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Secretary Blinken’s Remarks at the CARICOM Plenary

Secretary Blinken’s Remarks at the CARICOM Plenary
Antony J. Blinken, US Secretary of State

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you very, very much.  Prime Minister Skerrit, CARICOM chair, Prime Minister Rowley, Secretary General Barnett – all of our esteemed colleagues here today, all of our friends, it is an honor to be with you to celebrate CARICOM’s 50th anniversary.

If you go back to the Fourth of July of 1973, when CARICOM’s initial members signed its founding treaty, the then prime minister of Jamaica, Michael Manley, said this:  “We must seek our strength in our unity.  And then we must dedicate that strength to the building of a new life of opportunity and security for our people.”  I think that’s a very powerful mission statement that CARICOM has now carried on for 50 years.

Prime Minister Manley was speaking about CARICOM, yet his words also describe perfectly today’s partnership between CARICOM and the United States, a fellow Caribbean nation.

Unity starts with listening.  This is why we have engaged intensely with leaders across the region to hear – to hear the issues that matter most to your citizens.  I was with President Biden and Vice President Harris when they heard directly from our Caribbean friends at the Summit of the Americas.  We’ve heard you since then in the joint action committees that we’ve created on climate, on energy security, on food security, on access to finance.  And we hear you every day through our diplomatic posts throughout the region.

And I think what we’ve heard underscored that to solve some of the biggest challenges facing our people, we simply have to work together – and work together more effectively in genuine partnership.  And I know that our Congress shares that view.  That’s why this extraordinary delegation of Congress is here at the same time, led by our leader, Hakeem Jeffries, to demonstrate America’s support for deepening our longstanding ties across the region.  And that includes strengthening our cooperation at the regional and also at the international level.

In no area is this more evident than your leadership – everyone around this table – in actually rallying the world to address the climate crisis, and to strengthen energy security for all of us.

We know that most of the communities being hardest hit by climate change have done the least to contribute to it.  We recognize that as the world’s second biggest emitter, and the number one emitter historically – currently the second biggest emitter – we have a unique responsibility, the United States, to address this problem.

So let me share briefly what we’re doing on that score in our efforts to meet our responsibility.

First, we’ve been working relentlessly to avoid a climate catastrophe.  President Biden returned the United States to the Paris Agreement – one of the very first things he did when he took office – he enhanced our national pledges, and he’s dedicating unprecedented resources to meet the targets through the Inflation Reduction Act.  This is by far, as I think you all know, the largest commitment to tackling the climate crisis in history by any country anywhere.

Each of the countries of the G7 has actually adopted plans that, if implemented – and that’s an important if – will actually help keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.  We need other major economies outside of the G7 to do the same.  Your partnership, your leadership in pressing the biggest emitters to make the necessary commitments – and then holding us to those commitments – that is indispensable.  And we really deeply value the work that you’re doing on that score.

Second, we’re looking to build greater resilience and adaptation to climate change, while accelerating the region’s transition to clean energy.  This is the driving focus between the partnership we established, the U.S.‑Caribbean Partnership to Address the Climate Crisis 2030 – a program that we launched last year to try to make energy systems cleaner, more resilient, and more affordable – like geothermal projects in Dominica and Saint Kitts and Nevis, solar microgrids in St. Lucia, electric vehicles in Barbados and Jamaica and Suriname, just to name a few examples.  With the additional $20 million that Vice President Harris announced in climate funding just last month in the Bahamas, we’ll continue to build together on those efforts.

We’re working to strengthen disaster preparedness – which you alluded to – and response, improving early warning systems, developing risk maps that predict the areas that are most likely to be hit by storms, helping countries develop new tools to adapt to emerging challenges – as we did, for example, at the Caribbean Water Conference that was co-hosted with Barbados, just a few weeks ago.

Third, we are working to expand access to international finance.  This is something we heard so powerfully from a number of you both in Los Angeles and in other meetings.  We’ve heard loud and clear that the scale and disproportionate impact of the climate crisis demands a new approach.  We agree.  A year ago, Treasury Secretary Yellen and I committed to work with CARICOM to make tangible progress toward the goal, not simply to recognize the problem but to actually do something about it.

We said that we would press financial institutions to allow countries to defer debt payments in the event of climate shocks and natural disasters.  At our urging, the World Bank agreed to offer debt deferment clauses in their loans by 2025.  We’ve made a similar commitment in the United Stats.  We’re urging other lenders to step up with us.  And we also know that with new leadership at the World Bank this is an intense focus for that institution.

