Caribbean American leaders warn proposed US budget cuts could pose security problems for the region

Caribbean American leaders have warned that proposed cuts to the United States Department of State’s foreign aid budget could have serious implications for the region at a time when there is increasing concern about terrorism.

The warning came in a briefing on US-Caribbean policy, hosted by Caribbean American Congresswoman Yvette Clarke and members of the Caribbean Congressional Caucus.

The talks focused on security, a bill proposing tax remittances and the Trump administration’s recent decision to give Haitians a limited, six-month extension in the Temporary Protected Status programme, potentially sending 58,000 undocumented Haitians back to their country in January.

“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 US aid cuts and possible implications for the United States’ third border, as the Caribbean Basin is sometimes known.

“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,” he 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 US national security emanating from or transiting the region will increase exponentially,” he added.

“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.

“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.”

He said a proposed US$800 million cut in the US Treasury’s budget would “severely impact US anti-money laundering” and efforts to halt terrorism financing in the Caribbean.

Vice president of the Washington-based Institute for Caribbean Studies (ICS), Oscar Spencer, said the cuts would further exacerbate the pull-out by US 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, noting “there is a clear and present need for strong and friendly US-Caribbean relations.”

This is particularly true of Antigua and Barbuda as the twin island state remains heavily dependent on tourist arrivals from the U.S.

In the shadow of the proposed budget cuts, the withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, and ongoing rifts over the financial services industry, the executive director of Caribbean-Central American Action, Sally Yearwood, said it might seem that the Caribbean would be inconsequential to the Trump administration.

“In 2016, the Caribbean imported US$21.6 billion of US products and services. Simply put, the Caribbean is one of the United States’ most important trading partners,” she added. •