REMARKS BY VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN,
IN STATEMENT TO THE PRESS
Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
3:47 P.M. AST
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Thank you very much. Good afternoon, everyone. Mr. President, Madam Prime Minister, distinguished leaders of Caribbean countries, I want to thank you all -- and I mean all of you -- for what for me was a very fruitful and good meeting. I learned a great deal, and I've also learned we have a lot more work to do together.
And I want to thank all the leaders who traveled here. Madam Prime Minister, you hosted this. We contacted you on a relatively short notice -- all of you -- to see if you’d be willing -- President Obama asked me if I had an opportunity whether I'd have a chance to meet with each of you, and I thank you for your hospitality and doing it on such short notice.
I'm here because President Obama wanted me to have an opportunity to dialogue with all of you and because our country is deeply invested and wants to become more deeply invested in a partnership with all the nations of the Caribbean.
Our search for growth, jobs and affordable supplies of energy, our fight against transnational crime, and the protection of our climate and our environment -- all of these issues, all of these issues have no respect for borders and they affect all of our borders. They directly affect the people of my country and each and every one of yours.
Economically, the President and I are aware that island nations face special difficulties. The cost of doing business can be higher. Goods are more expensive. And in a globalized world, everything can become more attenuated. And so through Caribbean Basin Initiative, we've eliminated tariffs on 85 percent of your goods, and now we're looking for additional ways -- and you’ve discussed some of them with me today -- to help create growth and diversity in the economies within the Caribbean.
Today I will sign, on behalf of my country, a trade and investment framework agreement with the Caribbean community that will give us all a vehicle -- a vehicle to overcome special, specific, practical barriers to trade and investment, and accommodate those changes as rapidly as possible.
Our goal is not simply growth, but it’s growth that reaches everybody. And we spoke today about everything from anti-poverty measures, to support for small businesses, to greater opportunities and protections for all citizens, regardless of their gender and regardless of their sexual orientation. And we'll continue to invest with you on education and innovation.
We had a significant discussion at lunch with a bunch of us -- it was impromptu but somewhat detailed about the strategies that exist in your countries and mine to improve educational access, include educational excellence and access to higher education. Because that’s how, as my wife, who is with me -- not here, but here today I believe visited a school -- she’s on this trip with me. She’s a full-time professor at a community college as the Second Lady. And she has an expression -- she says, any country that out-educates you will out-compete you. Any country that out-educates you will out-compete you. So it’s ultimately about having the best education, best educated populaces we can have.
And we're going to continue to invest in education and innovation. And I think we discussed again today some novel arenas in which we can do more than we're doing now, because that's how we'll succeed in the 21st century.
Through the Caribbean Idea Marketplace competition, we're connecting diaspora business leaders in the United States in particular with Caribbean entrepreneurs. And as we work to meet President Obama’s challenge, we welcome 100,000 -- 100,000 -- students from across the Americas, and we hope to send the same number of American students to the rest of the Americas. We're working very hard to include more students throughout the Caribbean.
We also spoke today about how to lower costs of energy and increase -- increase -- the share that comes from renewable energy. There’s probably no group of nations better situated to take advantage of renewable energy possibilities than here in the Caribbean. And we know that many Caribbean nations pay three times more for energy than we do in the United States of America. The United States and many other countries are working together on this, looking to invest in connected regional grids to create economies of scale and renewable energy -- economies of scale that are driven by renewable energy.
Last week, we signed an MOU with Trinidad and Tobago to launch a renewable energy research center here in Trinidad and Tobago for the Caribbean writ large. And we hope to promote clean technologies and energy efficiencies throughout the Caribbean.
We also discussed citizen security, and I made clear the U.S. approaches this as a shared responsibility. For the press I would say what my colleagues know, I’ve spent a considerable portion of my public life as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee and Foreign Relations Committee in my years in the United States Senate, fashioning the initiative we had in the ‘80s and the ‘90s with regard to Central Command and its engagement in the Caribbean, as well as Plan Colombia that impacts on -- impacted on the Caribbean at the time -- positively, I might add.
