Ambassador Bernstein’s Speech on AMCHAM Thanksgiving Luncheon

“Estamos Unidos: Moving Towards Prosperity Together”

Good afternoon.  It’s a pleasure and my sincere honor to be with all of you today to celebrate the tradition of American Thanksgiving.  It is one of my favorite holidays, as our traditions call for us to bring our family, friends, and loved ones together to give thanks for the gifts we have received in our lives.  It is also my honor to introduce my husband Richard and my daughter Ali, who are here today, and to thank my special guest, Princess Debbie White Dove Porreco of the Mattaponi Indian tribe, who was here earlier.  My core values are faith and family, and these values are exemplified and celebrated together at Thanksgiving.

As President Trump said in his Thanksgiving address: “Today, we continue to celebrate Thanksgiving with a grateful and charitable spirit.  …Let us find ways to serve and encourage each other in both word and deed.  . . .  As one people, we seek God’s protection, guidance, and wisdom, as we stand humbled by the abundance of our great Nation and the blessings of freedom, family, and faith.”

Today I would like to talk about our priorities, which I firmly believe are in the best interest of both our peoples.  U.S. strategy is clear.  Our engagement with you is designed to support a safe and secure Dominican Republic that partners with us to thwart transnational crime, a democratic Dominican Republic with strong institutions, a prosperous Dominican Republic that is a capable and resilient trading partner, and a Dominican Republic that partners with us on global issues.

I am proud of my business background and entrepreneurial spirit and  am committed to helping all Dominicans improve their opportunities during my tenure here.  The United States has a strategic interest in increasing your prosperity and resilience.  This will be true as long as we remain neighbors. Simply put, our economic success is linked.  Our shared security is linked.  Our shared health threats are linked. You are not only one of our closest neighbors, it goes much deeper than that — with over two million Dominicans living in the United States, you are part of our FAMILY.

I am so grateful that President Trump selected me to serve here in the Dominican Republic.  It was my top choice and the position is even more rewarding than I anticipated.  I hope you will find me to be an envoy that is looking first and foremost to advance U.S. interests and protect our citizens, but also someone who is on your side, the side of the Dominican people.  S-I-D-E. Security. Investment and Trade. Disaster Preparedness.  Education.  Those are my personal priorities, and you will see and hear a lot about them from me in the coming years.

First, security.  My utmost responsibility is to ensure the safety and security of U.S. citizens, whether it’s my team at the Embassy, our U.S. citizens who reside here, or the nearly three million U.S. tourists who visit here each year.  Recent polling data shows citizen security is also a key concern of Dominicans, and this makes it one of our most important shared challenges.  Since 2010, the United States has invested 120  of the 500 million dollars dedicated to the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative right here in the Dominican Republic.  We have nearly a dozen federal agencies here directly involved in counter-narcotics efforts, crime prevention, and capacity building.  A week ago, our Embassy donated a $750,000 Boston Whaler interceptor boat, the 14th since 2010, to the Dominican Navy for counter-narcotics operations.  In addition, we conduct approximately 140 cooperation activities with the Dominican Military and Police each year.

We’ve also worked with AMCHAMDR’s legal committee, which I would like to thank, and with the Dominican Senate to support a modern asset forfeiture law to deter narcotics trafficking, money laundering, and other illicit activities, and to deprive criminals of access to their ill-gotten gains.    I am hopeful that during my time here we will see the political will to pass this law.

Second, investment and trade.  Many of you participated last week in our tremendously successful Florida Trade Mission, and my thanks to AMCHAMDR for being such a valuable partner.  Our commerce team brought 60 Florida-based representatives of companies, ports, the World Trade Center in Miami, and State Government to look for opportunities in the DR. We already have approximately $12 billion dollars in two-way goods trade between our countries, and it was incredibly exciting for me to expand these already dynamic connections between my home state (the DR’s largest export market, I might add) and my new home here.

I’m excited to announce that we are following up on the Florida Trade Mission with a Caribbean Business Summit to take place in Miami, Florida on June 5-6, 2019.  We are pleased to be working with our fabulous partners Enterprise Florida and AMCHAMDR on this initiative to bring together U.S. and Caribbean companies and government officials to further improve U.S.-Caribbean bi-lateral trade.

