It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light

Mwen se echantiyon yon ras kap boujonnen men ki poko donnen

Si vous voulez vous faire des ennemis essayer de changer les choses

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Call to Action: Caribbean Diaspora Need to Get Involved by Stanley Lucas

US-Caribbean relations have been strained in recent years. Events over the last few months, including the Guyana and Trinidad involvement in the alleged terrorist plot on JFK airport and the bumbled attempts of Haitian nationals to organize an attack on a Chicago tower, highlight the need to build some bridges with our neighboring region to address mutual challenges.

In the next two weeks, Caribbean leaders will meet in Washington, D.C. to discuss regional priorities. High on the list of topics will be institutionalizing mechanisms to work more closely with the US on terrorist-related issues. Despite its proximity to the U.S., however, the Caribbean is not a priority for the Administration. In addition to being spread thin internationally, there is no organized channel to provide regular, accurate, and useful information to the U.S. policy makers. --------------------------------------------------

Government-to-government dialogues are key, but to truly move U.S.-Caribbean relations onto the radar screens of U.S. policy makers, we need two tracks: government and private sector. To date, the Caribbean private sector has had limited interaction with the Washington policy community. Interaction has been ad hoc at best. It is time to bring some organization to the U.S.-Caribbean policy debate and engage the Diaspora community and the local business leaders, who could play a much larger role in shaping the policy debate. The Caribbean countries need a clear and compelling voice in Washington, D.C. to educate policy makers and the public.-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Let us take a lesson from our colleagues in the Dominican Republic. Their private sector and prominent Diaspora community has been very engaged in promoting the DR. Notable people such as Sammy Sousa, Oscar de la Renta and private business leaders have taken on the task of promoting the DR among the US business community and on Capitol Hill. Partly as a result of their ongoing efforts, the Dominican Republic was actually included in the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). It was subsequently renamed the CAFTA-DR agreement.
It is now more than ever important to build international allies for the Caribbean. The region is fragile. Historically, it has been colonized by the major powers, racked with political instability and endemic poverty, and more recently it has been a pawn in the Taiwan-China rivalry. There are now indications that the region is a target in Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's plans to roll back economic and political reforms in the region. This would be a tragedy. ------------------------------------------------------------------

For sure, the Caribbean leaders need to implement economic and political plans that advance their countries and ensure a productive role in an increasingly globalized economy. There is much work to be done at the policy level as many countries lag desperately behind international standards. In order to get the attention of key policy makers, however, the Caribbean leadership will need the support and active engagement of the Diaspora community and business leaders. ------------------------------------------

This is critical and those who will benefit from advancement must stand up and take ownership in this process as well. There are well established bilateral business councils -- Committees of 100, foundations and societies – that promote countries from Brazil to China to Russia. Where are the Caribbean societies and policy debates? They are sorely lagging behind. We need to take the opportunity presented by this forum and by our common goals against terrorism to build the strong links needed to create a brighter future for the Caribbean region.