US relations with Caribbean boosted
April 24, 2009
US relations with Caribbean boosted

Relations between the United States and the Caribbean seem poised to take off following the Summit of the Americas held from April 17 to 19 in Trinidad and Tobago.{{more}}

Representative Elliot Engel, who was part of the United States delegation to the Summit said that in the more than 20 years since he has been in the United States Congress, this is the most optimistic he has felt about relations between the United States and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

Engel, a Democrat who is Chair of the Sub-committee on the Western Hemisphere in the US Congress, expressed this view while making brief remarks at a cocktail reception he and Brent Hardt, Charge d’Affaires of the US Embassy hosted on Sunday April 19th at Mariners Hotel at Villa.

Engel, who was here on a two-day familiarisation visit as a guest of the Government of St. Vincent and the

Grenadines, was accompanied to St. Vincent and the Grenadines by Gregory Meeks and Yvette Clarke, who are also Democrats and members of the United States House of Representatives.

Engel, who represents the Bronx and Mt. Vernon areas of New York, said during the Summit, his congressional delegation had several very successful meetings with CARICOM leaders. As a result, he is now very optimistic about the future.

Congressman Meeks, in a very upbeat address at the reception, which was attended by leaders of all three local political parties, as well as representatives of a wide cross section of civil society, said that brighter days are coming. Meeks represents the 6th District of New York (Queens) and is the Chair of the Congressional sub-Committee on International Monetary Policy and Trade. He said that he understands the bind countries like

St. Vincent and the Grenadines find themselves in with the declining banana industry and pressure being put on the financial services sector.

Speaking on behalf of the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Foreign Minister Sir Louis Straker described the United States as the “Greatest country in the world… and the greatest philanthropic country in the world”. He urged the USA not to forget us, as, “We are your neighbours”.

Sir Louis, who has been a close friend of Congressman Engel for over 40 years, since they were both students at Herbert H. Lehman College, City University of New York, said that the United States and SVG are very good friends, but being good friends doesn’t mean that St. Vincent and the Grenadines will not be critical of certain policies of the United States with which we disagree.

Describing the three representatives as “great people” who have “influence and power” in Congress, Sir Louis said that this country “intends to lean on them,” and indicated that he had held discussions with them about this country’s need for assistance with the international airport presently under construction at Argyle and a CT scan for the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital.

Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace joined Sir Louis in welcoming the delegation and reminded Congresswoman Clarke that it was he who had invited her mother, former New York City Councilmember, Dr. Una S.T. Clarke, to be the guest speaker at a NDP convention a few years ago.

Eustace said it bothers him that each year when our budget is presented, no capital projects funded by the United States appear. The Opposition Leader said he is looking forward to some change in that direction, especially bearing in mind the current global financial crisis. He says the absence of such assistance from the US sends the wrong message and no small country can exist without support.

Eustace also expressed pleasure at the tone of compromise the summit took and said he is encouraged that United States President Barack Obama made it clear that he is moving forward on an equal basis with partners around the world. The

Opposition Leader added that he is looking forward to further improvement in this country’s relationship with the US.

Earlier on Sunday, the US delegation toured part of the mainland and visited a project being undertaken by the US Peace Corps with the local JEMS organization. Congresswoman Clarke, who is the representative of the 11th District of New York (Brooklyn) said she was impressed by the young people she met during the tour. She also spoke of the influential role played in her upbringing by the Hewitt family of St. Vincent who were her neighbours when she was growing up in Brooklyn.

The congressional delegation was accompanied on the visit by a fourteen-member entourage comprising staff, security escorts and representatives of the US Embassy in Barbados. The delegation left the country on Monday evening.