Toward Closer U.S.-Caribbean Ties

SECRETARY POMPEO: Good afternoon, everyone. I was standing back there; I heard a “amen.” What better way to be welcomed to the stage? (Laughter.)

Thank you, Madam Foreign Minister, for that kind introduction. I’m delighted to be here. My first trip here as Secretary of State; it’s my ninth trip to the region. And I’m thrilled that the United States and the region have come together in this important way.

I want to recognize a number of friends who are here with us today: Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness; foreign ministers from the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, St. Kitts and Nevis, and St. Lucia; and I also want to say hello to Ann-Dawn Young from the AmCham Jamaica, and Keith Duncan from the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica. You’re kind enough to host this even there today. Thank you so very much for that.

The hospitality I have experienced here has been exceptional. I have now been invited – and my wife Susan knows it, too, so we’ll be here again. We’ll come back and get a chance to see the Blue Mountains and the beaches one day, probably after I’m flying all around the world with such frequency. (Laughter.)

I very much wanted to come here. I’ve been thinking about this visit with you. I was struck in preparation for my trip by words form Luis Almagro, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, it’s what he said when he visited last week in Washington with me.

He said that, “Latin America and the Caribbean no longer are out of sight for the United States.”

It struck me that that was an odd thing to say, given that we’re such close neighbors. And yet I think he was probably right. I think for too long the United States focused on the Caribbean only when natural disasters hit. Too many U.S. officials came here to talk about aid, and aid alone.

I’m not going to give that speech today. I believe that the United States and Caribbean nations do much more together, can do much more together, and importantly should do much more together. As the prime minister notes, we’re natural allies and natural partners. Now is the time to move forward with even closer ties. There’s so much opportunity.

That’s the subject of my remarks today, and then I’m going to take a few questions from Allison. I’m looking forward to it.

Look, let’s start with geography. Geography matters. It takes half the time to fly from Miami to Kingston than it does from Miami to New York. We’ve always been that physically close. But new challenges to our sovereignty and security demand that we get even closer today.

I was just in Bogota at our hemisphere’s third counterterrorism summit. Nations all across the region are waking up to the same shared threats, and there’s no shortage of them.

ISIS fighters – ISIS fighters – have come from Trinidad and Tobago. Hizballah has tentacles all over South America. FARC and the ELN take refuge today in Venezuela. The manmade crisis Maduro has caused in Venezuela has driven an unprecedented migration crisis. Nearly 5 million Venezuelans have fled his tyranny. Cuba and Russia continue to meddle in nations’ sovereign affairs, while trying to destabilize democracies. And of course, there are the drug cartels that we deal with, and the human trafficking, and arms trafficking, and the cybercrime that come alongside of them.

This is very different than the times of the Cold War. I was a young lieutenant in those days, and the challenges and the threats today that I face and we face together are very different. The bad guys are more sophisticated, and more ruthless. And our nations have an obligation, therefore, for our very people, to work in the interest of our shared security much more closely.

That’s what we’re already doing in the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, now its 10th year, a decade on. We’re having incredible success seizing drug shipments. We’re helping kids stay away from crime. And we stand ready, America stands ready to keep doing those good things in partnership with countries in the region.

Let’s keep moving forward on those closer ties.

There too is – and we see this clearly as President Trump thinks about America – there’s an economic imperative for getting closer. We’ve long been bound together by commerce. The foreign minister talked about the United States being the largest trading partner in the region. As just one example, asphalt from Trinidad and Tobago makes up the pavement of Pennsylvania Avenue that connects the White House and the United States Capitol.

But our economic ties aren’t defined by government aid, or remittances from members of your communities that have come to the United States. We want to build economically sustainable economies – and it is possible.

That success begins with good policy, sound policy. You all know the answer: respect for the rule of law, property rights, a business culture that is friendly to entrepreneurs and risk-takers. We know you’re working on all of these things, and we are happy to help. We want the best for your people.

Strong economic ties, too, matter in another crucial way. I talked about this in a speech that I gave in California last week. It’s these ideas, this imperative is as true for St. Lucia as it is for Silicon Valley where I gave those remarks.

