Obama’s Other Caribbean Diplomatic Opportunity – A NAN Exclusive

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Acclaimed Play on Alexander Hamilton’s life and death.

By Arthur Piccolo

News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. April 17, 2015: Alexander Hamilton might get another distinct honor this summer along with his extraordinarily popular play opening on Broadway but first …

Let me set the stage for today’s story logically with Cuba.

Yes, it was good to see President Barack Obama in the Caribbean last week finally confirming what he should have 6 years ago that it is in the U.S. interest to establish and then expand diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Here in Obama’s America I have been making the argument for 4 years now pointing out that Obama’s unwillingness to do so made no sense.

The fact is all the U.S. has done by isolating Cuba for the last 50 years is serve the interest of right wing ex-Cubans mostly centered in Florida and New Jersey who pine for the good old days of the 1950s and earlier when all but the rich in Cuba were treated like serfs and corruption ruled the island.

These rich ex-Cubans who left Cuba with their often misbegotten fortunes and have thrown campaign cash at American politicians in both parties to buy their support for their ant-Cuba venom. It is beyond absurd that Cuba has long been on a very short list of the most dangerous terrorist nations that does not even include North Korea. Just Sudan, Iran, Syria and Cuba!

An example of Cuba’s “terrorist” activities is that Cuba sent more doctors and medical personnel to fight the recent outbreak of Ebola in Africa than any other country on Earth, and whenever major disasters take place around the world Cuba is often among the most generous to respond.

Anyway, yes President Obama has seen the light finally and in the coming months Cuba will be off the terrorist list as Obama announced this week and yes we will finally have a full fledged U.S. embassy in Havana.

Now let’s leave Cuba for the rest of the Caribbean …

Guess what else is NOT happening yet? Almost 200 nations (some you have never heard of and never will) have a U.S. embassy and ambassador but which Caribbean nation – and a few others in the Caribbean – are among a very few countries on Earth that do not have a U.S. diplomatic presence?

And President Obama has done nothing to correct this yet.

It is the very place where The Savior of America, the author of Modern Capitalism & America’s Greatest Immigrant Alexander Hamilton was born, now the Caribbean island nation of St. Kitts & Nevis.

It turns out there is one member of the U.S. Congress is most concerned about this egregious omission as well as the lack of a U.S. embassies on four other prominent Caribbean island nations Dominica, Antigua & Barbuda, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent & Grenadines. He is none other than Congressman Eliot Engel of New York

These 5 Caribbean nations in one region are alone treated like diplomatic colonies. Officials and citizens of these 5 nations must fly to Barbados, which the U.S. has designated as “their” consular office.

Let’s call this what it is – an INSULT to these 5 nations and the Caribbean.

Among the co-sponsor of the Engel bill, H.R. 1579 – the United States – Caribbean Partnership Act of 2015, to correct, this are Congress members Yvette Clarke, and Gregory Meeks both of New York. All 10 co-sponsors joining Engel are Democrats and all come from New York, Florida, New Jersey, California and Texas. Engel is the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Relations Committee where the bill has been submitted.

H.R. 1579 was submitted on March 24, 2015. Congressman Engel introduced an identical bill in the last Congress with just one co-sponsor Alcee Hastings of Florida but it never made it out of committee. Will it do better this time?

In an exclusive interview with one of the top staff members on the Democratic side of the House Foreign Relations Committee who works closely with Congressman Engel, who is the ranking Democratic member of the Committee, we learnt more detail and got a hint of optimism.

It seemed curious that Congressman Eliot Engel would be introducing legislation about the Caribbean and on his own initiative, not at the urging of others. But it turns out in Congress, Engel has a long history of involvement with the Caribbean, has traveled throughout the region and his district in New York, which covers the northern Bronx in New York City and southern Westchester County, contains a sizable number of Caribbean-Americans.

