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obama-H.R. 1579
Obama’s Silence On H.R. 1579 Is Not Golden

By Arthur Piccolo

News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. May 1, 2015: What would Alexander Hamilton think if he knew …

That on his homeland of St. Kitts & Nevis the he adopted as his new homeland and helped build as a founding father does not ..

The United States of America still does not have an embassy in St. Kitts & Nevis as well as four other Caribbean nations – Dominica, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Antigua & Barbuda, and St. Vincent & Grenadines.

Instead, consular officers from the U.S. lone embassy in the Eastern Caribbean which his based in Barbados, travels to these islands at specific times to deal with issues there or the nationals of these islands must trek to Barbados to secure a U.S. visa.

This is an insult to any claim that the U.S. considers the region closest to our shores an important ally.

Yet China has an embassy on Dominica, Grenada and Antigua & Barbuda because it has diplomatic relations with all three but not the two others.
The United States has diplomatic relations with all of them but does not see the need to have an embassy in each.

But China is all over the Caribbean in ways the U.S. is not. No battle ships, no soldiers – just good diplomacy and economic assistance. China understands what the U.S. does not – how to win hearts and minds with a little effort and right at the U.S. doorstep.

5 of the 11 independent Caribbean nations, except Cuba, does not have U.S. embassies. Now Cuba still officially listed as a “terrorist” nation by the U.S. government will finally have a U.S. embassy and ambassador in the coming months AFTER more than 100 other nations and every other major nation on Earth already have embassies in Cuba.

President Obama highlighted this decision recently in Jamaica.

You would think that President Obama would  have done the right and also politically savvy thing and announce U.S. embassies also in the five very friendly Caribbean nations that has been too long ignored.

Here is what Obama could have said on his much touted and highly photographed Caribbean trip: “I am proud to announce that the birth place of the great American Founding Father and our First Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, St. Kitts & Nevis, along with Dominica, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Antigua & Barbuda, and St. Vincent & Grenadines will now have U.S. embassies and U.S. ambassadors before the end of this year.”

President Obama made NO such statement and of course the governments from none of these nations challenged him on that.

But he did go to Jamaica sprouting praise of the U.S. relationship with the Caribbean and his high hopes for the future of the Caribbean.

Rubbish! Presidential Lip Service for the Caribbean as usual!
So how many nations around the world do have U.S. embassies? 169 nations do. That’s right 169! Some so obscure you have never heard of and never will but they merit a U.S. embassy and an American ambassador.

For instance the great nations of  Benin, Cabo Verde, Lesotho, Malawi, Timor-Leste and Kyrgy among others. Very obscure, very small countries that merit an embassy and ambassador from the United States.

How many places do not have U.S. embassies? A total of 21 including Andorra, Comoros, Kiribati, Naura, Tuvalu, Sao Tome & Principe, Vanatu.

And don’t bet they will not have U.S. embassies soon. Certainly the State Dept. official I spoke to did not deny that possibility.

Of these 21 nations in the world that have no U.S. State Dept. presence the Caribbean is “distinguished” (sic) by the fact that five nations all are assigned to one other nation for all their diplomatic needs.

For these 5 Caribbean nations they must all travel to Barbados hundreds of miles and a plane ride away for their diplomatic needs. As for the other 16 nations, the most assigned to any other place for their U.S. diplomatic needs is two. Only in the Caribbean does the U.S. get away with lumping 5 nations together to be serviced by one far away U.S. mission in another nation.

This is just one more example of the U.S. government treating Caribbean nations like colonies and certainly not true partners. Which brings us back to the United States – Caribbean Partnership Act also known as H.R. 1579, a bill introduced by Congressman Eliot Engel of New York in March of this year along with 9 co-sponsors, sent to the House Foreign Relations Committee for action that would finally establish embassies and send ambassadors to these 5 Caribbean nations.

If passed it will require President Obama to do what he could but will not do on his own. There was no legislation at all creating the Cuban embassy and ambassadorship or to fund it. That was solely Executive action using existing State Dept. funding.

Congressman Engel has long been an advocate of President Obama establishing U.S. embassies in these 5 Caribbean nations. It is out of his frustration with the lack of interest on the part of The White House that led to him submitting this legislation which in effect is a challenge to the President to be introduced by a fellow Democrat.

