Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to the Caribbean next month — her first trip to the region since taking office — to discuss climate change, energy, food security and economic prosperity in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the White House confirmed to the Miami Herald.
Harris will visit Nassau, Bahamas, on June 8, and along with Bahamas Prime Minister Philip Davis will co-host a gathering of leaders from the Dominican Republic and the 15-member Caribbean Community bloc known as CARICOM. Davis is currently chairman of CARICOM, which has recently been stepping up its foreign engagement with the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom.
The Bahamas meeting will build on previous meetings the vice president has had with Caribbean leaders, including at last year’s Ninth Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles. During the summit, President Joe Biden promised to “intensify” relations between the United States and the Caribbean after he dropped in on a discussion between Harris and Caribbean leaders, much to the delight of the presidents and prime ministers who had complained about poor relations in recent years.
With Harris taking the lead, the U.S. used the summit to roll out a new “Caribbean Climate Partnership” to tackle climate change and the region’s energy crisis. The focus is to help Caribbean governments get better access to financing for climate and clean-energy projects, and make the transition from fossil fuels— something some member states told the Biden administration they are not quite yet ready to do, given the concentration of oil and natural gas reserves in Trinidad, Suriname and Guyana.
After the in-person gathering at the Summit of the Americas, where Caribbean leaders spoke about their priorities and concerns after the COVID-19 pandemic rattled their economies, high-level U.S. and Caribbean teams went to work on how best to address the energy and food security crises in the region. Harris then convened a group of Caribbean leaders at the Blair House in Washington to review the progress and decide on the next steps.
Harris and Caribbean leaders will continue those discussions during The Bahamas meeting, Kirsten Allen, the vice president’s press secretary, said.
“The vice president’s trip delivers on the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to advance cooperation with the Caribbean in pursuit of shared prosperity and security, and in recognition of the common bonds and interests between our nations,” she added.
Harris’ trip follows in the step of President Biden, who as vice president under Barack Obama visited Trinidad and Tobago and the Dominican Republic. Biden’s visit to Santo Domingo in 2014 was the first time a U.S. vice president had visited the Dominican Republic since Hubert Humphrey traveled there in 1966. Among the issues on Biden’s agenda then: energy security and crime, two issues that Harris will also broach.
Brian A. Nichols, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, said Harris has provided “incredible personal leadership and time” in the United States’ relations with the member states of the Caribbean regional bloc.
“Her travel to the region, to The Bahamas, and meeting with CARICOM leaders is another sign of her personal leadership and commitment to our region that’s leading to concrete progress and I think you’re going to see some very positive announcements during her visit,” he said in an interview.
In February, Nichols led a U.S. delegation to the bloc’s meeting in Nassau, where the climate crisis and the security situation in Haiti were among the leading agenda items.
“What I’m very proud of is the amount of handwork that we’ve done to make real progress on the issues that matter to our partners in CARICOM,” he said. “And that’s food security, finance issues, energy issues, addressing the climate challenges that they face. Those have been areas of real progress for us and in the conversations that I’ve been honored to co-chair between the U.S. and CARICOM.”
While the climate crisis and energy are expected to take up much of Harris’ discussions, there are other pressing concerns that Caribbean leaders have on their minds. This includes the tourism-dependent region’s economic recovery from the pandemic, which slowed growth and forced countries to take on more debt, and illegal arms trafficking.
The Caribbean region accounts for about half of all U.S. fire-arms export investigations since 2020, according to the U.S. Commerce Departments’ Bureau of Industry and Security, and the region is seeing an increase in gun-related homicides.
In March, The Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago supported the government of Mexico in a lawsuit against gun manufacturers in the United States. Three U.S. lawmakers, including the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, have since written to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, asking for the congressional investigative arm to look at the consequences of firearms trafficked from the U.S. to the Caribbean.
A White House official noted that while this is Harris’ first trip to the Caribbean as vice president, she has convened several multilateral meetings with regional leaders, including Dominican President Luis Abinader, since April 2022. In The Bahamas, Harris also plans to discuss promoting economic opportunity, development financing and Haiti.
Harris’ trip toThe Bahamas takes place during Caribbean Heritage Month, and also just days before Caribbean Community leaders host a gathering of Haitian political leaders in Jamaica on June 11-13. CARICOM leaders earlier this month, agreed to appoint three former prime ministers — St. Lucia’s Dr. Kenny Anthony, Jamaica’s Bruce Golding and Perry Christie of The Bahamas — to work with a technical support group to engage with Haitian leadership to try to broaden consensus around a path to elections, security and other areas of agreement.
Since the beginning of the year, more than 1,400 Haitians have been killed in gang-related conflicts, most of it in the country’s capital, and since the July 7, 2021, assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, the country’s political impasse has worsened. There is no elected president or parliament, and the police are under attack by gangs. Calls by the Biden administration, Haiti Prime Minister Ariel Henry and U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres for an outside force to come help the police have gone unheeded.
Though Henry crafted an agreement in December to put in place a High Council of Transition to help provide a road map for elections, the U.S. and Canada have asked for a broader political consensus. Last week, Davis, as chairman of CARICOM, sent out invitations to Haitian leaders, inviting them to Jamaica for the three-day meeting.