Let’s not neglect that the “I” in investment applies to your domestic priorities as well.  All of our commercial investments will suffer if forward-looking commitments to security, education, and  disaster preparedness and recovery are not made now.  Estamos Unidos…we will rise and fall on the same tide…but I’ve been here long enough to realize that you have resources to bring to bear on these challenges- let’s harness them together!

Third, disaster preparedness.  We’ve always helped in time of need but according to a World Bank and Dominican Ministry of Economy, Planning and Development study, the economic impact of disasters in the country is estimated to have averaged $420 million dollars per year from 1961 to 2014.  That is a heavy cost to pay every year simply by not preparing enough for the effects of storms and climate events.   For example, Florida, New Orleans, Puerto Rico…we are still recovering years later.  The time to invest and prepare is now.

I am very pleased to see what we can do on this front, particularly as the Dominican Republic will assume its first ever seat on the UN Security Council and will give voice to the countries in the world that are most susceptible to natural disasters.

Our partnership with the Centro de Operaciones de Emergencias (COE) goes back many years, and we have seen it evolve into one of the most effective early messaging and response coordination centers in the region.  Just this month, the U.S. Coast Guard took part in a Mass Rescue Operations Exercise, and in December will facilitate training for first responders that will allow the COE to strengthen interagency response to any natural or man-made disaster.  The next natural disaster will come sooner or later and we must be prepared.

While I am on the topic of resilience, I want you to know that the United States has partnered for many years with the Dominican government to reduce public health threats, which is critical to preventing the spread of infectious disease.  The people of the United States, through the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR), have supported efforts in the Dominican Republic to increase detection, treatment, and retention-in-care of people living with HIV to obtain epidemic control.  And in response to the threat of Zika, the United States is working to improve Dominican healthcare providers’ capacity to deliver quality Zika-related care and social services.

Fourth, education.  Education is a bedrock of social advancement and economic growth.  I am dismayed at the disparity between the economic dynamism around the country and the current educational outcomes.  This is not sustainable and we ALL need to make improving the quality of education here a priority.  This is another perfect example of how we can collaborate.  I know the country has resources, with a mandate to spend 4% of GDP on education. However the problem is so critical, the private sector and others, such as international donors like the U.S. Government, should continue to prioritize investing in education.

Through USAID our investment in education here is focused on literacy, to make sure all Dominican children improve their reading and writing skills and have access to quality education.  I’m very proud of the work we have done.  Through USAID’s project “LEER,” we’ve helped nearly 200,000 children, trained over 2,500 teachers, and distributed over 650,000 books and materials to classrooms and school libraries.  And we are focused on developing skills for the 21st century.  We are partnering with the Ministry of Education to improve digital literacy and development of Dominican students, specifically by implementing tools for learning English as a second language on the nation’s Digital Republic platform.

Improving education outcomes requires a focus that is a long-term investment.  We want to collaborate with you and AMCHAMDR companies to create partnerships to co-invest in all levels of education to enhance the Dominican Republic’s competitiveness and future prosperity.

I return now to investment and trade.  This country has been a model in the region for economic growth, and it can continue, I’m certain of it…but we’ll need security, disaster preparation, and education, as I mentioned.  Underlying all of that is an awareness that modern capital wants stability and the rule of law.

We want to attract U.S. companies to do business in and invest in the Dominican Republic, but the government needs to do its part by maintaining an attractive, stable, and predictable investment climate.  Rule of law and zero tolerance for corruption are absolutely essential to attracting and keeping U.S. investors and businesses.  The Dominican Republic has demonstrated remarkable growth over recent years, but in order for it to be sustainable and for the country to be at the forefront of global trade, the DR needs to focus on improving its rule of law, transparency, and anti-corruption efforts.

That is why the U.S. government has been working closely with the Dominican Republic on developing government procurement procedures that focus on obtaining the best value for the people as well as developing a modern and transparent legal framework.

For U.S. companies in the audience, I want to assure you that we will do everything in our power to ensure that you can compete on a level playing field with foreign competitors.  This means watching major projects and tenders carefully to ensure that the laws and rules are followed and enforced.

We can help, we want to help, it is in our strategic interest to help.  Let’s continue to work together towards our shared prosperity.

SIDE-by-side, living by our shared values and commitments, Estamos Unidos.  As President John F. Kennedy said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”  I am grateful for the opportunity to be with you today.

Thank you for your time, thank you for your friendship…God bless the United States of America, God bless the Dominican Republic…Happy Thanksgiving!