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BEHIND THE HEADLINES: A case for Caribbean assistance

Tony Best

BEHIND THE HEADLINES: A case for Caribbean assistance

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Do for Barbados, Antigua, Jamaica and their neighbours what is being planned for Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Mozambique and their African  neighbours.
Any such plan of action should include trade and other initiatives designed to spur economic growth at a time when Barbados, the Bahamas, Dominica, Grenada and the rest of the region are facing serious economic challenges.
That, in essence, is the bottom line in an appeal articulated to BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY by Eliot Engel, a top Democrat on the House of Representatives influential Foreign Affairs Committee.
What he had to say is considered important because if his party gains control of the House by winning a majority of seats in the upcoming November Congressional election, an unlikely scenario by the way, Engel would become chairman of the influential panel.
“I think that what is being planned for Africa is a good move and we must act on it,” said Engel. “The Caribbean island nations are going through tough economic times and we should be doing more to help them.
“I have always felt that when it comes to the Caribbean a little bit of money goes a long, long way and it pains me to see that these countries are crying out for help.
“We see China or Russia, even Iran trying to move into the region. We need to concentrate on supporting the economies of these countries.”
Engel made his comments a few days after United States President Barack Obama praised the three-day US-Africa summit in Washington that was attended by almost 50 African heads of state and governments.
He described the massive gathering as “an extraordinary event” which is expected, among other things, to inject US$37 billion in private and public sector investments in agriculture, health and economic development.
It is also expected to boost human rights standards and improve security on the continent.
Obama called the talks a “forcing mechanism for decisions and actions, so we agreed that the US-African summit will be a recurring event to hold ourselves accountable for our commitment and to sustain our momentum.”
As the “ranking” member of the Foreign Affairs panel, Engel, a lawmaker on Capitol Hill for more than 20 years, participated in some of the summit’s official functions and he called the meetings an important step forward. But he was quick to say he didn’t understand why the US hadn’t done more for the Caribbean, especially the English-speaking states that belong to CARICOM.
“We need to concentrate on supporting the economies of these countries and we should see the Caribbean-American community in the United States as an important part of our country,” was the way Engel put it.
“Immigrants from these nations have come to the US and have made great strides, contributing to our prosperity. I really believe we should be pushing economic development in the Caribbean, the details of which can be worked out by negotiators. It always irritates me that we don’t have the kind of ties with the Caribbean that are necessary and vital to our interests.
“The Caribbean is close to us geographically but it always seems to me that when we consider the region for assistance something comes up and the countries get pushed to the background,” Engel complained. “I am tired of that happening and I really want that to stop. We need to help the Caribbean and other countries and region. We can and must do both. The Caribbean is an important partner in the Western Hemisphere.”
Engel who is running for re-election has a relatively large West Indian constituency in his  16th Congressional District in New York which includes many neighborhoods in the Bronx, Yonkers, Mt. Vernon, Scarsdale, Mamaroneck, Riverdale, Co-op City and Woodlawn. At least 1 500 Bajans and Guyanese are his constituents. When the Democrats controlled the House a few years ago he was Chairman of the Western Hemisphere sub-committee  of the Foreign Affairs panel and he led a Congressional delegation to the Eastern Caribbean.
“People from the Caribbean, especially the eastern Caribbean are among the most hard-working Americans and immigrants in our country,” Engel asserted. “They arrived here from the islands and set about making an important contribution. I was part of the US-Africa summit and I believe it was important for us to have this African initiative but I am also concerned about our friends and neighbors in the Caribbean. They are closest to us.
“The ties between the US and the Caribbean are even closer. Yes, we should have an initiative for them.”
As the 67-year old federal lawmaker sees it, any package of assistance to the island-nations should include a strong economic component
that would address many of the crucial needs of America’s neighbours who are suffering from stagnating economies, high unemployment, a heavy debt burden, and widening fiscal deficits.
“They need help and they are our neighbours and should be assisted,” said the Congressional representative who is expected to gain easy re-election this year.