The Caribbean is a strategic priority for the United States, said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Kimberly Breier last week as she warned countries about China and Russia’s involvement in the region.
“We recognize the importance of the Caribbean to the success of this hemisphere, and believe that a region united in our shared values and shared interests will result in a more prosperous region,” she said at the eighth Caribbean-United States Security Cooperation Dialogue at the Department of State on Thursday.
“Key to this is the issue of our security.”
She added, “As you know, China has more equity capital invested in the Caribbean on a per capita basis than it does in the rest of Latin America.
“If Chinese companies operate on a level playing field in ways where they play by the rules, this investment could greatly benefit your countries.
“However, far too often, China has departed from international best practices, and when it does, its opaque methods have enabled corruption, eroded good governance and stolen countries’ sovereignty and national resources.
“In the western hemisphere, all countries should require that infrastructure development projects feature a transparent procurement process, uphold environmental and social safeguards and foster inclusive growth, in line with the standards of international financial institutions.
“In the Caribbean, there are at least nine so-called Confucius Institutes, spreading Chinese communist party propaganda throughout the region. This is incompatible with the region’s deep democratic legacy and respect for free expression.
“Russia’s presence in the Caribbean is also now stronger than at any time since the end of the Cold War. New embassies, military cooperation agreements, Russian spy ships being spotted by the U.S. Navy and Caribbean ports and mines being opened to Russian companies create strategic vulnerabilities.
“However, I want to underscore that the United States is your neighbor. We share your values and cultures and we have much at stake together in shaping the future of the region through efforts like CBSI (Caribbean Basin Security Initiative).
“Our investment decisions today will have a generational impact on our citizens in the future.”
The Caribbean-United States Security Cooperation Dialogue took place on the 10th anniversary of CSBI, a U.S. initiative to support Caribbean countries in their efforts to reduce illicit trafficking, increase citizen security and promote crime prevention.
The Bahamas was represented by Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of National Security Eugene Poitier.
Breier said that the Trump administration hopes to change the U.S.’ recent history of “neglect” of the Caribbean region.
“…The United States has had deep ties to the Caribbean since our founding,” she said.
She added, “But for a long time, many perceived that the United States had neglected our relationships in the Caribbean to our great detriment.
“No more. The Trump administration is changing that. It has put a new focus on closer ties with the region due to our shared interests and the crisis in Venezuela which requires greater cooperation, not less.”
Breier made the comments amid local concerns over the Trump administration’s failure to appoint a U.S. ambassador to The Bahamas.
She mentioned recent achievements in the region, including an increase in the number of illegal drugs seizures in The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos.
“So far in 2019, our drug interdiction efforts in The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos have already exceeded by 150 percent the amount of illegal drugs seized in 2018,” she said.
She also highlighted threats the region continues to face, including terrorism, transnational criminal organizations, illicit trafficking and illegal migration.
In particular, Breier raised concerns over the acquisition of 5G technology in the Caribbean.
“…We need to be prepared to expand our cooperation to counter future threats,” she said.
“I’ve spoken in the past about the transformational nature of 5G technology, the need to fully factor security into procurement decisions and cybersecurity challenges.
“As countries in the region make decisions about how to build out their 5G infrastructure, I urge all of you to look at best practices and incorporate security into these critical networks from the start.
“For instance, aging infrastructure, ports, highways and telecommunications systems need upgrades.
“As the Caribbean considers options for addressing these issues, look to the United States, our technical expertise, transparency and businesses and U.S. companies as resources and partners.”