America can’t take its Caribbean neighbors for granted. Under Trump, it doesn’t | Opinion by John J. Sullivan

President Trump and the first lady, Melania Trump, hosted Caribbean leaders at Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, in March. Getty Images

You can choose your friends, but not your neighbors.

Fortunately the United States is blessed with many neighbors in the Caribbean whom we also consider our friends.

Bound by not only geographic proximity, our economic and people-to-people ties are vast. The United States is the Caribbean’s primary trade partner, resulting in a $12.2 billion trade surplus for the United States in 2018. Hundreds of thousands of Americans live and work in Caribbean countries, not to mention the more than 20 million who visit their beautiful beaches each year.

In addition to these strong and enduring ties, the ongoing crisis in Venezuela highlights the importance of cooperation with our Caribbean neighbors.

But we can’t take them for granted. The United States has not adequately invested in our Caribbean partnerships for decades. The Trump administration is changing that.

President Trump recently hosted at Mar-a-Lago the leaders of five Caribbean countries — The Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and Saint Lucia — to reaffirm our strong friendship, discuss how we can work together more effectively and thank them for their support of democracy in Venezuela.

Just last month, we fulfilled a promise to our Caribbean partners to assist them in improving their disaster response and preparedness efforts. In successive hurricanes in 2016 and 2017, Caribbean nations suffered billions in damages. In meetings at the U.N. General Assembly last year, representatives from several Caribbean nations asked the United States to provide training and technical support as they prepare for the next hurricane season. As a result, we brought together representatives from key U.S. agencies and 18 Caribbean countries at U.S. Southern Command in Miami on April 12 to launch the “U.S. Caribbean Resilience Partnership.”

U.S. officials and experts from across the government — representing NASA, NOAA, USAID, FCC, FAA, FEMA, and the departments of Defense, Energy, and State — offered guidance and shared lessons learned in responding to recent disasters. We laid the groundwork for ongoing engagement with the aim of preparing in advance to mitigate the damage of the next inevitable natural disaster.

The United States continues to support development, including energy diversification, in the region. Caribbean nations have huge energy needs that U.S. companies stand ready to meet with our abundance of natural gas, technical expertise and potential investment. We have also worked to help our island neighbors improve health and security through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative.

This renewed focus on our Caribbean neighbors will pay dividends — both for the people of the Caribbean and the United States. It will cement our relationships, promote better security, create opportunities for our companies and advance our joint efforts to stand up for democracy and prosperity in our hemisphere.

John J. Sullivan, U.S. deputy secretary of state.

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