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- As Delivered -

WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following remarks in the United States House of Representatives in support of his bill, the U.S.-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act of 2016 (H.R.4939):

“Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of this bill, which I was proud to introduce, and I yield myself as much time as I may consume.

“I want to thank our Chairman, Ed Royce, for bringing forward my legislation to ramp up our country’s engagement with our Caribbean neighbors.  I also want to thank our former Chair, Ileana-Ros Lehtinen, who joined me in offering this bill and who knows better than anyone the strategic importance of the Caribbean region.

“We spend a great deal of time focusing on challenges and opportunities in faraway places.  But it’s important that we never lose sight of our interests closer to home.  Indeed, we should be working to strengthen our ties with countries in the Caribbean.

“That’s the aim of this bill, which would prioritize U.S.-Caribbean relations for years to come.  This bill would require the Secretary of State, along with the USAID Administrator, to devise a multi-year strategy for Caribbean engagement. 

“We want to see how our diplomatic and development efforts are focused on the Caribbean, with particular attention to energy security, the rule of law, efforts to combat drug trafficking, and ways to enhance economic cooperation.

“We also want to increase our engagement when it comes to regional issues by improving our diplomatic efforts with respect to key votes at the United Nations and at the Organization of American States.

“In my view, the best way to put together a new strategy toward the Caribbean is to tap into the large and vibrant Caribbean-American community here in the United States.  I did that for the four years that I was Chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs Committee.  So this bill underscores the importance of consulting with the Caribbean diaspora community, promoting their involvement in economic development, and civilian security in the Caribbean.

“And finally, H.R. 4939 commissions two reports from the Government Accountability Office, the GAO: one which evaluates the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative and another which assesses U.S. diplomatic engagement in the Eastern Caribbean.

“I have long believed that we do a real disservice to our country by having no physical diplomatic presence in five of the countries in the Eastern Caribbean: Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. I have long said it makes no sense for us to continue to conduct diplomacy on these islands from our embassy in Barbados. They say you can’t conduct diplomacy from a bunker.  It’s also true that you cannot conduct diplomacy from hundreds of miles away.  And I hope to work with the State Department to ensure that we establish a diplomatic presence in the Eastern Caribbean as soon as possible.  China has it, Venezuela has it, others have it.  We should have it.

“It’s especially appropriate that we’re considering this bill in June, which is National Caribbean-American Heritage month.  As the President said in his proclamation, ‘The bonds between the United States and the Caribbean remain strong.  Both rooted in similar legacies—of trial and triumph, oppression and liberation—our narratives have advanced on a similar path of progress, driven forward by our shared dedication to fostering opportunity and forging a brighter future.’

“I couldn’t agree more.  So I urge my colleagues to support this measure, and I reserve the balance of my time.”