Vice President Kamala Harris becomes the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the Bahamas since the country gained its independence in 1973. While there, she will also hold her fourth multilateral meeting with regional leaders from Barbados, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Trinidad, and several other member nations of the Caribbean alliance known as Caricom. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
June 8 (UPI) -- Vice President Kamala Harris will meet with Bahamas Prime Minister Philip Davis in Nassau Thursday to reaffirm a strategic climate partnership with the former British colony while announcing new federal efforts to curtail arms trafficking throughout the Caribbean.
Harris unveiled a package worth more than $100 million to bolster the island's national security and ramp up the government's ability to suppress the black market for firearms that continues to fuel an epidemic of gun violence in America.
Harris and Davis will also discuss the escalating humanitarian crisis in Haiti and will share a progress report on their partnership to meet global climate goals by 2030.
Harris becomes the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the Bahamas since the country gained its independence in 1973. While there, she will also hold her fourth multilateral meeting with regional leaders from Barbados, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Trinidad, and several other member nations of the Caribbean alliance known as Caricom.
"The vice president has been very clear that we needed to elevate our engagement with the Caribbean," a senior administration official said during a Wednesday briefing to preview the visit. "And, really, she has delivered on that commitment."
The summit will serve to address the need for an enhanced diplomatic presence in the eastern Caribbean, where the Biden administration plans to establish two new embassies in the coming months, the White House said.
"This effort, pursued in consultation with the United States Congress and the countries of the region, recognizes that deepening our relationship with Caribbean nations requires regular exchange between our governments at all levels, and is in response to long-standing requests from our Caribbean partners," the White House said, adding "An expanded diplomatic footprint in the Caribbean will help strengthen people-to-people ties between our nations."
As part of the effort, the U.S. Justice Department will appoint a veteran prosecutor to serve as the Coordinator for Caribbean Firearms Prosecutions, who will be charged with enforcing the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act of 2022, which included new criminal provisions on firearms trafficking and straw purchases.
The State Department will provide support to a regional Crime Gun Intelligence Unit based off the coast of South America, which will coordinate Caribbean law enforcement efforts with the backing of U.S. agencies, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Homeland Security, Customs and Border Patrol, as well as INTERPOL.
The unit would aim to address critical firearms investigation training needs in the Caribbean and help other regional partners solve gun crimes while keeping track of crime data that emerges from the federal operation.
The Caribbean Climate Investment Program will provide $20 million for technical assistance, business development services to deploy technologies in renewable energy, the White House said.
The U.S. Agency for International Development will provide an additional $53.7 million to Haiti in response to widespread unrest and violence among street gangs following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in 2021.
The plan also calls for the State Department to collaborate with the Haitian National Police in establishing a Transnational Criminal Investigative Unit to prosecute rampant gun smuggling, human trafficking, and other crimes.
Under the strategy, Caribbean forensic capabilities would be brought up to international standards in an effort to expedite a backlog of criminal cases.
The State Department will work with Britain to install a criminal justice advisor in the Caribbean to mentor local prosecutors and judges, improve the criminal justice experience of victims and witnesses, and enhance public legal education, the White House said.
Previously, Harris held a virtual discussion with CARICOM leaders in April 2022 on economic growth, COVID, security, and continuing climate efforts. At the time, she agreed to convene the group each year.
Following the first meeting, Harris tasked the U.S. interagency to launch a new climate crisis initiative, which resulted in the U.S.-Caribbean Partnership to Address the Climate Crisis 2030, or PACC 2030.
Last June, the vice president met with Caribbean leaders in Los Angeles at the Summit of the Americas, where they officially launched the effort.
At that meeting, Harris also launched three committees of U.S. and Caribbean representatives to make short-term progress on three key priorities: energy security, food security, and access to financing.
Following that gathering, Harris convened the committee at Blair House in Washington in September 2022 to ensure progress was continuing.