CaribZone Commentary: Aubrey Campbell –Wednesday, June 29th.
Gentle folks, I continue to give thanks to the Father of Creation, for the ability to converse, constructively while there is life and livity.
Last week, I made my second journey to the Hill, Capitol Hill that is, in the nation’s capital, Washington, DC, at the invitation of Roxanne Valies, a candidate on the Democratic Party ticket for Florida State Representative – District 95 (Broward County). The election is set for August 30.
It was my second sojourn and it satisfied another of my passion, foreign (international) affairs. I was there for the first time in October 2000, to cover the MLS fifth season finals between the Chicago Fire and the Kansas City Wizards at the RFK Stadium, satisfying another passion, sports. At that time I was an account executive/sports editor for the Gleaner Company (NA), with offices in Queens, NY.
Background and context by the tenth anniversary celebrations marking June as Caribbean American Heritage Month, I got to see and hear, first hand, over a three day period, the discourse and the dignitaries that are shaping the policies and programs that are shaping the regional politics in the Caribbean community.
What was most significant about this Caribbean exercise is that after years, two decades plus, of advocacy by the Institute for Caribbean Studies (ICS), for inclusion of the Caribbean Diaspora in the political conversation on the hill, the White House and more importantly, the House of Representatives (HR), have taken notice.
It was very refreshing to read the revised proclamation over the signature of the sitting POTUS, Barack Hussein Obama, noting that, ‘the bonds between the United States and the Caribbean remain strong. Both rooted in similar legacies – of trial and triumph, oppression and liberation’ and that, ‘the United States is committed to working with the nations of the Caribbean to advance security, liberty and prosperity’.
Put that side by side with HR 4939; The US-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act, a bill introduced by Congressman Eliot Engel of New York, requiring that the Secretary of State and the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), submit to Congress a multiyear strategy focused on enhancing engagement with the countries of the Caribbean and enhancing outreach to Diaspora communities in the United States. The legislation puts particular emphasis on energy security, countering violence, expanded diplomacy, among other priority areas.
It was not only words but deeds, as a number of lawmakers, policy makers and diplomats with deep roots in the Caribbean, took the time out of their very hectic schedule to campaign the cause of the Caribbean Diaspora as part of their ‘Legislative Week’ agenda.
What struck me as I shuttled between Pennsylvania (White House), New York (Inter-American Development Bank-IDB) and Independence (Rayburn House Office Building) Avenues, was the quality and the quantity of the research done and ongoing, in the region by the policymakers.
Congressman Engel is right in offering that his colleagues, ‘spend a great deal of time focusing on challenges and opportunities in faraway places. But it’s important that we never lose sight of our interests closer to home. Indeed, we should be working to strengthen our ties with countries in the Caribbean. ‘That’s the aim of this bill, which would prioritize U.S.-Caribbean relations for years to come.’
Indeed, to hear lawmakers, diplomats, technocrats and wannabee politicians like Valies (Suriname) and Francesca Menes (DR/Haiti), share their knowledge and findings on social justice, foreign policy, economic development, climate change and sustainability, is heartening. The challenge is in the ROI!
We hear of ‘Orange being the new Black’ in some quarters and ‘Orange being the new Green’, elsewhere. Whatever is the color of the Caribbean, it is about to change to Blue, as in a blue economy.
The ‘blue’ print is done. Sugar and Banana are economic engines of the distant past and from the look of things, tourism is not the answer to economic growth and stability for a region under the constant threat of natural disaster and health epidemic.
To hear that the Caribbean Sea, ‘that body of water that divides us, must now unite us’, is not only sexy and cool but the real deal, as well.
What it means is that governments of the Caribbean region, all 36 of them, will need to refocus their economic development agenda to the untapped potential of the deep blue sea, as the next engine of growth. Indeed, the paradigm has shifted.
The sea holds the key. Think shipping and commerce, think sports, tourism and the sea. Think marine life, food and agriculture!
To hear Dr. Claire Nelson ask an audience of ‘friends of the Caribbean’, how do we integrate the different data sets that are consistent with marine life for economic gain, is to understand the indomitable spirit that has championed the cause of the Caribbean Diaspora in America, these many years.
Understanding that 45% of the population of the Caribbean region live five kilometers or less from the sea/coastline, is to misunderstand the potential for partnership. As one panelist noted, much of the wealth of the islands is under water, in the sea!
Some aspect of the new Panama Canal was factored in, Brexit was not! And neither was the sojourn on the hill all serious talk and no fun.
Marion Hall, the artiste formerly known as ‘Lady Saw’, told an appreciative White House audience that her music ministry now has a new, more purposeful focus, one that she hopes to encapsulate in a film (docudrama), one day soon, and that young Jamaican filmmaker, Sade Clacken Joseph, described by ICS as among a handful of influential Caribbean-American millenials, will take her up on the offer.
Trini Jazz musician Etienne Charles, Ryan Leslie (Bdos), Emeline Michel and Dener Ceide (Haiti) and soca monarch Machel Montano (TNT), did not disappoint in their collective expression of the impact of Caribbean culture on America.
If nothing else, I left the capitol, convinced that diplomacy is not dead and that there is a good amount of care for the nations of the Caribbean in Washington, DC, a fact captured so ably in song by Anita Antoinette, contestant on NBC’s The Voice – Season 7, ICS Cultural Ambassador designate.
Her song ‘Care’ was well received at every stop on the Hill. Ten years in the making, the Caribbean is in the hands of a caring neighbor, or so will Congressman Engel, et al, have us believe.
The singing of the iconic Bob Marley standard ‘One Love, One Heart’ in earshot of the presidential suite and by an impromptu choir, was not accidental! To that I say, to God be the glory!
Folks, that’s today’s conversation. You have the last word. Share your thoughts.