United States Vice-President Joe Biden diplomatically described his discussions with Caricom leaders as “completely open, completely frank and completely straightforward”.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar confessed that at times, it became “brutal”.
Both leaders gave statements at the end of a 90-minute discussion between Biden and Caricom leaders at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, yesterday.
There was the signing of a trade and investment agreement at the end of the talks.
The tone of the discussions was set when Caricom leaders met before at the Diplomatic Centre.
“Vice-President wants a serious story to go back home (with),” Grenada Prime Minister Keith Mitchell said.
Mitchell said the meeting with Biden was going to be short, and so Caricom leaders decided to look at two critical issues—security and immigration—and how they could leverage concern in the United States over these issues.
“Our leverage is, ‘If you don’t help us, more of our people are going to flood to the US, no matter what you say.... They are going to find ways to get to the American shore if they perceive America...as the way for opportunities to empower themselves and to live a better life,” said Mitchell.
He said if the US did not help the Caribbean to find a way to address the fundamental issues, it would be “penny wise and pound foolish”.
“The American public has decided that they want to see a reduction of people coming into their country. The question, therefore, is how we can use that concern and leverage opportunities for our people?” Mitchell said.
He said the great equaliser was information and communication technology, and advancement of educational opportunities. If they have educational opportunities, there would be no need for them to leave the region, he said.
Mitchell said the regional leaders decided to appeal to Biden to have America use its influence to access more resources at concessionary terms.
“That doesn’t cost the American taxpayer a cent,” Mitchell said. “But it would certainly do a lot to empower our people and give Americans the kind of image they want to have in the region.”
Biden said in the discussion on citizen security, “I made clear that the US approaches this as a shared responsibility”.
He noted though that there was “a desire for more input and more resources from the US”.
He said after a successful programme to curb drug trafficking in Central America, there was a fear the Caribbean would regain its previous position as a major transshipment point.
Biden said US President Barack Obama and himself were also aware that small island nations faced special difficulties.
He said the cost of doing business was higher, and goods are more expensive and everything more attenuating in a globalised world.
He said they were now looking for additional ways outside of CBI (Caribbean Basin Initiative) to create growth, and the trade and investment agreement was a vehicle.
He said growth had to reach everybody, regardless of gender and sexual orientation.
“Our country is deeply invested in a partnership with all the nations of the Caribbean. Our search for growth, jobs, affordable supplies of energy, fight against transnational crime, protection of climate—all these issues have no respect for borders.”
However, Biden stressed: “In economics, security and energy, the nations of the Caribbean would go faster and further when they not only work with you (the US), but when they work together.”
He said access to education was crucial, and an investment in education and innovation important.
“Any country that out-educates us, out-competes us,” he said, quoting his wife, Dr Jill Biden.
Biden said 3.6 million people living in the US are part of a hard-working diaspora who send US$8 billion in remittances back to their home countries in the Caribbean.
He said the US Government was enabling the 11 million undocumented (illegal) residents (from all over the world) “who live in fear” to “come out of the shadows” and be afforded the dignity they deserve.
Biden said America needed its Caribbean friends.
“Affording you people, who live in my country, respect is part of how we will show respect for you.
“We need you! And I hope you would find a place in your hearts, and your economics and your quest for civilisation that we can play a part in,” he said.
In a reference to the problems being experienced by Caribbean rum producers on the US market, chairman of Caricom and President of Haiti Michel Martelly said Caricom stressed the importance of trade being conducted on a level playing field and with respect for the rules established by the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
He said Caricom asked the US to address, “in a sympathetic manner”, the region’s concern with respect to rum and Internet gaming.
Martelly said Caricom pointed to the need for the US to use its influence on the multilateral financial institutions to encourage a review of the decreasing access to concessional financing being experienced by Caricom countries categorised as middle-income.
On the topical issue of deportees and immigration, he said there were repeated pleas for increased information and intelligence-sharing, with respect to criminal deportees.
Martelly said on the issue of the US to reform its immigration policies, regional heads called for greater consideration for family unification.
He said the leaders felt the meeting with the vice-president was viewed as an important precursor to a meeting with President Obama.