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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

On-the-Record Conference Call on the President's Trip to Jamaica and Panama


Via Telephone

9:23 A.M. EDT

MS. MEEHAN:  Hi, everybody, this is Bernadette.  Thanks so much for joining us.  This is an on-the-record call to preview the President’s travel to Kingston, Jamaica and Panama City, Panama.  There is no embargo for this call.  We have two senior administration officials with us today.  The first is Ben Rhodes, the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications; and the second is Ricardo Zuñiga, Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council.

And with that, I will turn it over to Ben Rhodes.

MR. RHODES:  Great.  Thanks, everybody.  I'll just kind of run through our schedule and a number of the objectives associated with the summit, but then turn it over to Ricardo to give you some more background on the two stops.

The first stop, as Bernadette mentioned, is in Kingston, Jamaica.  This is a trip to meet with the Jamaicans, but also to have a summit with the CARICOM countries.  Those are the 14 different countries within the CARICOM grouping of nations.  And so the President will begin on Thursday, April 9th -- after arriving and spending the night on the 8th, he will begin his day on Thursday, April 9th, with a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller of Jamaica.  That will be followed by the CARICOM summit.

Then, after the CARICOM summit, the President will have a town hall with young leaders from across the region.  This is similar to the types of events you’ve seen him do in Southeast Asia and Africa, where he will be able to focus on our commitment to partnering with the youth of the region on behalf of their aspirations and our shared interests.  Then there will be a wreath-laying ceremony, and then we will depart Kingston that night.

I'll just briefly say that, again, this is an important opportunity for us to meet with a significant number of our neighbors with whom we share interests both in the hemisphere, and bilaterally and multilaterally.  Ricardo can talk through the agenda in greater detail, but we'll certainly be discussing our shared cooperation on issues associated with security, where we have a range of cooperation with the CARICOM countries; also energy, where we are looking to continually deepen our relationship with the Caribbean and can play an important role in enhancing the energy security of the region.

Then we will be moving on to Panama, which is hosting the Summit of the Americas.  On Friday, the 10th, the President has a number of events that are associated with the summit, leading into the summit. 

First, in the morning, the President will have a bilateral meeting with President Juan Carlos Varela of Panama, obviously a close friend and partner of the United States in the Americas.  He will then drop by a meeting of CEOs who are partnering with us on our 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative.  This is an effort to promote two-way educational exchange in the hemisphere, one of our signature people-to-people efforts in the world, and the priority in the hemisphere where many of the leaders have focused on the need to enhance higher education, including through exchanges, with more American students going to Latin America and more Latin American students coming to study here in the United States.

Following that meeting, the President will meet with the different Presidents of the SICA grouping of nations.  That's the Central American nations, where we have a very significant $1 billion security and capacity-building initiative, which Ricardo can talk through with you.  Again, our focus there is on building the capacity of our partners in Central America as they deal with a range of security challenges and look to enhance economic development for their people, which is very much in our shared interests.

Following that meeting with the SICA Presidents, the President will participate in a CEO Summit of the Americas.  He will be joined in an event, a moderated discussion by the Presidents of Panama, Mexico and Brazil, where they’ll be able to discuss their shared efforts to promote economic growth and job creation in the hemisphere.  And many of you who have covered our Latin America policy in the past know that promoting U.S. exports in the region has been fundamental to both our broader economic strategy and our approach to the region.

Following that CEO summit, the President will attend a civil society forum.  This is an important initiative that the Panamanians are leading and hosting that brings together civil society from across the region to have a discussion about the different challenges civil society faces, but also the opportunities for governments to partner with civil society.

The President will make remarks at that broader civil society forum.  Then he will participate in a smaller roundtable with civil society leaders from across the region.  He will be joined in that roundtable by the leaders of Costa Rica and Uruguay, again, speaking to the regional diversity of civil society and the shared commitment among different leaders within the hemisphere, to civil society and engagement.  That concludes the pre-program, if you will. 