Here is what Congressman Engel wrote in his statement accompanying his introduction of this legislation, H.R. !579 …

“Most people I speak to are surprised to learn that there are five countries in the Caribbean – only a few hundred miles from the United States – where we have no physical diplomatic presence.

“While these countries are small, they must not be taken for granted.  They are key voting members of the United Nations and other international organizations.  As members of the Organization of American States (OAS), their votes are extremely important.   Without a U.S. presence in these five countries, it is very difficult to conduct in-person diplomacy with our counterparts on a range of crucial international issues.  These countries are also of profound interest and importance to the millions of Caribbean-American citizens in the United States.”

Some might conclude once this bill was introduced and with 10 co-sponsors including  THE Caribbean American Congressmember Yvette Clarke, that The White House would have immediately not only have endorsed H.R. 1579 but preempted it by announcing it is not necessary, that President Obama will create these 5 embassies by Executive Order. WRONG.

We know that did not happen because I have spent the last few days communicating with the State Department and trying to communicate with The White House.
In numerous communications with a State Dept. spokesperson Katherine Pfaff all I got were boiler plate replies that said nothing except by implication in a variety of ways no.

Or in her words we never comment on pending legislation, which is of course to be undiplomatic, a bold faced untruth. Sorry Katherine. The President, Secretary of State, and numerous Administration officials comment on Congressional legislation constantly. An obvious current example that involves the State Dept. is Congressional legislation concerning the Iran nuclear deal.

So when an official says “no comment” to any issue that is euphemism for we will not say what we know is a bad answer to your question. Here are some of the questions the State Dept would not answer.

Has the State Dept, even studied placing embassies in these 5 nations?

Where did State Dept. find existing funds for an embassy in Cuba?

Who in the State Dept. is responsible for decision not to support HR 1579?

Is Secretary John Kerry specifically aware of HR 1579?

Has The White House and Star Dept. communicated about HR 1579?

These are a few of my questions that were not answered. In addition I asked to speak with some official in State about H.R. 1579 or at least just embassies and ambassadors, more generally but the request was denied.

I did come up with some useful information from available State Dept. documents online. The total annual budget for 2015 for all U.S. diplomatic missions in the 169 nations and the personnel to staff those facilities is $10,031,102,000. Or just over $10 Billion. That averages out to over $55 Million per country but that varies widely from over $100 Million in some large nations to just about $2 Million in smaller countries.

All 5 of these unserved Caribbean countries fall into this small nation category. So the individual cost of the U.S. serving these 5 Caribbean nations with embassies and ambassadors would be about $2 Million each. A small building with a few State Dept. employees for each would cost all of approximately $10 Million total. Just $10 Million dollars annually.

To put that in perspective, Secretary of State John Kerry’s specially equipped personnel government Boeing 757 easily costs more than $10 Million a year to operate and staff. He is now lobbying for a new plane because he thinks the “old” plane is no longer adequate or reliable enough for his needs.

I have a better idea – lobbying for embassies in these 5 Caribbean nations!  Better yet Sec. Kerry, just simply approve them with your signature.

Over at The White House Media Office they were even less cooperative I could only speak with an anonymous staffer who did not give his name but who supplied me with an email address to submit any questions and I did.

Their response: no comment. Again tantamount to telling me the Obama Administration does not support H.R. 1579. Here are some of my specific questions they refused to answer.

Does the Obama Administration support HR 1579?

Is the Obama Administration satisfied these 5 Caribbean nations have no direct State Dept. presence?

Is it contradictory that the Obama Administration is placing an embassy and an ambassador in Cuba which is officially listed a terrorist nation but the President will not for 5 very friendly Caribbean nations?

Since President Obama has been in Office has the Obama Administration taken any action at all to address this issue in these 5 Caribbean nations?

If President Obama was asked at a Press Conference what he would say to the officials and citizens of these 5 Caribbean nations why they should be satisfied without a State Dept., presence and must fly to Barbados to conduct any diplomatic affairs unlike 169 nations around the world that have their own embassies?

Likewise as at State, my request to speak with an official of the Obama Administration about H.R.1579 and these 5 Caribbean nations was denied.

No one should kid themselves – there is no U.S.-Caribbean partnership.

Alexander Hamilton must surely be weeping in his grave.

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

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