in the United States’ approach.