We said we’d expand assistance to help governments manage the financial risk of disasters.  At the recent global financing summit in Paris, the World Bank rolled out a disaster risk toolkit that would do just that.  We’re also supporting the IMF’s new resilience and sustainability trust, which is offering concessional financing – loans issued below the market rate – to Barbados and to Jamaica.  We’re pushing for access to similar financing to countries in the region that are experiencing climate shocks.

But we are far from finished.  We have a lot more to do on this front.  Among other reforms, we need to create financing to help countries caught another middle-income trap, which you all know very well – those not developed enough to qualify for membership in groups like the G20, and yet too developed to qualify for aid from institutions like the World Bank.  These investments are not just necessary to protect against threats – they are a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create good-paying jobs in communities across the region.  We profoundly see not just the imperative of acting on the threat, but also the opportunity (inaudible).

They’re just one of the ways that we’re partnering with you to expand inclusive economic opportunity.  This ranges in scale from micro loans to entrepreneurs, to macro financing for infrastructure.  The United States remains the Caribbean’s biggest trading partner, something we’re very proud of, and for decades our Congress has given preferential trading status to key industries in countries throughout the region.

We’re also working to advance other regional and global priorities, from championing our shared commitment to democracy and the rule of law to supporting free and fair elections in Venezuela through the Mexico City process; to transforming our region’s approach to mass migration and displacement to addressing, as you emphasized, the ongoing crisis in Haiti.

And just to say a few words about that, the United States shares the commitment felt throughout the region to help Haitian people shape their future, restore the country’s democratic order through free and fair elections.  Haitians cannot achieve these critical goals without security.  That’s why we’ve been and remain the largest donor to Haiti’s national police, why we support the Haitian Government’s call for a multinational force to help its police restore security.

Lots that we can talk about and, I know, will talk about over the next day on that front.  But this is an area of intense focus for us, and we’re determined with you to do everything to help the Haitian people get it right.

The United States is also committed to partnering with you to address growing food insecurity across the region.  This has, of course, intensified dramatically in recent years, a combination of climate change, of COVID, of conflict, including Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

According to a recent UN report, one in two people – one in two people – in the Caribbean cannot afford a healthy diet.  In response, the United States continues to provide emergency food assistance to parts of the region where people are experiencing acute hunger and malnutrition.  Just since February of last year, we’ve contributed an additional $13.5 billion to fight hunger around the world.  We remain the World Food Programme’s largest donor, providing more than 50 percent of its budget.

But at the same time, one of the things I’ve heard very clearly from talking to so many of our partners is a desire to be able to grow sufficient food to provide for your own people.  We’re bringing to bear our expertise from across the entire government to help achieve that goal – from the Department of Agriculture to the Environmental Protection Agency to USAID.  Today I’m pleased to announce that we’ll dedicate an additional nearly 5.5 million to help small farmers in the Caribbean boost productivity, increase access to technology and markets, and adopt climate smart practices.

We’re also working together to address another priority that you share, and that is to stem the rising tide of violent crime taking a devastating toll on communities across the region – especially, we know,  young people – hurting local business, undercutting foreign investment, eroding the trust of citizens in their governments.  Last July, Congress passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.  This included new federal provisions that increase criminal penalties to up to 15 years in jail for traffickers, straw purchasers.  This is a tool that’s vital for holding accountable those who smuggle U.S. arms to the Caribbean.

We support the creation of CARICOM’s new Crime Gun Intelligence Unit, which is improving information sharing among our law enforcement agencies and strengthening the capacity of countries to investigate gun-related crimes.  Just last month, we created a new position at the Department of Justice to deepen collaboration among us on gun prosecutions.  Today I’m pleased to announce that Michael Ben’Ary – a very experienced DOJ prosecutor – will serve as the United States very first coordinator for Caribbean Firearms Prosecutions.

A half-century ago, when Caribbean nations came together to create this organization, you made the deliberate decision to call it a community.  And it’s a word that recognizes that to fulfill people’s hopes, to meet their needs, countries across the region have to work together and every member has to do their part.  I think that’s never been more true than it is today – not only for CARICOM members, but also for the United States.  We know that our fates are intertwined.  We know that to deliver for our people, as Prime Minister Manley said so many years ago, we have to find even more strength in our unity.

And the reason that I’m here and the reason that my colleagues are here today on this very powerful occasion is to tell you, to share with you that you can count on America being by your side – as a neighbor, as a partner, as a friend, and as, together, we work to genuinely build unity and forge the future of our community, this community that we share, and do it together.

So, thank you so much for having us here today.  We’re grateful to be part of this truly historic occasion.  Thank you.