United States Vice President Kamala Harris has announced that her country is investing more than $100m in the Caribbean region to crack down on weapons trafficking, help alleviate Haiti’s humanitarian crisis and support climate change initiatives.
The announcement was made ahead of an official trip to the Bahamas on Thursday for a meeting of Caribbean and US leaders, hosted by Harris and Bahamian Prime Minister Philip Davis.
Harris, who is the highest-ranking US official to visit the Bahamas since it became independent 50 years ago, landed shortly after 12pm US Eastern Time (16:00 GMT) for the one-day visit.
Dozens of greeters, including school children and members of Harris’s sorority, greeted the vice president as the Royal Bahamas Police Force band played.
During a meeting with leaders, Harris said that strengthening the US-Caribbean relationship is a priority for her.
“Our partnership, we strongly believe, is essential to our mutual security and prosperity,” she said.
A tremendous welcome from the people of The Bahamas as we mark 50 years of diplomatic relations between our two nations. pic.twitter.com/Q0F5XpxW9s
— Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP) June 8, 2023
As part of the initiatives announced on Thursday, the US justice department expects to appoint a coordinator to oversee cases involving illegal weapons smuggling in the Caribbean, as island nations report a rise in violent crimes.
In addition, the state department promised to help improve forensic work in the region and help strengthen local police departments. It will also support a unit based in Trinidad and Tobago aimed at helping islands solve gun-related cases and provide training for the collection and analysis of related intelligence.
The US, with help from the UK, plans to establish a programme as well in the eastern Caribbean to mentor local judges and prosecutors, in a bid to improve prosecution of gun-related crimes as island nations struggle with a backlog of cases.
Haiti’s National Police, a severely underfunded and understaffed agency struggling to quell a surge in gang violence, will also receive help to investigate and prosecute crimes with US ties that involve gangs, weapons smuggling and human trafficking.
That initiative is considered key, given that gangs are estimated to control up to 80 percent of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. Killings and kidnappings have soared across the metropolitan area and beyond.
US senior administration officials said the worsening security situation requires an international response and that the US strongly supports the deployment of a multinational force to Haiti.
In October, Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry requested the immediate deployment of a foreign armed force, but the United Nations Security Council, along with the US and Canada, have yet to respond. Henry is expected to attend Thursday’s meeting with Harris, along with other leaders of the Caribbean nations.
Senior US administration officials said discussions with Haiti are ongoing, and that any decision about military force would be done in consultation with the UN and the country’s government.
Harris announced that the US Agency for International Development (USAID) will invest nearly $54m in Haiti to help fight a sharp rise in starvation and provide access to potable water and healthcare. Almost half of Haiti’s more than 11 million people are facing acute food insecurity, and 19,000 are in catastrophic famine conditions.
Another $10.5m will go towards supporting Haiti’s agricultural sector as poverty deepens, with some 60 percent of the population earning less than $2 a day.
The announcement was cheered by Faith in Action International, a California-based organisation that helps grassroots groups worldwide.
“Haitian farmers are the backbone of fighting hunger in Haiti, and they desperately need critical inputs of seeds, irrigation, tools and support from agronomists to adapt to drought,” said Francois Pierre-Louis, Faith in Action’s Haiti director.
USAID also expects to invest $20m to help Caribbean businesses that use technologies related to renewable energy and energy efficiency. Another nearly $15m will be used to boost emergency response and preparedness across the region.
Additional funds will help low-lying island nations whose economies largely depend on tourism to prepare and adapt for climate change.
“Caribbean nations are on the front lines,” Harris said.