Biden heads to Brazil after ‘brutal’ discussions in Caribbean

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden left Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday after what he and leaders of the mostly English-speaking 15-member Caribbean Community and the Dominican Republic called “frank” discussions on issues of mutual interests.

“It was completely open, completely frank and completely straightforward — even where we disagreed,” Biden said before heading to Brazil, where he will spend three days discussing energy matters and improved U.S. relations with the South American power.

Energy-rich Trinidad was the second stop on the vice president’s three-nation tour that began Sunday in Colombia. Meeting with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Biden stressed the U.S. support for that nation’s “remarkable progress” in pushing peace and stressed — as he did with Caribbean leaders — the Obama administration’s desire to work as a partner.

“Our country is deeply invested and wants to become more deeply invested in a partnership with all the nations of the Caribbean,” Biden said at a news conference, where he was joined by Caricom Chairman and Haitian President Michel J. Martelly and Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

“Our search for growth, jobs and affordable supplies of energy, our fight against transnational crime, and the protection of our climate and our environment — all of these issues, all of these issues have no respect for borders and they affect all of our borders,” Biden said. “They directly affect the people of my country and each and every one of yours.”

Persad-Bissessar said the leaders’ discussion with Biden was “at times brutal” as they voiced concerns on issues ranging from trade and security to the perception that the U.S. doesn’t care about the Caribbean. The U.S. and rum-producing Caribbean nations have been in a long-running trade dispute over subsides for U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico producers, while the U.S. and Antigua and Barbuda remain at odds over Internet gambling websites.

“We believe that today’s discussions further strengthen the relationship between the Caribbean and the United States,” Martelly said. “It would no doubt help the United States to articulate clearly its policy toward the Caribbean, which would provide an overarching framework for the relationship and cooperation.”

Biden’s tour of the region comes as the hemisphere is increasingly being courted by other global powers. As Biden prepares to return to the U.S., the People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping is scheduled to arrive in Trinidad as part of his own Latin American tour before meeting with President Barack Obama next week in California. Last week, the Obama administration downplayed the China visit, but acknowledged that Biden’s tour is “our latest demonstration of an approach to engagement.”

While discussions with Caribbean leaders focused mostly on regional concerns, Biden did find time to make a pitch for a domestic issue — immigration reform. He noted that while 11 million undocumented immigrants are living in the shadows in the United States, “3.6 million members of a hardworking, Caribbean diaspora” live in the U.S.

“As a consequence, they send more than $8 billion in remittances back to their home countries in the Caribbean,” he said.

Biden ended the visit by signing a trade agreement with Caricom and a renewable energy agreement with Trinidad. Leaders also noted that the visit is a prelude to a future summit with Obama.

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