It’s tempting to accept easy money from places like China. But what good is it if it feeds corruption and undermines your rule of law? What good are those investments if in fact they ruin your environment and don’t create jobs for your people?

There’s a better alternative. We all know it and we can all achieve it together. Western firms, American firms operate according to values proven to produce good deals and quality work, the work that we do in democracies, things like transparent contracts, the respect for the rule of law, honest straightforward accounting practices. That’s why I’m proud to be America’s Secretary of State and advocate for American companies to come and want to participate and invest in places like Jamaica and the region.

Look, some of those great businesses are represented here today. They reflect our sincere desire for a partnership in prosperity. We can grow all of our nations together. It’s why we have launched what we now call the Growth in Americas initiative.

Jamaica was a charter member during the December kickoff in Washington, and we look forward to including more countries. We want to help each of your countries catalyze private investment in infrastructure.

We’ve created a new Development Finance Corporation that works inside of our State Department. It can help your private sector stand on its own. Just one example. We look forward to working with Haiti to identify how the DFC financing can help its economy.

It’s true, too, that our values are also gaining steam in the energy sector, where we’re expanding collaboration. That’s important. It reduces costs for consumers and for businesses. PetroCaribe is fading into the sunset, as the Maduro regime itself will do.

We’re moving forward toward closer ties.

That brings me to another reason that it’s time for a deeper relationship – the centrality of our democratic principles, the way we think about human life.

It’s clear that this hemisphere is moving towards freedom, more than we’ve ever seen before, from Brazil to what happened in the past few months in Bolivia. People are demanding democracy and freedom.

We see that most clearly in how nations of the region have reacted to the Venezuelan crisis. Only the dictators of Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua think people should live under an authoritarian fist, in a failed economy, where benefits go only to the corrupt elite.

I know many Caribbean nations, like St. Lucia and Curacao, have hosted individuals who have fled Maduro’s authoritarianism. For every nation who has taken these people who are under such deep challenge, thank you.

I was with President Guaido on Monday in Colombia. We talked about how much support he has received from this hemisphere. He wanted me to thank all of you in this room today.

We are indeed moving towards closer ties.

Look, we’re not going to ask any of you to take on these challenges alone. The Trump administration is action-oriented. Endless discussion and empty promises won’t protect our security, our economies, and our freedoms. I think the foreign ministers who met with me today can see we’re pretty straightforward.

So President Trump has taken it on himself to host five leaders for an important dialogue last year at Mar-a-Lago.

Right here in Jamaica, we’ve expanded our cybersecurity partnership. There remains much more good work to do together.

And this morning the prime minister and I agreed on the importance of getting it right. We’re pushing forward with the Caribbean 2020 strategy that we launched back in 2017.

Just last year, just last year a U.S. Navy hospital ship, the Comfort, visited seven Caribbean nations to provide care to local communities, including those strained by Venezuelan refugees.

The U.S. and 18 countries in the region formed the Resilience Partnership, so that we can respond before the storm even hits.

The United States too has helped rescue 400 Bahamians from the ravages of Hurricane Dorian, on top of providing about 34 million in humanitarian aid.

My faith, my faith teaches me that there’s nothing nobler than helping your neighbor. America believes in that, too.

I’ll finish up quickly so we can get to some questions. I know the people of this region are capable of big things. You all need to believe that yourselves as well. I know that you do.

I want to tell you about Tishon Thomas, who grew up in an orphanage in St. Kitts and Nevis. At age 13 he found his passion for technology. He said, “I started pulling ‘HTML for Dummies’ off the shelf.” He went on to work for some of the biggest companies in St. Kitts until he realized he could be his own boss.

The United States Young Leaders of the Americas initiative helped him expand his IT business and to double his staff. Thomas’s big dreams aren’t so different from those of another orphan from St. Kitts and Nevis – Alexander Hamilton, one of the American founding fathers.

America stands for partnership. We’re natural friends. We are natural allies together. What better time is there for us to move towards closer ties?

May God bless each of you. May God bless Jamaica. And may God bless all of our Caribbean brothers and sisters.

