Caribbean leaders say proposed cuts to the U.S. State Department’s foreign aid budget could have serious implications for the region and the United States at a time when there is increasing concern about terrorism.
Hosted by Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-New York, and members of the Caribbean Congressional Caucus, a Wednesday briefing on Caribbean policy during the Trump era featured speakers Oscar Spencer, vice president of the Institute for Caribbean Studies, and Sally Yearwood, executive director of Caribbean-Central American Action, which promotes economic development.
Their talks focused on security, a bill proposing to tax remittances and the Trump administration’s recent decision to give Haitians a limited, six-month extension in the Temporary Protected Status program, potentially sending as many as 60,000 Haitians back to their country in January.
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“The economy cannot absorb 60,000 people in 60 months. It is unrealistic, it is inhumane and it should not happen,” said Curtis Ward, a former Jamaican ambassador to the United States.
Most of Ward’s remarks, however, were focused on proposed U.S. aid cuts and possible implications for the United States’ third border, as the Caribbean Basin is sometimes known. He said he fears that a proposed 28 percent reduction in the State Department’s budget would force it to slash programs like the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), introduced by President Barack Obama in 2009 to improve citizen safety throughout the Caribbean with U.S. assistance.
“Despite being under-resourced ... CBSI is fulfilling some of its original gains to assist countries in the region to build security and law enforcement capacities to deal with drug trafficking and related criminal activities,” Ward said. “Any cuts, any reduction of current funding levels for the CBSI, would adversely affect the security capacity in the region and the threats to U.S. national security emanating from or transiting the region will increase exponentially.”
“In more recent years there have been increasing concerns about radicalization and recruitment to terrorism, in particular the recruitment of foreign fighters from the region joining ISIS in Syria and Iraq,” he added. “A more serious problem will be faced by the region and the hemisphere when these foreign terrorist fighters return to the Caribbean. They can be expected to pose future significant risks to their countries of origin and to the United States.”
In additional, a proposed $800 million cut in the U.S. Treasury’s budget, he said, would “severely impact U.S. anti-money laundering” and efforts to halt terrorism financing in the Caribbean.
Spencer said the cuts would further exacerbate the pullout by U.S. banks from the Caribbean. Known as “de-risking,” the withdrawal of the banks “has the potential to destabilize our economies” and increase poverty, he said. “There is a clear and present need for strong and friendly U.S.-Caribbean relations.”
In the shadow of the proposed budget cuts, the withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, and ongoing rifts over the financial services industry, Yearwood said, it might seem that the Caribbean would be inconsequential to the Trump administration, but it’s not.
“In 2016 the Caribbean imported $21.6 billion of U.S. products and services,” she said. “Simply put, the Caribbean is one of the United States’ most important trading partners.”