By Ambassador Robin Bernstein
One year ago, I embarked on one of the most magnificent journeys of my life. On my year anniversary as the U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic – I can truly say I feel like I belong here. The friendly people, the rich culture, the beautiful places: the Dominican Republic has welcomed me with open arms. From our incredible Fourth of July commemoration celebrating our shared love for baseball to riding along the border with the Minister of Defense in a buggy – my year has been filled with wonderful memories getting to know the people of the Dominican Republic. Our bilateral relationship is stronger than ever – and SIDE by SIDE we continue to work on our shared goals and challenges.
As I rewatched my initial welcome video, I realized that the priorities I wanted to focus on are still at the top of my agenda a year later – and we have made significant progress. Safety and security, Investment and trade, Disaster preparedness and Education – “SIDE” – are my main priorities. As I travel the country, from Dajabon to Punta Cana, Las Terrenas to Boca Chica – I continue to find opportunities for the United States and the Dominican Republic to partner on our mutual interests and tackle our mutual challenges together.
Safety and security are important concerns for both our nations and crucial components to stimulating trade, tourism and investment. I have a big family to look after – from the 2.7 million American tourists who visit the country, the over 250,000 Americans that live in the D.R., to our Embassy family – safety and security is our top priority. We have worked with the Dominican government, the private sector, the medical community, and the tourist police (CESTUR) on measures we can accomplish together to create a safe environment for everyone.
We also continue extensive law enforcement collaboration to dismantle transnational criminal organizations that harm both the U.S. and the D.R. Some of our greatest accomplishments this year included dismantling a huge document fraud ring and going after one of the top transnational drug organizations operating in the D.R. Moreover, we held a regional conference in July 2019 that provided training to investigators and prosecutors to better collect and analyze digital evidence in child exploitation, sex tourism, human smuggling, and trafficking cases. Our collaboration on these important security issues continues to grow.
Investment and trade continues to be a priority as the United States remains the Dominican Republic’s number one trading partner. U.S. investment accounts for 20 percent of all foreign direct investment into the D.R. since 2010. This year, we brought the U.S. Government’s development finance institution, Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), to the Dominican Republic to share opportunities to promote U.S. investment in the country. OPIC’s president met with President Medina in May 2019. OPIC’s authority will soon expand to offer $60 billion worldwide to finance or insure business investments that also have a development impact in the recipient country. The Dominican Republic has access to OPIC’s guaranties, which promote private sector-led growth and investment in the country. Our focus here will be on infrastructure projects, projects that are women-run or principally benefit women, s, or projects in collaboration with a variety of U.S. businesses.
On my one year anniversary, we find ourselves in the middle of hurricane season. That is why my third main priority is disaster preparedness. It is not a question of if there will be a natural disaster, but when. That is why it is better to prepare than repair. In April 2019, we collaborated with AMCHAM to bring U.S. government representatives and specialists from U.S. universities to share best practices on preparing for natural disaster with the private sector in the Dominican Republic. In May 2019, we held a major multinational exercise with the Dominican military and the Emergency Operations Center (COE) on disaster response and mitigation. The expertise that our U.S. military shared with our Dominican counterparts helps ensure that we will be prepared for the next hurricane. Additionally, during the 2019 hurricane season the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) collaborated with the Dominican National Maritime Affairs Authority to deploy underwater gliders to collect data in the Atlantic and Caribbean. The data significantly improves hurricane intensity forecasts.
Last but not least is education, which holds a close place near to my heart, and for which I continue to advocate strongly. I believe education is the pathway to prosperity and to achieving one’s dreams. The U.S. government has many programs that seek to promote educational opportunities such as the Fulbright-MESCyT scholarship program, which reached its tenth anniversary this year, sending promising Dominicans in critical fields to study in the U.S. to receive a master’s or PhD degree. We held one of the largest English teaching conferences in August with over 1100 participants. Through USAID’s project “LEER” we have helped nearly 200,000 children, trained over 2,500 teachers, and distributed over 650,000 books and materials to classrooms and school libraries. In May 2019, we also launched the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE), a new Department of State initiative to support women entrepreneurs globally. Through the Academy, 36 participants from Santo Domingo aged 18-35 will receive personalized business mentorship, as well as professional knowledge, tools and networks, in order to turn their ideas into successful businesses. I also opened the first-in-the-world American English Teacher’s Lounge at our binational center, el Instituto Cultural Dominico-Americano. English teachers from around the country can use this space to access free American English resources from the U.S. Department of State and participate in engaging teacher development programming.
This year I also reached some additional goals I set for myself upon my arrival. Given the infant mortality rates in the country, I am proud to have brought the Vitamin Angels program in collaboration with the Ministry of Health to the country. This program will provide pre-natal vitamins to pregnant women. As a mother, I believe all babies should have a chance to be born healthy, in a safe environment, and to have their mother’s survive the experience to be able to care for them. Putting the health of women and children first in our efforts to reduce preventable maternal and infant deaths is a most worthy effort and one that I and the U.S. Government support. I pledge to continue to be a voice for women and children.
As I step into my next year, I am focused on strengthening our priorities and working on some of our new initiatives – including our new program in sports to support young athletes called “SAFE.” SAFE focuses on making sure young vulnerable athletes are healthy, protected, educated and successful. The overall goal is to provide Dominican youth athletes with the education and healthy practices that ensure their successful future beyond sports.
Our mission here, as defined by President Trump’s national security strategy is the following: we seek to encourage a secure, prosperous, democratic Dominican Republic that is able to partner with us on shared challenges, at home, in the region, and around the world. A secure, prosperous, and democratic Dominican Republic is in our interest. The Dominican people know who is on their SIDE. ¡Estamos Unidos hoy y en el futuro!