Earlier this week, Roberta Jacobson, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, met with Caribbean countries' ambassadors to the United States. Their meeting, which coincided with the celebration of National Caribbean-American Heritage Month in the United States, reflected the deep ties of shared heritage, shared interests, and shared aspirations between the United States and countries of the Caribbean.
With more than 34 million people and 16 independent nations sharing a rich and diverse cultural and ethnic heritage, the Caribbean is a diverse region that includes some of the hemisphere's richest and poorest nations. Its history parallels that of the United States in the fight to end slavery and subsequent struggles for independence from colonial rule. One of the first acknowledgments of U.S. independence came from the Dutch Caribbean island of St. Eustatius when, in November 1776, the commander of Fort Oranjestad ordered his cannon to return the salute of a visiting U.S. ship. Today, more than five million persons of Caribbean heritage live in the United States, many in large diaspora communities located throughout the country.
In addition to our shared heritage, present-day challenges and opportunities inseparably link our nations. U.S. interests in the Caribbean are many, and events in the region have a direct impact on the United States. Caribbean nations are our partners in promoting and achieving economic development, democratic governance, citizen security, clean energy, and improved health and education in the region.
With the United States, most nations of the Caribbean share a democratic tradition and commitment to the rule of law. Caribbean nations increasingly use their own democratic experience to play constructive leadership roles in the hemisphere. Dominican Republic President Fernandez was central to the plan that resolved the recent political upheaval in Honduras, allowing former President Zelaya refuge there. In Haiti, Caribbean countries acted as strong partners in helping to ensure a peaceful political transition as well as in contributing to its reconstruction after the devastating earthquake.
Threats to security and citizen safety due to narcotics trafficking and its related violence represent one of the most critical concerns we share in the Western Hemisphere. Through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), together we are taking a more comprehensive and long-term approach to reduce illicit trafficking, increase public safety and security, and promote social justice.
The economies of the Caribbean countries depend highly on trade, and face the twin challenges of adjusting to the effects of a dynamic, competitive global market and advancing economic integration. Entrepreneurship is a promising path toward enhancing job creation and economic development. The Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs is working to establish the region's first small business development center to help aspiring entrepreneurs. The center will initially benefit from an exchange between the Government of Barbados and a development center in Barbados' sister city of Albany, New York. U.S. Agency for International Development programs also promote youth entrepreneurship in partnership with the private sector in Jamaica and other countries.
The United States is interested in engaging with Caribbean governments and civil society to develop a regional strategy to address gender issues, including women's and girls' economic, political, and educational empowerment, as well as reducing gender-based violence. Working together, we can also combat gender discrimination and trafficking in persons. Promoting social inclusion is one key to meeting these goals.
The Caribbean is also highly vulnerable to high energy prices and the effects of climate change. Through the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas, the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs plans to pursue two initiatives -- the Advancing Sustainable Energy Solutions in the Caribbean competition (winners to be announced) and a Caribbean Climate Change Adaptation Initiative -- to assist the Caribbean in addressing these urgent, global challenges.
Together with our Caribbean partners, the United States is committed to achieving security and prosperity for our mutual benefit and that of future generations.