Engel has been trying to correct this absence of an adequate U.S. State Dept. presence in the Caribbean for a number of years in different ways before he came to the realization that this bill might be his best course of action. While first introduced in the last session of Congress; doing so late in the session left it on the cutting room floor with lots of other bills in those final days.

This time, in the new Congressional session, Congressman Engel is cautiously optimistic the result will be different. And in an example of strategic mastery, the bill itself may not be necessary to achieve its results.

Which brings us back to Cuba for a moment!

President Obama did not seek and does not require Congressional approval to establish an embassy in Cuba and appoint an ambassador. This is clearly within the purview of the Executive Branch to do so.

Yes you are right. President Obama could have expanded the State Dept. presence in the Caribbean anytime these last six years. but did not. We did not get any reason why from The White House. It is not surprising to some in that many criticize the U.S. for the amount of attention it gives the region. except in issues of security, drugs and guns. Maybe that will change now and it looks like the giant island of Cuba may be the catalyst.

Whatever the reason, Congressman Engel is in communication about his bill with staff in the White House and the State Dept. Those discussions include the possibility that President Obama will issue instructions to the State Dept. to implement Engel’s proposals without the need for this legislation. If that happens, the bill will be quietly withdrawn. It is not unusual for this kind of resolution regarding “minor” bills that can be addressed otherwise.

But let’s say that does not happen. What then?

Our inside contact explained Congressman Engel is quietly lobbying all other 43 members of the Foreign Relations Committee for support. More than likely, the support of all 18 of Engel’s Democratic colleagues on the committee is assured. What about the current majority the Republicans?

There are 25 Republicans led by committee chairman Congressman Ed Royce of California. The Republicans on the committee led by Congressman Royce have been vocally critical to – no surprise – President Obama’s recent actions on Cuba. At the same time, there is no movement on the committee or among Republicans in Congress generally to try and block President Obama from opening an embassy and appointing an ambassador to Cuba.

So logically, why would Republicans not support after all these years of neglect, opening small embassies in very friendly Caribbean island nations? In fact for those Republicans most critical of Obama on Cuba, here is an opportunity to show the Administration where they think Obama should be directing our positive actions in the Caribbean region.

Hopefully this is true. It is certainly logical but our determined attempts to reach the Republicans Communications Director on the Committee, Shane Wolfe and others on the Republican side, proved unsuccessful.

As for Congressman Engel, he remains optimistic and his goal is to have Congress approve the legislation by the August recess. Whenever the committee takes up the bill, it will be a low key affair. Don’t expect high powered witnesses from the Caribbean or anywhere else testifying before a packed committee chamber.

All that is likely is some brief quiet conversation among Congress members on the committee followed by either unanimous consent or a vote whether to approve and send to the Floor.

If President Obama decides to act and take care of these diplomatic needs of St. Kitts & Nevis, Dominica, Antigua & Barbuda, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent & Grenadines without Congressional action, that vote will never take place.

For right now, the final word goes to Congressman Engel who told us today: “Just as you can’t conduct diplomacy from a bunker, you can’t conduct diplomacy from hundreds of miles away. My bill would strengthen diplomatic ties with our Caribbean neighbors so that we can work even more closely on a range of issues, from promoting economic development and combating drug trafficking to our shared work through the OAS.”

Congressman Engel did not add, but he might well have, that it is worth him noting that among these 5 Caribbean nations without a U.S. diplomatic presence which the passage of H.R. 1579 will address, is the island nation that is the birth place of a great American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton who many also consider America’s greatest immigrant.

All Engel’s colleagues should appreciate Hamilton as an issue here.

With the brilliant new contemporary musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda about Hamilton moving to Broadway on July 13, 2015, now is a very good time to correct a neglect and place a permanent American presence on Hamilton’s islands of St. Kitts & Nevis with an embassy and an ambassador.

We will soon find out if President Obama and Congress agree.

About The Writer: Arthur Piccolo is a professional writer and commentator and often writes about Latin America for New Americas.

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