Good morning. Thank you, Dr. Abiamofo, for the introduction. And thank you to the Anton de Kom University of Suriname and the Public Administration faculty for the invitation to speak to your students this morning.
This is my first visit to the university, and I’m impressed by the number of students studying International Relations. I’ve been told that many of you hope to pursue a career in foreign affairs and perhaps become ambassadors yourselves one day. I’ve been asked what drew me to the diplomatic service. Well, for one thing, I had an uncle who was a U.S. diplomat in the 1950s and ‘60s, and I thought he lived a pretty exciting and comfortable life. But, of course, that was in the days when diplomats traveled first class on ocean liners. Now we travel economy class on crowded planes, but that’s only because the airlines won’t let us fly as cargo – yet.
Seriously, I joined the State Department because I did then, and still do today, view public service as a higher calling, and I trust in the overwhelmingly positive role democratic governance plays in society—in the United States and around the world. I also was seeking an opportunity to be part of something larger than myself, and being part of American foreign policy gave me that chance. All nations are motivated by interests, but some are also motivated by principle. I believe that the United States and its friends and partners, Suriname among them, are seeking to advance universal principles – freedom, democracy, human rights and economic well-being among others. In this era of history, the United States has been placed in a leadership role in advancing those principles, and I am proud to serve my country and represent it to the people of Suriname.
I am now 35 years into my career. I spent much of the 1980s working on Cold War issues with our NATO partners in Europe. After the end of the Cold War, I continued to work on political-military issues with our colleagues in the Pentagon. In the late ‘90s, I had the privilege of working extensively on the Northern Ireland Peace Process while serving in Dublin, especially working with the Irish Republican Movement to lay down their arms, or “decommission” as the process was called. Fortunately, with hard work from all sides we succeeded and ushered in a new era of peace in Northern Ireland.
I understand some of you are studying peaceful settlement of disputes. The conflict in Ireland was a deep ethnic and religious conflict, one whose roots went back many centuries. Being a part of those negotiations, and later dealing with similar tensions in Cyprus, gave me an intense appreciation for peaceful coexistence. I have been incredibly impressed with the way Surinamers of many ethnic and religious backgrounds live and work together. You make it look easy when for the rest of the world it is a struggle. I’m still trying to get somebody to tell me your secret! One thing I’ve learned in resolving conflict, and I hope you will remember, is that you have to deal with all parties, the saints and the sinners (and that determination often depends on your own perspective), provided they have made the basic commitment to pursue the path to peace.
As you can see, I’ve served much of my career in Western Europe. More recently, though, my focus has been on the Western Hemisphere—North and South America. Prior to coming to Suriname, I was posted in Ottawa, Canada, where I was Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs. Canada is one of our closest neighbors and allies, a very important bilateral and multilateral partner, and one with whom the United States shares a common language and history.
While not as obvious on the surface, Suriname and the United States share a significant history, too, going back to trade routes established when both of our countries were still colonies. Had Great Britain and the Kingdom of the Netherlands not swapped New York for Suriname, I might be speaking to you in Dutch today. As it is, I’m thankful that you are so proficient in English.
Suriname and the United States are both nations of immigrants. Our countries were settled by enterprising colonists, built up through the labor of slaves from Africa and then later migrant workers from around the globe. Each of our nations chose independence and a democratic form of government. We have both weathered challenges to those democracies and experienced our own civil wars.
Over the past three centuries, the United States has grown to become Suriname’s biggest trading partner. Large-scale American investments in Suriname began in 1916 when ALCOA started bauxite exploration in Moengo. Bauxite mining bolstered Suriname’s economy for decades. Suriname’s economic importance to the United States during World War II also deserves special mention. Your bauxite was crucial to fueling the American war effort, and the U.S. Government invested heavily in Suriname by constructing the highway from Onverwacht (OHN-fair-vockt) to Zanderij (ZAHN-dare-eye), and by expanding what is now Johan Adolf Pengel International Airport.
Activities in the bauxite sector had a spinoff effect on other sectors such as shipping and trade, and the wealth generated from ALCOA’s activities in Suriname improved conditions for the Surinamese people. The expansion of ALCOA’s local subsidiary Suralco in the mid-20th century led to the construction of a second mine at Paranam, and the development of Suriname’s only hydroelectric power plant.