And in the process of that, we discussed approaches that need to be taken and the desire -- I’ll say it bluntly -- the desire for more input, more resources from the United States, because the truth is, ladies and gentlemen, we were so successful collectively in the decades of the ‘80s and ‘90s that the preferred route to get to the United States from South America of cocaine and some heroin and other products was no longer through the Caribbean but through the isthmus and up through Central America.
And now, because of the significant initiatives we have with our Central American friends, the concern is legitimately shared by many that they may -- it may move back into the Caribbean in a greater scale than exists now. And toward that end, we’ve invested more than $30 billion under this administration to reduce drug -- demands for drugs in my country, which would also -- is part of our responsibility and our obligation.
We know that as other nations in the hemisphere make strides against drug trafficking, the threat as I said may increasingly shift back toward the Caribbean. That’s why in 2009, we launched the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative. And that’s why, even in a time of tight budgets in my country, we’re increasing our investment, which already stands at over $200 million.
And even as we gather today, our law enforcement agencies are taking part in joint Tradewinds security exercises, hosted by St. Lucia, and also engaged in training exercises in specific countries as well.
In each of these areas -- economics, security, and energy -- the nations of the Caribbean will go further and faster when not only they work -- we work with you, but when they work together.
You’ve already created, Mr. President, an initiative and an innovative model for regional cooperation by pooling risks to respond to global disasters to -- excuse me -- to natural disasters. And therefore I think that the whole region is better equipped in the future to deal with these pending problems.
And finally, I want to emphasize that these relationships aren’t just about how our governments interact. They're about people; they are -- who are constantly traveling between our respective countries; 3.6 million members of a hardworking, Caribbean diaspora call home the United States of America today. And as a consequence, they send more than $8 billion in remittances back to their home countries in the Caribbean.
But they're also part of the lifeblood and the dynamism of our communities and our country. I believe in international relations, as in any relationship, it comes down to respect. Do we respect one another? And do we show respect?
For my country, that means reforming our immigration system so the 11 million -- 11 million -- undocumented men, women and many children, who came through no choice of their own, can come out of the shadows and be full participants in American life because they are already in many cases participating and contributing to the growth and prosperity of my country, but required to constantly live in fear and live in the shadows.
It’s about time, and the President and I have been calling for this for a long time, even back in the days when he was a senator and I was in the Senate, it’s about time they're afforded the dignity they deserve.
And respecting your people who are living in my country is part of how we will show respect for you and for quite frankly all of the Americas. But it’s not just 11 million people in the shadows from the Americas. They're from all over the world. They're from Ireland. They're from Japan. They're from Africa. And it’s about time -- it’s about time we reform the system and afford them the dignity they deserve.
So I want to thank you all for the important discussion, at least important to me, and the very warm welcome, but more importantly the frankness and directness we were able to engage in. I hope you felt as I did that it was completely open, completely frank and completely straightforward -- even where we disagreed. That's how friends should treat friends, and we need you. We need you. And I hope you’ll find a place in your hearts, in your economies, in your quest for energy, in your quest for societalization of your economies that we can play a part with you.
And so, ladies and gentlemen, again, let me conclude, Madam Prime Minister, by thanking you for the incredible hospitality of your government and the people of Trinidad and Tobago. And I’ll only say it’s good to be back in Trinidad and Tobago, but I have one regret, but it’s good news for you, I can't stay. (Laughter.) I would like very much to stay.
So I’m asking you -- I’m heading to Brazil for several days in our initiatives throughout all of the Americas, I’m asking each of you heads of state, would you please write a note to President Obama telling him it’s critical that I come back to Trinidad and Tobago and then visit each of your islands to stay for at least a couple of weeks. (Applause.) I would like very much to do that. Anyway, thank you for your hospitality. We have a lot of work to do, and we are anxious to work with you. Thank you.
4:00 P.M. AST