And then that evening, the President will attend the inauguration ceremony and leaders dinner associated with the Summit of the Americas.  And then on Saturday, April 11th, he will attend the various plenary sessions and leaders meetings.  And then he will conclude his visit with his traditional press conference to close the summit. 

I will turn it over to Ricardo to talk through the CARICOM Summit agenda in some greater detail, and then we’ll take your questions.

MR. ZUÑIGA:  So thanks very much, Ben.  So just from the top.  This is a President that’s arriving at the Summit of Americas with a very significant expansion of our relationship with the Americas, particularly over the last year, and significant progress that includes a reformulation of our relationship with Cuba after 50 years of isolation, of new policy of engagement.

He’s going to be arriving after having executed the executive actions on immigration affecting citizens from particularly Central America and Mexico, but citizens from throughout the world and the region, and after announcing $1 billion in foreign assistance for Central America to help the nations of Central America deal with the factors that have contributed to significant immigration from the region. 

So we expect that we’re going to have a number of both diplomatic and just regular practical issues that we’re going to be able to address during the summit and in the President’s visit to Jamaica.

So in Jamaica, we’re going to have the first visit by a President since 1982.  And we’ll have an opportunity to speak with Prime Minister Miller about -- Portia Simpson-Miller -- about our strong support for Jamaica’s work to deal with a debt crisis, with a physical crisis, and its strong performance over the last two years in working with the IMF, the World Bank, and others to address that, in support of the prosperity and security of her citizens. 

With the CARICOM leaders, we’re going to have an opportunity to speak about some issues that we’ve dealt with to a significant degree already, including security and our cooperation through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative.  But also, an issue that the Vice President brought together a summit of Caribbean leaders in January related to energy security and our shared efforts to promote a more diverse, cleaner, and more sustainable energy future for the Caribbean.  So again, a very practical agenda there that we’re going to build on some of the work that we’ve already undertaken with them. 

In Panama, and at the summit, we see this as an opportunity to work closely with partners throughout the Americas to make sure that our summit upholds a common commitment to democracy, human rights, and inclusive economic development. 

We have, as we have in the past, had a very pragmatic summit agenda that is focused on the kinds of issues that affect daily lives, but are ambitious and mobilize the combined potential of the region.  We congratulate the government of Panama for the organization of the summit and development of a strong agenda that is going to include discussion of energy, democratic governance, health, the environment, security, civil society, and migration.  These are issues that affect the daily lives of citizens of the Americas, and that’s why we wanted to make sure that we have an agenda that is more than diplomacy; it’s about practical matters that affect our citizens. 

In past summits, we’ve seen among other initiatives the launch of the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas; the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative; Connect 2022, which promoted electrical interconnection in the region; and the Small Business Network of Americas, which helps sustain more than 250,000 businesses throughout the region.

We also at this summit hope to have new regional efforts aimed at promoting educational exchanges, expanding economic opportunities -- particularly for women, promoting clean energy and climate change cooperation ahead of the very important COP meeting in Paris later this year.  We want to promote support for the Bali WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement.  We also are going to be working with other delegations to promote expanded access to broadband Internet.  And we want to ensure a permanent, meaningful role for civil society in future summits.

So, again, these are all areas that we think are going to have a practical impact and that are aimed at the kinds of initiatives that citizens will be able to feel and see as meaningful to their own lives.  As Ben mentioned, the President will participate in the CEO Summit along with the Presidents of Panama, Brazil, and Mexico to engage business leaders and discuss competitiveness and what we can do together to build a workforce that is going to promote broad-based growth and inclusive growth in the future.

The summit is also going to be a very important venue for us to highlight the work that we’re undertaking in Central America in partnership with Mexico, Colombia, the Inter-American Development Bank, and other key actors.  So the President is going to meet with the eight leaders of the Central American Integration System, or SICA, to discuss our strategy for engagement with Central America and the $1 billion request that I mentioned on the part of the President for assistance to deal with issues related to Central American economics -- excuse me, the economy, security and governance challenges that are faced by the governments of Central America.

So with that, why don’t we open it up to questions?