While extractive industries continue to play an important role in Suriname’s economy and in our bilateral trade, the 21st century has brought with it different approaches to trade, development, and foreign policy. Our global economy, global communication networks, and global challenges, such as terrorism, demand regional and multi-lateral engagement. As we come to understand the limits of the Earth’s natural resources and the effect humans are having on climate change, sustainability and innovation take precedence over extraction and exploitation.
As Ambassador, it is my job to carry out President Obama’s foreign policy priorities. In Suriname, and elsewhere in the hemisphere, expanded, shared economic opportunity is high on the agenda. In 2015, the United States exported $444 million in goods to Suriname. Exports from Suriname to the United States totaled $146 million. U.S. companies like Newmont, Apache, and Kosmos have made significant investments in Suriname in recent years.
President Obama has repeatedly underscored the interconnectedness of the U.S. economic and commercial relationship with Western Hemisphere partners like Suriname and he affirms the U.S. commitment to shared economic prosperity among all countries in our region. We join with other countries around the hemisphere in pledging to close the gap between its developed and developing economies. We intend to do so by prioritizing policies and investments that have long-term, transformative impact and are sustainable—of critical importance as Suriname seeks to move away from reliance on extractive industries and toward a more diversified economy.
The United States supports Suriname’s initiatives to attract foreign investment insofar as it promotes a diversified, stable, growing economy. Suriname should continue to take steps to develop fiscal transparency in its key public and commercial institutions, to fight corruption and money laundering, and to establish a legal framework that promotes sustainability and greater foreign investment.
One way of doing that is for Suriname to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) as a way of increasing governmental transparency and public trust as our economies continue to grow together. We welcome Natural Resource Minister Dodson’s commitment to begin that process for Suriname this year.
In order for trade and business development to flourish, citizens throughout the hemisphere must be secure from the threats of crime and violence, as well as from discrimination and corruption. That means supporting democratic institutions and assisting governments in becoming more open.
Several decades ago, the countries of the Western Hemisphere led the global shift away from authoritarian and military regimes and toward democracy. Today we are experiencing the most democratic moment in the Western Hemisphere’s history. But history has also shown us that preserving democracy requires constant vigilance and, above all, commitment to rule of law. That means democratic institutions of government that are transparent, that are accountable to the people, and that are efficient, delivering services to those who need them, as opposed to only the favored few.
Around the hemisphere, the U.S. supports peaceful calls for investigations into corruption. We must keep good governance at the highest levels of foreign policy discussions. We need to speak up when bad behavior threatens openness. We need to empower citizen groups as watchdogs and as the voice of those who have none. Look, no country is immune from corruption, including my own, but what is important is that laws, procedures, and political will are in place to deal with it when it occurs. We must not tolerate impunity.
While governments throughout the region work internally to be more transparent, they must also be mindful of external threats to citizen security.
With the recent attacks in Belgium, we are reminded that terrorism can happen anytime and anywhere. I want to reiterate what I have said to my counterparts in government here that we see no specific threat in Suriname. In fact, we feel quite safe here. But terrorist organizations like ISIL recruit all over the globe, including in the Caribbean. Increasingly, we are seeing young people radicalized online and then asked not to travel to the Middle East to fight or to train, but to carry out an attack in their home country. That is why I appreciate your government’s commitment to remain vigilant in a dangerous world and to work with the U.S. and your CARICOM partners on our mutual concerns.
The Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, or CBSI, brings all members of the Caribbean Community and the Dominican Republic together to jointly collaborate on regional security with the United States as a partner. The United States is making a significant contribution to CBSI, committing $263 million in funding regionally since 2010.
The United States and Caribbean countries have identified three core objectives to deal with the threats facing the Caribbean:
- First, substantially reduce illicit trafficking through programs ranging from counter-narcotics to reducing the flow of illegal arms/light weapons to dismantling human trafficking networks.
- Second, increase public safety and security through programs ranging from reducing crime and violence to improving border security.
- Finally, promote social justice through programs designed to promote justice sector reform, combat government corruption, and assist vulnerable populations at risk of recruitment into criminal organizations.
Throughout the Caribbean, we work with youth who have left the formal education system or who have gotten in trouble with the law to ensure they have a path back to being productive members of society. In Suriname, the Kari Yu youth development program has trained 2,200 young people in basic life skills and helped 440 of them find permanent employment. Another 26 have gone on to start their own businesses.
The United States Military Liaison Office, or MLO, is U.S. Southern Command’s security cooperation and assistance office based out of the U.S. Embassy. The office is charged with working with the Suriname Ministry of Defense on military and humanitarian assistance issues common to both countries. Through various means, the MLO supports the Ministry of Defense in its goal of continued military professionalization and training.
