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The United States and the Caribbean:
Trade, Democracy and Development

  Colin Powell,  U.S. Secretary of State

Copyright (c) Diario Las Américas 2002. Reprinted by permission

While world attention has focused intensely on Central and South Asia in recent months, neither President Bush nor his administration has lost sight of our commitment to America's "Third Border" – which connects us to our neighbors in the Caribbean. In fact, the events of September 11, with their devastating economic effect in the region and the loss of Caribbean nationals, have increased our concern for the countries of the Caribbean. I was able to discuss these concerns at a meeting with Caribbean Foreign Ministers in Nassau on February 7.

Our neighbors in the region have shown their solid support for us. Even as they mourned 100 Caribbean citizens from 11 countries lost in New York and Washington, the democratic countries of CARICOM immediately and resolutely denounced the attacks and offered their help in the war on terror. They have expanded intelligence-gathering activities, worked to identify terrorist-related bank accounts, and
cooperated with us to improve border controls. During my visit to Nassau, I had the opportunity to thank the region's citizens and governments on behalf of the United States for their help in the war against terror.

In the region, only Cuba has failed to raise its voice unequivocally against terror. Its government statements even carried the outrageous implication that the United States brought the September 11 attack on itself. Cuba has not provided any helpful information concerning terrorist groups. They continue to aid several international terrorist organizations and harbor a number of fugitives from U.S. justice.

In spite of a new public relations effort aimed at affecting its relationship with the United States, Cuba still denies its own citizens their most basic human rights. And it continues to embrace a Communist economic model that has never brought economic betterment to any people or nation.

Cuba's neighbors in the Caribbean are also in difficult economic straits, but for a different reason. The temporary results of September 11 in the Caribbean have been lower economic growth, increased unemployment, decreased tax revenue, and a drop in investment. This economic decline can only compound the problems associated with high rates of HIV/AIDS infection, and increased the risk of narcotics trafficking, illegal migration, and financial crime.

As I made clear to my Caribbean colleagues, U.S. government programs address the full range of problems in the region, but our pre-eminent goals are the expansion of free trade as the most effective way to bring about economic recovery, development and stability -- and the promotion of democracy and the rule of law.

The Bush administration's Third Border Initiative (TBI) seeks to broaden our engagement with the Caribbean based on recommendations by the region's leaders on the areas most critical to their economic and social development. The initiative is centered on economic capacity-building and on leveraging public/ private partnerships to help meet the pressing needs of the region.

The programs will build on the substantial gains made in the region through the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI). Nearly 20 years after its enactment, the CBI has helped raise living standards in many Caribbean and Central American countries while offering attractive prices to U.S. consumers through duty-free treatment of Caribbean Basin products. At the same time, the CBI boosts U.S. exports in the region by creating more robust markets for the United States. As the U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick has stated, "The CBI remains one of the best examples of the positive power of trade."

Efforts to expand free trade throughout the Caribbean complement the broader push for free trade in the hemisphere being made by President Bush in promoting a Free Trade Area of the Americas. FTAA offers the potential for a dramatic increase in trade flows among the countries of the Americas. The president recognizes that economic integration is vital to the future prosperity of all countries and regions in the hemisphere. He and the administration also are working tirelessly to obtain Trade Promotion Authority that will help speed the benefits of free trade throughout the world. And, as part of our Third Border Initiative, we want to help the small economies of the Caribbean prepare for a Free Trade Agreement of the Americas.

In addition to its economic provisions, the Third Border Initiative includes 20 million dollars for HIV/AIDS education and prevention efforts. This represents a three-fold increase in U.S. HIV/AIDS assistance to the region in just two years.

The initiative will help establish a Caribbean Center for Excellence in Teacher Training and provide one million dollars for student scholarships and internship programs. It will help Caribbean authorities enhance the safety and security of their airports, which are vital for maintaining a flourishing tourist industry. It will help Caribbean governments prepare for natural disasters, such as hurricanes.

Our ties to the Caribbean region are as much cultural and human as they are economic and political. The countries of the Caribbean attract millions of American visitors every year. Large numbers of Caribbean immigrants have found their way to America, including, I am proud to say, my forebears. Here, people from the region have found freedom and opportunity and have added something wonderful to the great American cultural mix.

But our primary goal must be to help ensure that the peoples of the Caribbean find new opportunities for work, prosperity and a better life at home. This is my great hope and it is the basis of United States policy toward our island neighbors.

February 25, 2001

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