Institutionalizing Caribbean Diaspora Efforts in the U.S. by Stanley Lucas

Jasmin Theodore - May 27 2011, 10:07 AM

Institutionalizing Caribbean Diaspora Efforts in the U.S.
by Stanley Lucas

Caribbean Diaspora account for a significant percentage of the GDP of many Caribbean countries.

In Haiti alone, their annual remittances account for 40 percent of the country's GDP. While they are playing a major role in their home countries' economic development, to date there has been no systematic effort to harness the skills, knowledge and professional networks of the Caribbean Diasporain addressing the regional development challenges and promoting and developing investment opportunities in the region.

Additionally, the Diaspora, especially business leaders, often have great influence in their local communities in the U.S. This influence has not been tapped to elevate U.S.-Caribbean relations.

What is truly lacking are institutionalized platforms to organize the Diaspora to leverage their collective talent and influence to address regional issues and bilateral issues.

Other regions, such as Asia, have been very successful in leveraging their Diaspora communities and especially at creating ongoing bilateral business dialogues and various channels in to U.S. policy makers.

Clearly, U.S. priorities are focused on the Middle East region, anti-terrorism initiatives, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other political crises.

Despite its proximity to the U.S., the Caribbean is not a priority for the Administration.

Not because it should not be, but rather because in addition to being spread thin in foreign policy, there is no organized channel to funnel information into the U.S. policy makers, especially from the Diaspora community.

Additionally, the Caribbean is perceived as a tourist destination, not an economic engine, as are China and India.

Politically, the Caribbean is often associated with instability and trade disputes, to some degree.

However, there are many interesting new initiatives taking shape in the Caribbean, notably in the energy sector where there are plans to turn the region into a hub for bio-fuels.

Some countries, such as the Bahamas, are projecting record economic growth rates for 2007.

But the region is fragile.

Historically, it has been colonized by the major powers, and more recently it has been a pawn in the Taiwan-China rivalry and in Venezuelan President Huga Chavez's plans to roll back economic and political reforms in the region.

The Caribbean countries need another voice in Washington, D.C. to educate policy makers and the public of the importance of the region and on the major issues challenging their governments.

The Diaspora community should play a key role in reinforcing Caribbean government's efforts at home and abroad.

One significant way they could support political and economic development in the region is to organize itself to address the key challenges of: local economic development and securing international attention and assistance.

This paper will outline and examine some proposals for platforms that the Caribbean Diaspora should develop in order to elevate the region as a higher priority for the U.S. government and to participate intheir region's growth.

Included in the paper will be a discussion of a: CARICOM-US Business Council, to elevate a bilateral dialogue between the business communities and develop an agenda that includes key trade issues; a Committee of 100, that could establish a high level policy dialogue across sectors and highlight Caribbean culture; a CARICOM Congressional Caucus, that would elevate theissues in the U.S. Congress; a CARICOM Society to highlight unique aspects of the Caribbean culture including art and entertainment; and a CARICOM Youth Leadership Program, supported by some ofthe above mentioned organizations and the regional governments to help build capacity in the future.

The key will be to advocate bringing some structure to the CARICOM efforts with the Diasporacommunity.

Bilateral business council's have been created around regional and country specific issues.

There is a U.S.-Brazil Business Council, U.S.-China Business Council, U.S.-APEC Business Council, among others.

They offer the opportunity to bring together the top business leaders in the region and U.S. andDiaspora business leaders with a big stake in the region.

The Councils provide a strong, systematic platform for business leaders to funnel their priorities and challenges into the policy system, and they have a stronger voice than if tackling the issues separately.

As the main engine of economic growth, theprivate sector usually has significant influence in shaping the trade and policy agendas.

U.S. trade and economic leaders have a multitude of priorities, including a series of Free Trade Agreements, a new Doha round at the World Trade Organization, energy policy, and ongoing strategy development related to the rise of India and China.