MR. RHODES:  Yes, and I’d just say one other thing just to kind of give one more piece of perspective.

This is our third summit, and we’ve been building a more positive environment in the Americas for several years now.  And as many of you know, we focus on a lot of different issues here.  Recently we’ve been very focused on Iran, on the threat of ISIL, and Ukraine.  But at the same time, I think what we’re building is a very significant series of initiatives within the hemisphere, and the President is very focused on ensuring that we are ambitious and having a concrete agenda here. 

And I think if you look at the opening to Cuba and the process of normalizing our relations, the Central American initiative that we’ve committed $1 billion to now; the Colombian peace process, which we have designated a special envoy to represent the United States at; our focus on energy security, and our 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative, together with the broader economic and export promotion efforts that we’ve undertaken over the last several years -- the President has a clear legacy that he is aiming to build in the hemisphere that is focused on moving beyond some of the past divisiveness within the Americas, finding new ways to engage our partners on a basis of mutual interest and mutual respect, and making concrete progress on very profound security challenges, whether it’s promoting peace in Colombia or helping to stabilize a very difficult environment in Central America. 

So I think people can now see -- more so than they could, frankly, at the previous two summits -- what the outlines of our lasting agenda are in this hemisphere.  And this summit is a pivotal moment in our effort to demonstrate how we’re moving forward in all these areas.

So with that, we’ll move to questions.

Q    You mentioned of course the importance of normalization with Cuba, but did not say anything about the presence of Raul Castro at the summit.  Could you tell us more about what the President might be doing to solidify the U.S. outreach to Cuba?  Any planned meetings with Castro?  Bilats?  And how does the administration expect the recent sanctions against individuals in Venezuela to play out at the summit, given that President Maduro has several allies within Latin America who have joined him in portraying this as an aggressive move by the U.S.?

MR. RHODES:  Well, first of all, let me say that this is the first Summit of the Americas that Cuba is attending.  That, in its own right, is an important step forward in our view.  We, frankly, having gone through two previous summits, did not think it was constructive for the United States to continue to try to isolate Cuba from the broader community within the Americas.  Frankly, I think it only pointed to the failure of U.S. policy, because every time we showed up at the Summit of the Americas the question was not related to improving governance or even advancing democratic values; the question was why Cuba wasn’t at the Summit of the Americas. 

So part of the process of normalization included our support for and openness to Cuban participation at the summit.  This is something that Ricardo and I discussed with our Cuban counterparts over the course of the discussions that we had.  At the same time, we made very clear that just as there would be Cuban attendance at the summit, we felt it was very important that there be civil society participation at the summit, and that that include a broad diversity of civil society from across the region to include Cuba.  And it's very important that the Panamanians are hosting such a forum.

With respect to the interaction between the Presidents, I'm sure that President Obama will be interacting with President Castro at the summit events and as the leaders gather on the margins of those events.  We don’t have a formal bilateral meeting that we’re currently scheduling, but at the same time the way the summit of the Americas goes is there are many opportunities where we just have conversations, and we’ll certainly keep you updated as to any interactions the President has with Raul Castro.

I’d note what we’ve been doing through this process of pursuing normalization is having much more high-level diplomatic exchanges with the Cuban government to review a range of important issues, but also supporting very significant U.S. commercial business and people-to-people exchanges that we believe could be good for the Cuban people and good for the American people.  And we can discuss some of that in greater detail as well. 

Venezuela is certain to be on the agenda that the many leaders have coming into the summit.  That relates, frankly, to the challenging circumstances within Venezuela, which have been a focus for leaders across the region, not just the United States, for some years now, given our interest in seeing a stable and successful Venezuela that has greater opportunities for its people. 

Again, we certainly would expect the Venezuelan government to express its opposition to certain U.S. policies.  And again, I think our point would simply be the United States stands up for a set of values in every country in the world.  That support for universal values is not directed at or targeted against any one government, but rather it's simply the things that we believe in -- whether it's the ability of people to make decisions about their own governance, the ability of them to participate freely in the politics of their countries. 

