Caribbean foreign ministers hold talks with Trump administration officials

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ST GEORGE’S, Grenada (CMC) — Caribbean Community (Caricom) foreign ministers yesterday held talks with the two officials of the new United States Administration, which one senior regional foreign affairs minister described as Washington being “simply in a listening mood”.

“Basically I thought they wanted to tell us they still have an interest in us and to hear our concerns and interests, and so we told them the various ills confronting our region,” Belize Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) following the talks.

UnderSecretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas A Shannon Jr and Acting Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Francisco Palmieri met with the foreign ministers on the sidelines of the 38th meeting of Caricom leaders that ended here yesterday. The foreign ministers were due to present a report to the leaders.

The State Department, in announcing the visit, said that the two officials of the Donald Trump Administration would discuss “regional and bilateral issues of mutual interest”.

Shannon also met with incoming Caricom Chairman and Prime Minister of Grenada Keith Mitchell to discuss stronger coordination between the United States and the Caribbean Community. He was also expected to hold bilateral talks with Caricom leaders.

Elrington said that the Caribbean had listed a number of concerns, including de-risking of banks, crime and security, adding that the US officials gave the impression they are taking it on-board and to seek to do something about it.

“I was particularly concerned, personally, with the disparity, the gap we have in knowledge. This is the 21st century, an information age, and the kind of education attainment that exist in the United States is so different from the ones that exists in our country…it is very difficult for us to catch up with that and at the same time we are expected to compete with them,” said Elrington.

He said the issues of crime and security, which the Americans raised during the deliberations, in his view, are issues of symptoms of a major problem.

“The problem is absence of education, absence of skills and, of course, absence of employment opportunities,” he said.

The focus, he added, has got to be on “greater education, training and narrowing that gap in our knowledge. The divide is too huge.”