Strides made in AIDS fight; boosting democracy -outgoing US Ambassador reflects on his tenureThursday, July 13, 2006 – 3:53 pm
Source: Stabroek News
The United States has made a significant impact in the areas of HIV/AIDS, democracy and governance and small business development here.
In an interview with this newspaper last week, outgoing US Ambassador to Guyana Roland Bullen said that in the battle against HIV/AIDS in Guyana, the US has already invested over US$45 million; US$20 million for last year alone.
Bullen was also the first US diplomat to be accredited to Caricom and wearing his Caricom cap, he took part in the last two UK/Caricom forums held in 2004 in the UK and the more recent, in Barbados; as well as the meeting with the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Caricom Foreign Ministers in Nassau in March.
These meetings, he said, have set the stage for further engagements between the US and Caricom. Formal diplomatic relations with Caricom were formalized by former secretary of state Colin Powell.
Discussing his tenure here, Bullen said one of the highlights was the tremendous progress made in dealing with the HIV/AIDS pandemic and partnerships forged with the Guyana government, particularly the Ministry of Health, in mitigating its negative effects.
On perceptions that the US had little interest in the Caribbean except for securing its own borders from HIV/AIDS, the narco-trade and transnational crime, Bullen said, that was “a misconception.”
He said the US had a genuine interest in the Caribbean and is a Caribbean nation itself. The State of Florida acts as a hub for the Caribbean, Latin America and North America and the US Virgin Islands, among some other islands in the Caribbean, are US overseas territories.
Under President George W Bush, he said, the Third Border Initiative (TBI), recognises that as neighbours the US and Caribbean countries ought to continue building on their relationships: the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) initiated under President Ronald Reagan continued; the US has embassies in Guyana, Suriname, Barbados – which covers the Eastern Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and a Consulate General in Curacao. “If we did not have this interest I don’t think we would have that level of diplomatic representation. So I think that it is a wrong perception that the US does not have an interest in the Caribbean.”
Assistance to fight HIV/AIDS, drugs and crime “are given from the standpoint that we realize that many of the countries in the region do not have the wherewithal so we are trying to help to build their capacity,” he said.
He noted that many Caribbean countries are tourism dependent so by building capacity, “it is also in our own national interest but it also serves their national interest. For instance, a terrorist attack in any of the Caribbean countries could significantly impact on tourism and we have a lot of US citizens who travel to and from the region. So it is in our mutual interest to make sure that we can do so in a safe manner without threats of diseases or terrorists attacks.”
The recent engagement in the Bahamas with the US Secretary of State at which the Joint Caricom/US Commission on Trade and Investment was revived, he said was an indication of the US foreign policy towards the region.
In addition, he noted that the US provided a lot of funding to combat HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean, which as a region has the second largest HIV/AIDS infection, after Sub-Saharan Africa.
In the battle against HIV/AIDS, Bullen said that in Guyana alone, the US has already invested over US$45 million. Within the region, he said, the US was also the principal funding agency for the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis. Many Caribbean countries have benefited from the fund.
Asked about heavy subsidies the US and the European Union pay to farmers and others and how the level of subsidies could be justified, Bullen said that on joining the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the US has recognised the inequalities in trade, particularly in the agricultural area and has moved to significantly reduce those.
President Bush, he said, has stated repeatedly that he would like to see all subsidies removed and the US has gone a long way in that regard. “The US is the most open economy in the world. We believe in free trade and it is one of the pillars of our economic policy but we think the removal of subsidies has to be done in an orderly way. We just can’t remove everything overnight. Unfortunately at a number of these WTO meetings, others were not willing to join us in taking the kind of bold steps that we believe in to open the global economy,” he said. The current Doha round of talks faces a stalemate over the level of subsidies and other matters.
Bullen said that under the CBI, subsidies have been removed on many items coming into the region and the Dominican Republic, one of the CBI beneficiaries, has seen an expansion in the Economic Processing Zone. Additionally, he said, countries that have concluded free trade agreements with the US have seen their exports to the US grow tremendously both in the agricultural and other sectors.
Asked about the possibilities of a free trade agreement with Caricom, Bullen said Caricom has indicated that it was looking into that possibility to see whether it was in Caricom’s interest.
The US, he said was still hoping that there could be a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) encompassing all countries in the western hemisphere. In the interim, however, he said the US has entered into bilateral and multi-lateral free trade agreements. The North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) was the first step, followed by the Central American Free Trade Area (CAFTA) which is about to come on stream.
The US has just concluded bilateral agreements with Chile and Colombia, and Peru should come on board soon, he said adding that negotiations have begun with Panama and there would probably be other countries coming on board. “If we cannot get there in one big step then we take interim measures in terms of free trade agreements with the hope of eventually getting it (free trade) hemispheric-wide,” he said.
Venezuela and Guantanamo Bay
Asked about the US administration’s concerns that Venezuela and Bolivia were trying to promote leftist governments, Bullen said the US believes that people in the Caribbean, South America and Central America were able to see what was occurring in these countries and determine who their leaders should be.
“I dare say that the people of Peru and Colombia opted not to go that route and more recently, the people of Mexico. It is for every country to decide on their form of government. We think that policies being espoused by some of these countries in the long run might not be in the best interest of the people. But it is up to the Venezuelans to make that determination. However, we are concerned when we see dictatorial tendencies emerging, where rights have been stifled.”
On the condemnation of the Guantanamo Bay facilities in Cuba, Bullen said the prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay are “all bad people.”
The US, he said, has evidence that prisoners who were released subsequently perpetrated crimes elsewhere. “We have been trying to arrange moving people back to their countries of origin albeit in continued custodial protection. These are people who, if turned loose on society, can wreak havoc. Terrorists don’t care about the niceties of the rule of law of sovereignty. What they do is create mayhem. Today [July 7] is the anniversary of the suicide bombing in London. Their [terrorists] ideology is so foreign to what we know in respect of rights.”
He quoted President Bush as saying repeatedly that Guantanamo Bay was not going to be kept open one day longer than was necessary. “The problem is that we have to make sure that the people who are housed there are not going to be turned loose to cause mayhem and kill people. That is the equation.”
As a Caribbean-born man, Bullen said, he would like to see Caribbean-US relations deepened because of the many things there are in common such as democracy, a belief in the rule of law, a common language and family ties. Many Caribbean nationals have done well in the diaspora and many could now assist in the development of their countries in the region.
In relation to his new posting, he said it was an exciting time to go to the Dominican Republic (DR). The DR is part of CAFTA, which is due to come on stream about the time he gets there. An agreement has been signed to further the trade relationship between the US and the DR, but he noted that already there was a significant amount of trade between the two countries. The annual bilateral trade is about US$9 billion and he expects that once CAFTA comes into effect there is going to be a substantial increase in bilateral trade beneficial to both countries.
As someone with a passionate interest in what goes on in the region, the Grenada-born US diplomat said, the DR posting affords him that opportunity to continue to contribute to the development of the Caribbean.