And with respect to Venezuela, what we have supported is regional efforts in which our partners are also working to support dialogue within Venezuela and a greater sense of stability.  So we’ve also, at the same time, made it clear to the Venezuelan government that we’re open to continued dialogue with them so that we can address directly the issues that we’re concerned about, and encourage the type of cooperation with regional countries and the type of dialogue within Venezuela that we think can be constructive.

So it will certainly be an issue.  But again, what we’ll be making clear here is that we stand up for a set of universal values everywhere.  And with respect to Venezuela, frankly, we believe that a process of dialogue within the country and within the region is the best way to address the issues that have raised so many challenges within Venezuela and the region in recent years.

Q    Thank you very much for doing the call.  The President told NPR that he wanted to act quickly, I guess -- I don’t have the exact quote in front of me -- on the terror designation when the recommendation comes.  This, as you know better than anyone, has been a huge for the Cubans, understanding that the recommendation from the State Department, once accepted by the President, would still require 45 days of news cycle with the clock on. 

Do you expect that that recommendation would come to the President so that he could express his decision before this meeting?  And if not, what’s holding that up?  And what do you see as the timetable for opening embassies after the summit?  The talks have not gone as rapidly as some might have hoped in both capitals.

MR. RHODES:  So, Andrea, those will obviously be -- the SSOT list and the (inaudible) will be key issues with respect to the ongoing normalization process. 

First of all, when the President made his announcement on December 17th, one of the commitments that he made was to review Cuba’s presence on the State-Sponsored Terrorism List.  And his very clear direction to the State Department was to conduct that review as quickly as possible, but to do it thoroughly so that this is based on facts and that we have exhausted all the necessary lines of inquiry to reach a satisfactory conclusion. 

And again, as the President said in his interview, the State-Sponsored Terrorism List does not relate to whether or not we agree with everything a country does or whether we agree with its political system, or its foreign policy.  It's a very practical review as to whether or not a government is sponsoring terrorism.  And so the direction that he’s given to the State Department is to conduct the review from that perspective. 

We would expect that that review, since it's been ongoing for a period of months now, is nearing its conclusion.  But we, frankly, don’t control the precise timing of when the State Department makes a recommendation to the President, so we are waiting the State Department’s final recommendation. 

What will happen, so people are just familiar with the process, is that comes over here from Secretary Kerry reflecting the judgment of the State Department; then the President makes a determination about whether or not to accept and act upon that recommendation. 

The 45-day waiting -- the 45-day period that you referenced is after the President submits this to Congress, there is a 45- day clock during which time Congress can try to take action to essentially override the President’s determination.  So it's more in the vein of Congress having to take an action rather than having to validate a particular recommendation. 

But again, with respect to timing, I think this has been ongoing because it was initiated quickly after the President’s announcement.  So we expect it's likely in the final stages.  But we don’t control the timing; the State Department does.  And the President will have to receive that recommendation, which he has not yet, and then make a determination about whether or not to take a particular action.

With respect to the diplomatic relations, I think we’ve made good progress in the sense that, first of all, the two Presidents made a commitment to reestablish diplomatic relations in December.  They both publicly affirmed that commitment, and it was something that grew out of the conversations that Ricardo and I have had with our counterparts and the discussion that the two Presidents had on the phone. 

For the State Department and recs, of course, that initiated a very complicated set of negotiations.  It dealt with everything from practical questions about how our diplomats operate to more significant political questions about how we engage one another.  We’ve actually made good progress in working through a number of practical hurdles that had to be cleared, but we still have a little bit further to go in working through those issues -- because frankly, we want to make sure that when we are opening embassies, the Cubans here in Washington, in the United States and Havana, that we have those issues done right. 

And so certainly this will be a subject of discussion at the summit.  But I think what you’ll see is very broad support from within the Americas for the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.  And so we’d expect there to be continued momentum towards that objective. 