Thank you, and I look forward to some questions and a good conversation today. Thank you all so much. (Applause.)

MS PEART: Welcome to Jamaica.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Allison.

MS PEART: You know, I’m wearing a big rotary pin, so I’ll be quiet on that. So I’m so excited for this visit. I’m the past president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Jamaica, and on behalf of AMCHAM and PSOJ, as the business community, we want to thank you for this visit, and we really welcome the opportunity to sit down and talk. The U.S.-Caribbean relationship is so important to us, and we’re glad to hear that we’re natural allies, we’re natural – we’re a natural fit. But I have some questions. Why Jamaica? Why now?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, why now is because I couldn’t get here sooner. (Laughter.) I’ve wanted to get to the region. I’ve been at this now – I’ve been the Secretary of State for a year and a half. I very much wanted to get to this region. I’ve had a chance to meet many of my counterparts from the Caribbean at events in New York, at events in Washington, at events in South America and other places, but I wanted to come. I wanted to come to the region because it is so natural. It’s not about America forcing this relationship or, frankly, these countries forcing a relationship on America. It fits, right? It works and it’s important. It’s close to where we are in the United States. We have citizens from each of these countries that come and live in America. We have Americans that come live in each of these countries as well. It’s natural; it fits.

And when it fits – when the values don’t align and you try and build a relationship, you are pushing – there’s grinding. When you work to build relationships that are based on this fundamental set of values and principles, it works. It’s not that – it’s never the case that you agree on everything. At least I have not experienced that yet. If any of you have, please come explain how that all works to me. (Laughter.) Look, there’s always different interests, and there’s to-and-fro, and there’s places where there’s conflict or there’s non-overlap. That’s all fine. But when the values and principles and the ideas of democracy and freedom and the protection of the human dignity for every human being are shared, then you can do great things together. You acknowledge the places you have different views. You work to get to a better place for both nations. And then we each have the responsibility to deliver for our own people.

MS PEART: So even though it took so long to turn attention to Jamaica and the Caribbean, what is it about the Trump administration that would make you really want to focus on us? What’s different now?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. First of all, I don’t think it’s taken that long. It just took that long for me to physically get here. I think we’ve been working on it since noon on January 20th, 2017. It matters because President Trump values democracy and freedom, and President Trump is incredibly focused on making sure that economic prosperity drives growth all around the world. He – President Trump, he came from business. So did I. I spent – before I came to Congress, when I lost my mind and ran, I ran two small businesses in Kansas. These were – one of them was a machine shop and one of them was in the oilfield industry. They were both small companies. The leaders in the Trump administration understand what economic prosperity is based on. It’s based on the rule of law. You have to have court systems that work. You have to have an education system that drives entrepreneurship. Risk-taking has to be rewarded. When we look at countries in this region, it fits. It’s natural. They’re natural partners and allies. And so whether it was the President’s meetings at Mar-a-Lago or the Vice President’s phone calls and trips, we think this is a place where we can work together on economic issues, where we can grow the American economy and in turn grow economies in the Caribbean.

We also know that there’s an important security relationship there. I saw this. My previous gig was as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. I watched the risks from narcotrafficking, from cartels. I watched terrorism seep into the region. I could see that as our countries worked together and we were able to share information – information about threat streams, about emerging risks – I watched us be all better. Right, collectively better at reducing risk for every citizen, each one of our countries. This works. This works for the United States and it works for the Caribbean, and we have an obligation as leaders in these countries to execute to make it work even better.

MS PEART: I’m glad to hear that you ran small companies. I recently decided to become an entrepreneur, so hopefully I can reach a bigger stage, because we all start small. Jamaicans are natural entrepreneurs. The Caribbean – I haven’t met one person from the Caribbean that doesn’t want to own something and own a business. So how can we ensure that we attract the right investments to the Caribbean and to the region? Because as a brand new entrepreneur, when Jamaica, when the Caribbean does well, I do well. Well, how do we get it right?