Caribbean issues are relegated to the bottom of thepriority list. However, with the growing influence of leaders such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in the region, it is greatly in their interest to develop a more robust strategy to engage theregion.

In order to attract the right level of attention from U.S. leaders, the Council should be comprised of senior level corporate representatives as well as some notable advisors from the region.

The Council should have a clear, and focused agenda with an annual meeting, accompanied by the release of a white paper and a gala dinner.

In addition, the Council should have a small staff to publish a regular newsletter for distribution among U.S. policy leaders and the membership.

There are currently very few sources of information on Caribbean priorities and this would go a long way toward educating leaders on the issues.

In addition to building a business-to-business dialogue, the Diaspora community should also encourage a broader range of voices into the policy process and to highlight the region.

There is the need for an organization that brings an Caribbean-American perspective to U.S. relations with the Caribbean and to address the concerns of Americans of Caribbean heritage.

To address this need, a Committee of 100Caribbean leaders should be developed to include all sectors, from business to sports to entertainment and art. To be most effective, the Committee should be an international non-partisan organization composed of American citizens of Caribbean descent, Caribbean citizens residing in the United States or prominent Caribbean citizens living in the Caribbean from a broad range of professions.

With these diverse backgrounds, members will be able to collectively pool their strengths and experience to address important issues concerning the Caribbean-American community, as well as issues affecting U.S.-Caribbean relations.

The key functions of the Committee should be to serve as bridge between the cultures and systems ofCaribbean and the U.S. and also, to provide a forum for those issues that Americans of Caribbeandescent face in bettering their lives in the United States.

The Committee will be dedicated to serve as "cultural ambassadors" and fostering the exchange of ideas and various perspective among their membership with those in the community and government.

The Committee of 100 will be a voice for the enhancement of relations between the U.S. and theCaribbean With an in-depth understanding of both cultures, the Committee can enhance America understanding of the Caribbean, as well as Caribbean's understanding of the United States.

The Committee could also serve as the vehicle to develop charitable programs and donations by creating endowment funds for scholarships or recognition awards for significant contributions to promotingCaribbean culture.

This would be less of an agenda drive organization and more of a profile raising group to encourage constructive relations between the Caribbean and United States.

Many countries and regions, including Hong Kong, have encouraged the formation of a Congressional Caucus.

Caucuses meet frequently and hear expert testimony on the key issues in the region.

They conduct congressional delegations and fact-finding missions to the region and release white papers.

Further, they can be helpful in pushing a legislative agenda that benefits the region.

Through various platforms, the CARICOM leaders should encourage the Congressional delegations, particularly from Florida and New York, to form a caucus around these issues.

The potential Business Council and Committee of 100 would be excellent platforms to leverage to meet with a select list of Congressional leaders to advocate this caucus.

In lieu of established platforms, Caribbean business leaders and Diaspora should form an ad hoc coalition and inform members of plans to put in place certain structures.

In this way, the Congressional leaders will know that they will have partners to reach out to in order to support this initiative.

Another successful platform to put in place would be a CARICOM Society.

This could be an organization that would promote cultural awareness through policy debates.

A prominent example of such an organization is the Asia Society headquartered in New York. They are endowed in large part byprivate funding, including the Rockefellers.

They undertake a range of activities promoting everything from Asian cooking to the spread of democracy throughout the region.

In addition, they have a headquarters that can be used to host events.

This is something that should be a longer term goal for theCaribbean nations, but certainly it would go a long way to promoting better understanding bybeginning to set up such a structure.

Another important group to engage is the youth

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Dr. Claire Nelson says...

Friends: JUNE is National Caribbean American Heritage Month and a great time to reopen this debate. This is a paper which Mr. Lucas has circulated... more »

L. Levy says...

Hello Dr. Nelson, I am writing from the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI) headquartered in Kingston, Jamaica. Our Communications Officer... more »

Claire Nelson says...

There is a new entity I believe called the Caribbean Policy Research Institute here in Washington DC in the US. This issue is about the Caribbean... more »