With such close proximity to the United States, many Americans have Caribbean roots. Like many others who feel the pull of the region, my own Caribbean heritage -- my parents are from the Dominican Republic -- inspired me to serve as a U.S. diplomat there and led to my current position as Director of the Office of Caribbean Affairs. More than 6 million U.S. citizens and residents visit the Caribbean every year and leave with wonderful memories: idyllic beaches, crystal blue waters, and inviting hosts. Relaxation at its best, some would argue.
The reality is that the challenges many Caribbean citizens face in their daily lives are far from relaxing. Poverty, social stigmas, and above all, crime and insecurity deeply impact the people of the region. The U.S. government's continuing commitment to confront security challenges, in particular, took me to Trinidad and Tobago this week as part of the U.S. delegation for the third annual Caribbean-United States Security Cooperation Dialogue.
Officials from 15 countries traveled to Port of Spain to discuss the region's shared citizen security partnership, the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI). This partnership is substantially reducing illicit trafficking in narcotics and arms, increasing public safety and security, and promoting social justice so all sectors of society can prosper. Each delegation from nations of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Dominican Republic included my counterparts from government ministries, as well as leaders from police forces, counternarcotics agencies, and the military. This mix helps us achieve the whole-of-government approach that will connect the dots and address underlying institutional weaknesses so we can achieve the goals of CBSI. For example, our efforts to prevent at-risk youth from turning to crime do not only focus on workforce training and education; we also help improve the management and modernization of juvenile detention facilities, ensuring that young people already affected by crime have the skills they need to turn their lives around.
In Port of Spain, we outlined our plans for the next year of programs we have built together. In my travels all over the Caribbean, I have met Caribbean citizens whose lives have changed for the better because of CBSI programs. During my visit to St. Kitts and Nevis in October, I saw police and prosecutors working together in a ground-breaking task force to fight violent crime, thanks to the technical assistance of a legal advisor from the U.S. Department of Justice sponsored under CBSI.
In the Dominican Republic, we visited an impoverished village -- near where my mother was born -- where the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has partnered with local organizations to build self-reliance and improve employment opportunities for the community. It is the same type of partnership that we are creating under CBSI. I listened as, one by one, leaders gave updates to the community from the councils the program created. The high school leader of the youth council won raucous applause; the record-keeper for the water council -- also raucous applause; and then the women's council leader spoke. She first passionately addressed her community, telling them always to be thankful for the improvements they've experienced and to make them permanent. Then she turned to us: "Before, I didn't have a future, my children didn't have a future. But now, because of this help, because of this program to improve our community, I feel truly empowered and know we are able to live a good life."
I will think of that community and that passion as we continue our work. We invite your comments: If you're living in the Caribbean, what is the biggest security challenge you face? How could governments improve the situation? The United States and our CBSI partners are always looking to do more and affect more lives.