On May 31, President Trump reaffirmed June as National Caribbean American Heritage month, declaring “This month, we recognize the vibrant culture and patriotism of Caribbean-Americans that continue to bolster our country and enrich our lives, and we pay tribute to the strong friendship between the United States and the countries of the Caribbean.”
Americans with roots in the Caribbean have consistently enriched our society with contributions in the arts, business, journalism, technology, government, religion, the military, and sports. With more than four million Caribbean Americans now living in the United States, celebrations across the country this month acknowledge the vibrant Caribbean American influences on our culture.
The U.S. relationship with the Caribbean as our “third border” is not only historical and cultural, but also economic. Two-way trade between the United States and the Caribbean approached $36 billion in 2018. With 38 percent of goods and services sourced from the United States, we are the Caribbean’s largest market. In 2017, nearly 24 million U.S. travelers visited the Caribbean as tourists or to see friends and relatives, and more than 11,000 Caribbean youth studied at schools and universities stateside.
The Caribbean American diaspora is a powerful force in cultivating these ties. Caribbean Americans serve as informal ambassadors to their countries of heritage, showcasing the United States as a partner. They serve as first responders when humanitarian emergencies arise, drive economic development through investment, share their expertise, and engage in policy activism. They contribute to economic growth, development, and the political and social fabric of both the United States and the Caribbean, building and strengthening bridges between communities as they do so.
In 2016, Congress passed H.R. 4939, a bill mandating increased engagement with the Caribbean, including the Caribbean diaspora. In 2017, the Department of State launched the U.S.-Caribbean 2020 Strategy to promote engagement in six areas: security, diplomacy, energy, education, health, and prosperity. The strategy is a whole-of-government commitment to the region involving efforts from the U.S. military, Department of Commerce, USAID, the State Department and others to make strides in addressing key aspects of U.S.-Caribbean relations.
U.S. engagement with the Caribbean continues to grow and expand, as a progress report the State Department will soon issue to Congress on U.S.-Caribbean 2020 will highlight. Leaders across the Caribbean have already remarked that relations are the best in decades, and regional media have commented on the historic level and depth of engagement.
Working together on anticipating and recovering from hurricanes is one of the goals of the U.S.-Caribbean Resilience Partnership announced by Deputy Secretary of State Sullivan in April of this year. And earlier this month, the Department of Defense’s Southern Command led the Tradewinds 2019 exercises -- a Caribbean-focused training opportunity for military, security officials, and civilian representatives from 22 partner nations that improves responses to natural disasters and threats from land and sea. U.S. Departments of Commerce and State colleagues also participated in the U.S.-Caribbean Business Conference in Miami to work on expanding commercial ties in early June. This summer, the hospital ship USNS Comfort will make several stops in the Caribbean to provide medical assistance to support victims of the Venezuela political, economic, and humanitarian crisis in the region and care to the local communities.
We are seeing more synergies and deepening our relationship with Caribbean countries. As we wrap up Caribbean American Heritage Month 2019, we celebrate the United States’ historical ties and continued commitment to the Caribbean region—past, present, and future!
About the Author: Bailey Fohr serves in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs' Office of Caribbean Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.
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