MS PEART: How do we know who to choose?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. It’s a pretty straightforward question. For capital providers, if that’s what you’re thinking of —


SECRETARY POMPEO: — the folks who show up with resources to help you grow and build your business, they have a set of objectives. This is risk-adjusted return on investment. And I mention the risk-adjusted because that’s often neglected. Folks who are going to put capital at risk need to understand all of the risk, and some of those risks are political risks, some of those risks are economic risks. They want to see that if they’re going to invest in a place and in a business that there’s good, talented leadership in that company, that the company has a business model that has an opportunity to be successful. Every risk-taking capital provider knows they’ll have some of their deals fail. That’s okay. I was involved in deals that didn’t go well too. It just – that’s part of the ecosystem of the economy.

But here – what they aren’t prepared to accept is places where there’s not rule of law, where there will be competitors that are permitted to participate in the economic ecosystem who are doing so in ways that are outside of the law, right. If you’re somebody who’s deciding whether to invest in a particular country, if that country’s permitting some other nation to show up and do deals, either through bribery or non-transparency or with state-sponsored enterprises that are competing unfairly that they can’t possibly compete with, the chance of getting good money, money that’s coming in for the right reasons, is decreased.

And so as a business owner, you want to make sure your partners are good people, that you can trust them, that they’re going to abide by the rule of law, that when there are tough days in your business, which there will be, inevitably, that those partners are going to hang with you and they’re not going to foreclose on you – that is, they are truly partners of yours. Those are the kind of things that both businesses and nations need to think about when they’re trying to decide where is it we want capital to flow, either into our business or into our country.

MS PEART: So you mentioned China. Why should Jamaica or any Caribbean nation examine Chinese or investments from anybody? Why China?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. You should examine investments from everywhere, and you should examine them evenly, and you should examine them thoroughly. The Chinese Communist Party does present a particular challenge and we’ve made no bones about saying to nations, “Just make sure that this is a transaction that is on the up and up,” that it is square, that this investment is being made for economic purposes.

We love the Chinese people. The United States has enormous investment from China in our country, and we have American companies that invest in China today. This will be so for an awfully long time, today and for time to come. We just closed the first phase of a significant trade deal with the country of China. But here’s what America is doing: We are making sure that when Chinese companies come invest in America, they are doing what President Trump said. It’s going to be fair; it’s going to be reciprocal. That is, American businesses that invest in China should be permitted to do so on the same basis that Chinese companies that invest in America. The same thing for trade. If there’s going to be a tariff in one place, well, it ought to be reciprocal. We simply want to compete on a fair and level basis.

Last thing. It has to be the case that the rules that are set up lead to transparency. You owe it – we all owe it to the people of our nations to make sure that when foreign direct investment is taking place, that it’s coming truly for the right reasons – that it’s not coming for a national security reason to put at risk the privacy of the citizens of Jamaica, right; it’s not coming to have a political outcome; that it’s truly an economically based – it is a risk-adjusted return on investment being sought by that capital provider. When that’s the case, if it’s a European company, great. If it’s a company from Africa, fantastic. If it’s a company from the Caribbean, so much the better. But every nation has an obligation to make sure that the money that’s coming to the country is doing so for the betterment of its people and not for some political or national security purpose.

MS PEART: I like tying our investments as a country to businesses, because you really are a business.


MS PEART: So when you mentioned in your speech the rule of law, competitive markets, the fight against corruption, it’s hard to get all of that right.


MS PEART: So we want to thrive. Do you believe that what we’re doing is putting us on the right path with respect to how Jamaica is attracting investment? As a businessperson looking at Jamaica, what can we do to attract more investments to Jamaica and the Caribbean region from the United States?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. It’s pretty straightforward. I do think Jamaica’s on the right path. I absolutely think so. I think that, frankly, it’s on a high path from a pretty high level already. Right, I think it’s in a very good place. When you think about how you build it out from there, look, there’s always making sure that people around the world know. So there is this element to make sure that you’re communicating about the value of the investment proposition, the investment thesis in your business or in your company. Jamaica – and every company – has got a responsibility to do that so that entrepreneurs around the world think of Jamaica or think of the Caribbean when they’re trying to figure out what their footprint ought to look like around the world. And then you just have to be rigorous to make sure that those entrepreneurs know that you value them, that you want them, that you want their capital, that you want their ingenuity. And then the last piece – and this isn’t primarily a foreign policy matter – we all have to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to show that we’re developing human capital inside of our country.