And in the interim, we’re very hardened that as we have made policy changes -- so even as the SSOT process has gone on -- as we’ve made policy and regulatory changes to facilitate greater travel and commercial activity in Cuba, that’s led to much more significant high-level engagements from our government.  So, for instance, everyone from Roberta Jacobson to the State Department’s leading telecommunications advisor have been able to travel down to Cuba and engage in conversations about how to enhance our ability to engage the Cuban people.

But also, significant movement by U.S. businesses.  Recently, people noted that Airbnb is launching an initiative in Cuba that will facilitate greater travel, of course.  We’ve had a number of important commercial and congressional delegations travel to the island.  So all of this activity is part of normalization, and I think creates a positive sense of momentum.  And yes, I’d note that the NBA is going to be the first major professional sports league from the United States to send a delegation down there.  Personally, I'm a Steve Nash fan, so it’s good to see he’s finding very good ways to spend his time after his retirement.

Q    I just wanted to go back to the issue of the State Sponsors of Terrorism list.  Is the administration at this point ruling out that the timing would be -- of an announcement on this -- such recommendation would be coming before the summit?  And are you also ruling out that there will be any announcement on any reopening of embassies in time for the summit?

MR. RHODES:  I wouldn’t rule out anything with respect to the timing of the SSOT, simply because, Matt, we don’t control the timing.  So when we get the State Department’s recommendation, we can then make a determination about whether and how to move forward with that and to announce it publicly.

With respect to the opening of embassies, I would not anticipate that we will be formalizing the opening of embassies in advance of the summit.  It’s obviously something that is continuing to be the subject of conversation with the Cuban government.  I would anticipate that if there’s some interaction at the summit with the Cubans, this will come up because it’s the ongoing subject of conversation between our governments. 

But, again, we’re satisfied that that process is moving forward.  We want to make sure that when you have two countries that haven’t really spoken to each other like this in over 50 years, you have a lot of issues to work through as you aim to open up embassies, and that includes some very practical things like how our diplomats can operate in each country.  So I’m not ruling things out with respect to timing, although I would not anticipate that in advance to the summit we’d finalize the diplomatic relations process.

Q    I wanted to go back to the question of Venezuela, because the new U.S. approach to Cuba was welcomed in the region but the sanctions on Venezuela, the wording of the executive order did cause some concern and not just in Venezuela or Cuba.  Are you disappointed that countries in the region seem to be at odds with you over Venezuela and not pushing Maduro to clean up his human rights record?

MR. RHODES:  So the first thing I’ll say and then I’ll hand it to Ricardo here, Michelle, is that the wording, which got a lot of attention, is completely pro forma.  This is a language that we use in executive orders around the world.  So the United States does not believe that Venezuela poses some threat to our national security.  We, frankly, just have a framework for how we formalize these executive orders. 

I’d add that that the executive order was in response to congressional legislation that had been worked transparently for many months and, frankly, was not of a scale that in any way was aimed at targeting the Venezuelan government broadly or bringing about some type of dramatic change in terms of the government of Venezuela.  It was focused on a number of individuals who had been determined to be associated with human rights violations.  And we have executive orders like this around the world, and they’re a tool that allows us to have consequences associated with our support for universal values.

But I’ll turn it over to Ricardo to speak to the broad regional dynamic.

MR. ZUÑIGA:  So I think it’s also important to note that the situation inside Venezuela clearly is a matter of concern for its neighbors and for other countries in the region.  The South American governments have been involved in an effort for more than a year to try to promote an internal dialogue so that basically all the political forces in Venezuela are given an opportunity to participate in the democratic process, as should be the case.

There’s great concern also about the economic crisis currently afflicting Venezuela and the potential impact that can have not only for the countries that have benefited from Venezuela’s Petrocaribe oil assistance, but also for Venezuela’s neighbors. 

