William J. Burns
Deputy Secretary
Caribbean-American Heritage Event
Washington, DC
June 27, 2012

Thank you for coming. Like many of you, my first choice would be to celebrate this event in the Caribbean. But I’m delighted that a piece of the Caribbean has come to us.

Let me begin with a warm welcome to the many Ambassadors from Caribbean nations joining us today. I’d like to thank you and your embassy teams for sharing all the beautiful items on display in the Exhibit Hall.

I also want to take a moment to recognize two outstanding American public servants who are with us today: Attorney General Eric Holder and Congresswoman Yvette Clark. Thank you for coming and reflecting on your shared Caribbean heritage with us.

As the President said, Caribbean-Americans have taken many different paths to our shores — some forced to come against their will, others pursuing greater educational and economic opportunities. What all have in common is that, once here, they and their children and their children’s children became part of the fabric of our communities and produced uniquely American success stories. This is true from Alexander Hamilton to Malcolm X, from Harry Belafonte to the son of two Jamaican immigrants who was raised in the Bronx eating curried goat for Christmas dinner and grew up to become Secretary of State Colin Powell.

As you look around the room at the many accomplished members of the Caribbean Diaspora and displays of Caribbean culture, one thing is clear: Caribbean-Americans have made a remarkably rich contribution to American life. Caribbean art and music add spice to American culture. Caribbean flavors liven up American kitchens. And of course, Caribbean businessmen and women bring entrepreneurial energy to the U.S. economy.

This last part is critical, because American policymakers have come to realize something that you’ve known for a long time: the critical role of diaspora communities in sparking development back home and deepening economic, cultural, and even diplomatic ties. The remittances that families and friends send home, the investments in business in your home countries… you have a reach that our diplomats and development experts can never hope to match. We look to you as partners in promoting development and building ties within our hemisphere. And in that spirit, let me tell you about a few of the initiatives we have launched.

In partnership with Compete Caribbean, the United States has developed an initiative called the Caribbean Idea Marketplace or CIM. CIM is a business competition that connects Caribbean entrepreneurs with members of the diaspora to help them create jobs and economic opportunities. This year, we are selecting ten projects that will each win a grant of $100,000. You have through July to apply, so I encourage you to bring us your best ideas. Thomas De Bass, Regional Director of the Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships, is here with us today to address this initiative in more detail.

We are also working to empower women entrepreneurs in the region. From Trinidad and Tobago to Jamaica, women are developing businesses. And the success of these women is helping to sustain families, neighborhoods, and entire communities. Convincing governments and businesses and NGOs across the world to recognize the transformative power of investing in women has been a top priority for Secretary Clinton—and it’s become part of our economic policy toward the Caribbean as well, thanks to the Caribbean Women’s Entrepreneurship Network, which connects and trains female entrepreneurs. This is a promising effort, and it is growing quickly.

You have such an excellent slate of speakers that I won’t keep you much longer.

But I do want to take this opportunity to make one final pitch. I want to ask the young people here — who are thinking about how to build bridges — to consider a career in diplomacy. We need talented and motivated people to help build deeper ties with Caribbean nations and solve challenges around the world, from poverty and public health to counterterrorism and climate change. For American diplomacy to be most effective, we need a Foreign Service that is truly representative of America and all its diversity.

We have seen how the talents of Caribbean-Americans have enriched so many parts of the life of our nation. And may these contributions inspire all of us to work together to realize the promise of U.S.-Caribbean cooperation that we celebrate today. Thank you.