Congressman Sires Chairs Subcommittee Hearing on the Biden Administration’s Efforts to Deepen U.S. Engagement in the Caribbean
(Washington, D.C.) –Today, Congressman Albio Sires (D-NJ), Chairman of the Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, Migration and International Economic Policy, delivered the following opening remarks at the Congressional hearing he convened entitled “The Biden Administration’s Efforts to Deepen U.S. Engagement in the Caribbean”:
“I am glad we are holding this hearing to talk about a region that is too often overlooked. The countries of the Caribbean are among our closest neighbors, yet we frequently fail to pay enough attention to this region. As Chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, I am committed to ensuring that we focus more on the Caribbean going forward.
I also want to commend my friend Greg Meeks, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, who has been very clear since the start of this Congress that the Caribbean should be a top priority for the United States. I know Chairman Meeks agrees with me that the best way for us to show we are ready to elevate the Caribbean in our foreign policy is by sending vaccines to the region as quickly as possible.
I applaud the Biden administration for its announcement that it will donate eighty million vaccines globally by the end of June. However, today I am urging the administration to quickly step up our efforts in the Caribbean.
Many countries in this region are relying on Chinese vaccines because we aren’t providing any alternative. Other countries, like Haiti, have yet to distribute a single vaccine dose, while the pandemic claims more lives each day. Given the direct travel routes between Caribbean countries and the U.S. and the close ties between our diaspora communities and countries throughout the Caribbean, it is vital to U.S. national security that we help the Caribbean overcome this pandemic.
We should be proud of the fact that the vaccines produced in the U.S. are the most effective in the world.
While I understand that the Biden administration wants to strengthen Co-Vax, I believe that we should be sending vaccines directly to countries in need. We should get the credit for the vaccines we donate. Beyond vaccines, we need to work with our Caribbean friends on the long road to recovery in the wake of the pandemic.
Many of these countries depend heavily on tourism, an industry that has been crushed by the pandemic and which is likely to rebound slowly. In the Dominican Republic, we have a government that is eager to deepen engagement with the United States, but so far they have had to rely on vaccines from China. We should step up and send vaccines to our partner in need. We should also help support their fight against corruption and deepen our security cooperation under the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative.
In Guyana, where I traveled last year, we should work to ensure the proceeds of oil revenues benefit the entire population. As I said during that trip, we want to engage all actors in Guyana, including businesses, civil society, the current government, and the opposition to advance inclusive economic growth. The severe flooding that Guyana has faced in recent months is a reminder that climate change is having devastating impacts for our friends in the Caribbean. We need to step up our efforts to support climate resilience and energy security in the region.
In Haiti, I am deeply concerned about the gang violence that has spiraled out of control under a government that is no longer able to carry out its most basic functions. In just two weeks, over eight thousand women and children have been forced from their homes in Port-au Prince due to this violence, according to the United Nations. I am glad that Secretary Blinken spoke out against a constitutional referendum there. We must do more to help the Haitian people overcome the economic, political, and security crises they are facing.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about how we can deepen our economic and security cooperation with partners in the region and harness the Development Finance Corporation to counter China’s influence in the region and help advance a rapid economic recovery. The COVID-19 pandemic has created tremendous challenges for the Caribbean, but it also provides an opportunity for us to demonstrate our commitment to this region. I truly hope that we will seize it.”