Look, I think the bottom line here is we have an interest in the success of Venezuela.  And Venezuela’s success, its prosperity, its security, its stability, its democracy -- we’re Venezuela’s largest trading partner.  We have an extensive and deep history between our countries and including a lot of family connections and so forth.  We don’t have any hostile designs on Venezuela.  On the contrary, we support the efforts of South American governments to promote a political resolution to the very significant challenges that have been affecting Venezuela, particularly over the last year.  A number of governments have expressed concern over the arrest of elected leaders by the government of Venezuela.  We think it’s important that we continue to work together to reaffirm regional values on democracy and human rights.  And that’s really the core of our approach to Venezuela.

Q    I have questions on businesses on Cuba.  Ben, you mentioned the atmosphere at the previous Summits of the Americas when Cuba wasn’t there and how that kind of overshadowed the situation and the agenda that the U.S. wanted to discuss.  Can you talk a little bit about how much the atmosphere at those previous summits led to the U.S. decision to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba? 

And then, on the business side, obviously there’s the CEO Summit and a focus on small business.  Commerce obviously seems to be a big part of this trip, and the President, of course, is not scheduled to visit the Panama Canal but he’ll be very close to it.  The Canal is expected to be -- or the bigger canal is expected to be opened next year, allowing bigger ships to come to the U.S. East Coast.  Is there a role for this summit in discussing how the U.S. can capitalize on that additional trade through the canal once it is expanded?

MR. RHODES:  Sure.  A few things there.  Let me just take the last piece first.  I should have added that we do anticipate the President won’t be able to visit the Canal while he is there.  Obviously, it’s one of the wonders of the world in terms of architectural achievement and promoting commerce in our relations with Panama. 

Circling back on the atmospherics, yes, I do think that the dynamic in the region informed to some extent the President’s decision to move forward with this process of normalization with Cuba.  That was not the only reason.  The principal reason was that we had a policy that had failed for 50 years to advance our interests and our values and our engagement with the Cuban people.  And we believe that the new approach of engaging the Cuban government and people will be better, frankly, for the lives of the Cuban people, it will allow them to access greater opportunity, and will be good for the United States and our citizens and businesses as well. 

But, yes, in the hemisphere, frankly, it made no sense that the United States consistently, essentially made the decision to isolate ourselves from the rest of the Americas because we were clinging to a policy that wasn’t working.  And the fact of the matter is some of the critics of our approach have said, well, if you just stuck it out for a few more years, the sanctions were just about to achieve their desired effect.  But that’s not at all what we saw, and part of the reason why is we were not joined in imposing those sanctions by any other country because no other country agreed with our approach.  And so when you are completely isolated in that manner, you’re compromising your interests not just with respect to Cuba but with respect to the Americas more broadly. 

So we would anticipate that this does help begin to remove significant impediment to having a more constructive engagement in the hemisphere because we demonstrated an openness to engage all of the countries in the Americas, and to include Cuba.  And, frankly, we would hope that that can help facilitate more constructive cooperation on areas where we may have common interests overlap with the Cubans -- things like counterterrorism, dealing with natural disasters, migration flows, promoting economic opportunity, but also in speaking up with other countries in the Americas for areas where we may have some differences with Cuba with respect to the promotion of human rights and support for the civil society, which will be on display at the summit.

With respect to the CEO Summit, Ricardo may want to say a word here.  I think what we have constantly focused on in our engagement with the Americas is promoting U.S. exports, reducing barriers to trade and commerce, and taking advantage of the shared infrastructure within the Americas so that we have a comparative benefit to other regions in the world.  And the Canal is certainly a part of that.  But Ricardo may want to add something.

MR. ZUÑIGA:  So I’ll just add a couple of points.  Number one is, certainly we expect that the President will talk about our emphasis on trade during the rest of this year -- in particular, our pursuit of high-standard agreements like TPP, which is going to be very important for a number of countries in the region and that is obviously going to help shape the global trading system for years to come. 

We’re also going to talk about the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement in Bali, where most of the countries in the Americas were strongly supportive of that agreement.  And we want to talk about the practicality of working together to enhance trade as much as possible.  There’s an economic slowdown in most of Latin America.  At the moment, there’s going to be, we think, deep interest in how we can work together to facilitate trade so that we can grow jobs as much as possible.

