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President Joe Biden’s Foreign Policy Towards the Caribbean

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Peter Lyn René
May 27, 2022

June is National Caribbean-American Heritage Month. In honor of this national occasion, it is fitting to take a closer look at President Biden’s policy towards the Caribbean. Generally, there is not one clear, cohesive policy that can be accessed through whitehouse.gov; however, a policy does exist: it permeates over a handful of federal agencies and is clearly articulated during hearings of the House and Senate Foreign Affairs Committees. Though President Biden’s Administration has broadly defined its Caribbean Policy, the most comprehensive view of this policy is mainly articulated through the U.S. Department of State through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) and The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), where the bulk of President Biden’s Caribbean Policy is implemented on our “third border.”  Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados and Prime Minister Andrew Holness of Jamaica are the only Caribbean leaders so far to meet Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House, though the leaders did not have the opportunity to meet with President Joe Biden.

The Caribbean is seen at times as one homogenous region rather than an area that encompasses roughly 1.6 million square miles, consisting of over 35 nations, with a population of 44.4 million. Frequently, the region is included with Latin America and referred to as Latin American and the Caribbean (LAC). The U.S. Embassy in Barbados, led by Ambassador Linda Taglialatela, serves eight Eastern Caribbean nations and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). Nations such as Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago have individual U.S. ambassadors.

President Biden’s Latin America and the Caribbean U.S. Policy Overview initially saw an emphasis on addressing the root causes of Central American migration. As of late April 2022, the United States had donated over 66 million vaccine doses to 29 LAC countries. But specific objectives of President Biden’s Caribbean policy came into focus on April 29, 2022 when Vice President Kamala Harris held a virtual meeting with Caribbean Leaders. The main policy objectives mentioned were:

  1. Assistance with the economic recovery from COVID-19
  2. Strengthening economic partnerships
  3. Security: addressing and solving the trafficking of drugs and guns and the associated violence
  4. Climate change, and ways to strengthen climate resilience and to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy

In her October 13, 2021 meeting with Prime Minister Mottley, and her March 30, 2022 meeting with Prime Minister Holness, Vice President Harris reiterated these policies to the two leaders and added the U.S. intention to assist in fighting transnational criminal organizations, investing $20 million to expand Jamaica’s commerce and $10 million to target at risk youth programs. Congress appropriated $74.8 million for each fiscal year from 2022 through 2026 to carry out the CBSI. The objective is to promote citizen safety, security and the rule of law in the Caribbean through increased strategic engagement with the governments of beneficiary countries and with elements of local civil society, including human rights training.

The administration is particularly concerned about China and People’s Republic of China (PRC) growing influence in the LAC region as these nations look for new markets for expanding economic growth and political influence. To counter the PRC’s influence in LAC, Andrew Herscowitz, Chief Development Officer at the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) stated to Senate Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere on March 31, 2022 that DFC has more than $10 billion invested across Latin America and the Caribbean in key sectors such as financial services, healthcare resiliency and agriculture. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) stated that China is seeking to grow their power and influence in the region and that their Belt and Road Initiative uses massive loans and infrastructure projects to lure countries in the financial and political debt traps that have spread to countries like Panama and Barbados and is exporting its governance model across the region.

Testifying on June 23, 2021 before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Laura Lochman, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs stated that for decades, the United States has partnered with the Caribbean people to promote stronger and more vibrant communities. Secretary Lochman indicated that USAID had initially invested roughly $112 million in the region in 2021, including $34 million to address emergency food security needs and to prevent malnutrition and $28 million in health humanitarian assistance, vaccine support and economic growth funding to respond to COVID-19’s impacts in the Caribbean, helping to improve the efficiency of judicial systems, promote governance and assist Barbados in carrying out their strategy to shift to renewables by 2030; USAID is also helping Saint Lucia to revise their grid to allow for the use of renewable energy.

Peter Natiello, Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for USAID Bureau of Latin American and Caribbean Affairs says that agency focuses its assistance, with its modest resources, on transparent and fair procurement reform to attract sustainable private investment, cybersecurity support, combatting China’s illegal fishing practices and the democratic rule of law and anti-corruption. Though this is not the entirety of President Biden foreign policy towards the Caribbean, it is a start and a good articulation. Celebrate June, National Caribbean-American Heritage Month.

Author: Peter Lyn René, Ph.D. is an Adjunct Professor at the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University. He holds a Doctorate Public Policy and Administration, Law and Public Policy degree.  He is the Chairman and CEO of The Caribbean American Heritage Foundation of Texas.  He has an extensive background in international Non-Profit Policy, Administration and Management, Information Technology, and Project Management.   René is a Mediator and volunteers his time mediating cases for the Harris County Dispute Resolution Center.    René serves on the U.S. Department of State Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), Bureau of Diplomatic Security.   He serves on the Executive Committee of the United Nations Council of Organizations.  René can be contacted at [email protected].

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