Last year, we conducted 18 subject matter expert exchanges in Suriname and in the United States. The South Dakota National Guard conducted 12 of them as part of our State Partnership Program. This year we’re scheduled to complete 16 of these exchanges focusing on military professionalism and disaster preparedness.
Suriname is also an active regional partner. Through coordination with our MLO, Suriname sends personnel to seminars and conferences throughout the Caribbean and the United States to discuss important topics like combatting terrorism and counter-drug trafficking efforts. Suriname annually participates in two major South American and Caribbean exercises, Fuerzas Comando and Tradewinds, which enhance multinational and regional cooperation, mutual trust and confidence, and improves the readiness, interoperability, and capability of the participating forces.
In addition to our military counterparts, we work with our partners in the NCCR as well as the Ministry of Health to make sure Suriname is prepared to fight infectious disease on a pandemic scale. In November 2014, U.S. Southern Command donated 1,000 units of personal protective equipment. The global health threat at that time was Ebola, a threat that thankfully did not reach Suriname’s shores. Now the Obama Administration is asking Congress for approximately $1.9 billion in emergency funding to enhance ongoing efforts to prepare for and respond to the Zika virus, both domestically and internationally. The request includes $41 million for the State Department for certain support for U.S. citizens in affected countries, to support the WHO and PAHO, and to minimize the Zika threat in affected countries while reducing the risk of further spreading the virus.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of areas in which we cooperate. The United States and Suriname share many common goals and values. Perhaps the most pertinent for today – Earth Day – is our belief that we must make sustainable choices that enable future generations to enjoy energy security and a healthy planet to live on.
As people around the globe observe Earth Day today, world leaders are making history at the United Nations in New York. More than 100 countries, including Suriname, will sign the Paris Agreement on climate change, representing their commitment to join it formally. This marks a turning point in the story of our planet and may set a record for the largest number of signers to an international agreement in a single day.
A greener future is already in sight. Leaders of countries and cities are adapting and innovating away from fossil fuels and business owners are investing in a clean energy economy. The United States is moving forward in its commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. We are doing this through the strongest fuel economy standards in our history, through our twenty-fold increase in solar generation since 2009, and through proposed rules on everything from energy conservation standards for appliances to reduction in emissions of methane-rich gas from municipal solid waste landfills.
While we are taking significant climate action domestically, the United States is also focused on international cooperation to address this global challenge. Our $500 million contribution last month to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) – the first tranche of the $3 billion U.S. pledge to the GCF – will help developing countries reduce carbon emissions and prepare for climate impacts, while also advancing our commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals – another major landmark agreement the world came together around last year.
Sustainability is something we’ve been discussing a lot this week. Jeffrey Soule, a senior fellow with the Environment and Climate Partnership of the Americas, just left Suriname this morning after a week of working with local partners in government, academia, civil society and the private sector on achievable sustainability goals in Suriname. Those stakeholders identified several priorities for building a sustainable Suriname, such as a more comprehensive planning process that involves inputs from citizens, including youth. They also discussed the role of renewable energy and ways to encourage its use from the household level to a nationwide energy plan.
We applaud the initiatives already under way at Anton de Kom University and at Conservation International Suriname to explore innovative approaches to reestablishing mangroves to protect the seacoast from rising waters.
As we have said before, we also urge Suriname to sign the Minamata Convention on Mercury this year. We are proud to see U.S. companies, like Newmont, step forward to assist Suriname’s small-scale miners in transitioning to a mercury-free method.
This Earth Day – with the signing of the Paris Agreement – is truly a cause for hope. It is also a reminder of our shared commitment to combat climate change. We must all seize upon the momentum from Paris to build a clean energy future for ourselves and our children and grandchildren.
The United States and Suriname have a long and productive bilateral relationship. Our commitment to continued partnership is embodied by the $165 million embassy complex that is almost complete in Paramaribo North. This modern, energy-efficient building will help us better represent U.S. interests in Suriname, and deepen our cooperation in all areas, from education to public health to law enforcement. I invite you all to visit our new embassy this fall, whether to apply for a visa to travel to the United States or to attend one of our cultural programs or to research U.S. colleges and universities where you can pursue an advanced degree.
I thank you for your kind invitation to speak to you today and for your attentiveness. I’m happy to answer any questions you have. Thank you.