With respect to the Canal, absolutely -- we are looking to the Canal expansion to be completed next year as something as going to be central to our own efforts to increase competitiveness.  The Vice President visited Panama last year, where he witnessed the work that was underway to expand the Canal, and to basically give the Panama Canal the ability to ship loads that are twice the size of the current ability of ships to go through.  It's also connected to our own port expansions and our own efforts to promote infrastructure development in the United States.  So we see this as integral to our own efforts in the United States to promote competitiveness.

MR. RHODES:  Great.  We’ve got time for one more question, operator. 

Q    Two things.  Firstly, should the CARICOM region expect any sort of major announcement or agreement coming from the talks with the CARICOM leaders, especially on the issues of energy and security?  And is this attempt -- is this meeting -- regional meeting with the CARICOM leaders an attempt to show interest in the CARICOM region?  One of the criticisms or one of the threads running through the region has been that the Obama President has not really been interested much in issues of the CARICOM region. 

MR. RHODES:  Sure.  I’ll say a couple things, and Ricardo may want to add to it.  We would anticipate that we have an agenda that will cover security and energy and economic cooperation, and that there will be a number of concrete outcomes within that agenda.  I don’t want to get ahead of the President and the leaders and go into too much detail there.

But before I turn it over to Ricardo, just on your second point, look, we absolutely feel that the CARICOM region does deserve greater attention and engagement from the United States.  That’s why Vice President Biden convened a summit dedicated to energy -- because we, in looking at the region, saw that a number of the CARICOM countries have significant energy needs. 

At the same time, the United States has significant resources not just in terms of our own energy production, but also in our energy infrastructure and our ability to work with countries that have formed cooperative solutions to promote energy security so that our region is more prosperous and less vulnerable to shocks and energy markets. 

But again, more broadly, if you look at the CARICOM countries, there’s enormous familial connections from the Caribbean community into the United States.  There’s significant immigrant populations here in the United States who look back to their either land of their birth or their ancestral homes, and desire closer ties between the United States and the Caribbean.  And there’s a range of shared interests on issues like energy, economic growth, migration, but also disaster problems, climate change, tourism, people-to-people exchanges.

And the fact that the President is doing a town hall in Jamaica dedicated to youth, I think indicates our understanding that there’s enormous youth populations in these countries.  But that carries with it enormous promise, in that if we’re investing in the youth of the Caribbean and partnering with them, we can expand our ties and address the very real dynamic that you point to, which is that at times people feel like the United States has not engaged these countries significantly as we should, given that they’re our close neighbors and, in some cases, they’re our family and they’re our friends.

So I think this is -- we see this as a really important signal to the region about President Obama’s personal commitment to the Caribbean, but also the growing importance of the Caribbean to the United States. 

And the last thing I’ll just say is that CARICOM is also part of the Americas.  And so it's important that we go there on the way to the summit because we also partner with all these countries on the agenda that we’ll be discussing in Panama. 

MR. ZUÑIGA:  Ben really covered it.  I’d only add that as part of that regional agenda we’re going to want to talk about the important of the inter-American system where we know that in the Caribbean in particular there’s a deep reservoir of support for the values that are reflected in the inter-American system and support for our human rights and democracy, and for a system that is inclusive of all the countries in the Americas, not just the ones with the larger populations. 

I'm sure that they’re going to want to talk about developments and relations between the United States and Cuba.  This is an item that is very fortuitous time to be talking about how we see the region as an integrated part of the Americas where all the countries in the region should be taken into account, and where we should be able to work openly with all of those. 

So that, in addition to the issues that Ben pointed out, our familial connections, the importance of immigration reform, as well to the countries of the Caribbean, the importance of our connections and our cultural connections, and our familial connections and our economic connections, and what we can do to promote, again, more successful economies in what I feel is a fairly slow international economic situation. 

So I think with that we will conclude the call. 

MS. MEEHAN:  Thanks, everyone.  That concludes the call.  As a reminder, this call was on the record.  Thanks. 

10:06 A.M. EDT