MS PEART: Absolutely.

SECRETARY POMPEO: And that we’ve got the resources, the brainpower which ultimately drives decision making for entrepreneurs all around the world. They need to know when they come to a place – wherever that is, whether it’s to Kansas or to Kingston – that they know they’re going to have the right people, the right workforce, the right talent to help their business be successful.

MS PEART: I’m glad you said that, because USAID has been so instrumental in the Caribbean and in Jamaica. I speak from experience from Junior Achievement and what it has done for financial literacy, what it has done for Jamaicans learning financial literacy. But pivoting a bit, what role do you see Jamaica and the wider Caribbean playing in this hemisphere? If we get our people moving in the right direction, what role should we play?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, that will ultimately be up to your prime minister and to your people.


SECRETARY POMPEO: We look at Jamaica. We see a great role model for the region. We see it’s a country doing good stuff, has got the right model for economic growth, the right model thinking about security, not only for itself but for the region, and also projecting the right value set. We each – every country – you talked about USAID. America does its best where we can to make sure that every nation and every people has an opportunity for freedom and democracy. We care about that independently of something tangible that might flow to the United States. I hope every country will use a little bit of its time, a little bit of its treasure, a little bit of its brainpower to make sure that others outside of their own country also have that same set of opportunities. It does always reflect back and benefit the nation that tries to model that type of behavior.

MS PEART: I like that. And from a perspective of human development, how can we partner with the United States, develop our young people? Because our future is bright because we have beautiful kids —


MS PEART: We have brilliant children. How do we make sure that they have the right opportunities and the right talented, trained persons to lead them on a path (inaudible)?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m not going to begin to tell Jamaicans how to do that. You all will figure that out. You know, it’s great? We have Americans that come study here. We have Jamaicans that come study in the United States of America where we get this free flow exchange of ideas. When I was out in California, I saw Jamaicans working at some of our highest and most complex – they were doing stuff. I had no clue what they were working on. You could see that. And that’s the kind of thing – I’m sure some of those young people will come back here and build the next great business.

MS PEART: So if we can partner to grow Jamaica by people returning. And now, final question: You saw the Venezuelan crisis impacting the region. You met with Guaido earlier this week. What lessons can we learn from his efforts in Venezuela? What role do you see the OAS playing? Final question.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. The humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is like nothing I’ve seen anywhere maybe except in Syria today. Each about the same – 6 million displaced persons. But in Venezuela, it happens because a single individual drove a nation through authoritarian dictatorship that fundamentally rejects everything that we’ve spoken about here today. This is a manmade catastrophe. We all suffer from things that man didn’t do, right. We see hurricanes; we see earthquakes. This was driven by bad policy, bad politics, and a set of leaders who didn’t care about their own people.

And so as we stare at this, we need to do everything we can to restore the Venezuelan democracy, and the United States is doing our part, but what’s been fantastic is to watch, to watch the Organization of American States work this problem set, countries throughout the region taking responsibility for a country in their region. We’re part of that too. Fifty-plus now nations all across the world who together are using these multilateral tools to try and deliver an end to the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and to get the Venezuelan people a free and fair election so that they can begin to build that great nation back.

MS PEART: Well, thank you for your thoughts.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Allison, thank you.

MS PEART: I know you have really short time, so we’re going to wrap up, and I really want to thank you for coming here. It’s good to discuss things because when you talk things out, that’s when you can become much better partners and you can not just talk, but actually have action.

So I want you to come back to Jamaica, bring your wife, spend some time, enjoy our beautiful beaches, the blue mountains, and more importantly, the warm Caribbean people, because the best part of Jamaica are our people.


MS PEART: We are amazing. So thank you so much.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Allison, thank you.

MS PEART: I hope you had a great trip. Thank you.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you. Thank you all very much. (Applause.) Thank you. Blessings to you. Thank you.