Ambassador Brewster’s Speech at AMCHAMDR Thanksgiving Luncheon-November 23, 2016

Remarks of the United States Ambassador,

James W. Brewster

During the American Chamber of Commerce in Dominican Republic’s Thanksgiving Luncheon

“Democracy: Words in Action”

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Remarks as Prepared


Gustavo, thank you so much for the kind introduction.  In the past three years we have made many wonderful friends and you and Claudia are two of those we will continue to cherish.  To everyone we’ve had the pleasure to meet I just want to say thank you… for allowing me to be here…for being the Honorary Chair of such an amazing and prestigious organization for the past three years, it’s tremendous… and it is something I will continue to cherish. And to the Board I want to thank you specifically for all your incredible leadership and friendship. It truly has been a privilege. And to the press, we have always had a good relationship, very dynamic at times…but I always love seeing you and thank for being here again today. To all the members of the government, fellow diplomats, members of our Embassy team and to each and every one of you, on behalf of Bob and I want to say thank you all for being here today to listen to our words today. I appreciate you inviting me back to give the Thanksgiving speech. Tomorrow is a very important day in the United States, to give thanks and one of the things Bob and I want to give thanks for is being able to serve on behalf of President Obama and spend time with each and every one of you and to be part of the relationship between these two nations.

Before I start my speech, I want to thank Gustavo again for recognizing my husband Bob, his work here is sometimes underappreciated and goes unrecognized. So I want to thank him for his dedication and the amazing work he has done for our country here with little opportunity for recognition. When I was sworn-in Vice President Biden said something was resounding, he said…”The Dominican Republic is getting a two for one with Bob and Wally” and three years later, I’m here to tell you our Vice-President, whom I love dearly, was exactly right. You will see Bob continue the fight for Human Rights, here in the country or wherever he is and you have also seen his work for our precious environment. But most of all I want to publically wish him a Happy Anniversary as yesterday we celebrated our marriage and swearing in by Vice President Biden 3 years ago in Washington DC even though we are celebrating 27 year together.  So I just want to say I love you very much.

So now to the speech: Democracy…words in action…

Ladies and gentlemen, I know that some people are taken back at times at my direct, open manner…some of you have called me a little crazy and of course they’ve called some other names and we’ve all seen it played out in the press over the past few years… but I was raised by my parents to believe that a real friend will tell you the ugly truth instead of a bunch of pretty lies. I hope by now you know….I am a real friend to this country and our two nations are real friends to each other. So I want to tell you the truth and how closely we are tied together. You all know the numbers…We have 1.8 million Dominican-Americans living in the U.S. and 250,000 American citizens living in the Dominican Republic and many more are travelling and moving there each day.  Last year our consulate issued more than 80,000 immigrant or residency visas, yes, 80,000…those are visas for people permanently immigrating to the United States.  There is only only one country in world that has issued more last year than us and that is Mexico. So my point is that we are simply too connected in too many ways to be anything but direct, open, honest friends.  What happens here impacts so many in the United States and what happen in the US impacts families here.

 We must embrace the opportunity to provide each other with direct and honest insight using a constructive and positive dialogue. I have done this in the past and hopefully you believe that and that’s what I’m going to do with you today. I’m going to be open and honest and frank. And I hope you accept it and the love that i have for this country. Because today more than ever, we need each other…. the bottom line is we are extremely privileged to have each other as friends in a world where we have many adversaries and many exist. We can’t forget there are countries that do not want the United States and the Dominican Republic to be friends.  So as we move forward, I want you to respect and remember that because you know who those countries are. Now President Obama granted me the privilege of representing him and the American people in the Dominican Republic three years ago. I would like to say right up front what an absolute honor it has been to be here as Ambassador of the United States to the Dominican Republic along with my husband Bob.  It’s not new what I will tell you. You know Bob and I love this country!!!… We truly have a passion for the beauty of this country and that beauty includes the Dominican people.  That is why we keep coming back and asked to be stationed here when they asked us where we wanted to go. We’ve been coming here for more than fifteen years and some of the people we hold most dear to our heart are Dominicans.  Almost everyone in this room is most likely aware that, even before we came, the wonderful friendship that joins us with Moises and Austria Alou. But what you don’t realize is they are really more than friends. They are family, not blood related but heart related. So today I want to be clear with everyone, no matter what people try to impose…Family comes in all forms not just one type!!! They showed us what it is really like to be Dominican and Dominican American, not only Moises and Austria but their entire family, and many dear friends we have here, which have helped us assimilate into this society. We have traveled around the country and we have seen many places of this wonderful nation and I can tell you, as you already know…there are extraordinary people at every corner of this country. Because I love this country, and I love my country, and I feel strongly about the accomplishments and the potential in our bilateral relationship, I want to take a moment to frame the title of this speech “Democracy: Words in Action.”  Because aside from our family ties, your family ties, the commercial ties, and what Gustavo mentioned, the love of baseball and everything else that connects us, it really is the democratic values that we share that link us. Before you get freaked out, I know you see the stack of papers, I promise it’s not as long as it looks. My objective here as ambassador here in the Dominican Republic is to enhance our two great nations ability to operate bilaterally, politically and make the world a better place for all our citizens. And the reason, I believe, we fundamentally do that well is because we share a similar set of democratic values.  Values like liberty, equality, and justice, with a heavy dose of individual freedom.  Those are the overarching values of democratic societies.  Those are the values that prompted the 17th and 18th century enlightenment.  To me, the essence of democracy boils down at its most basic level to a phrase that you could attribute to John Locke or the Declaration of Independence, the phrase concerning “the consent of the governed.” The idea that at the end of the day there is a deal, an understanding, that ultimately the voters have the final say.

We are witnessing, right now, yet another transition of power in the United States and that is a testament to the strength of our democracy.  Look I know a lot of people have opinions about our electoral process but I’m here to tell you I could not be more proud of our election process and its 240 year history.  Many people ask why are you proud? Well I’m proud that we have a strong multi-party system that operates with checks and balances between three branches of government. This election was another win for our democratic process; the governed expressed its political will. Let me be clear once again, this wasn’t an individual victory or an individual loss. This was about the tension playing out among society as a whole…the tension within our democracy was given a voice…that was the win.  Now it will be time for the next administration to work within that system of checks and balances to turn campaign words into governing actions- all parties. That is words in action. One adage I grew up with in Texas is actions speak louder than words. I think the Obama Administration in the United States, and our mission here in Santo Domingo working with the Dominican Government, has done just that- we’ve spoken with actions.

You heard me say it before and I will say it again. I love Barack Obama. I love my president. He is a great man, he’s been a great president and a great leader…and I will challenge anybody who begs to differ. I promise I will win that debate. I not only recall the first time Bob and I personally met President Obama, I remember every time we have had the privilege to share time with him.  I could stand here and reminisce about every one of those times as each was very special in its own way but the most important to us is the fact that the incredible accomplishments of the Obama Administration are going to reverberate for the rest of our lives and a long time throughout history.  If it was not for his leadership and strength to stand up for all Americans, not just select groups, I would not be speaking here today as a married man or as a representative of our government that can stand up and be proud of who I am.  I hope other leaders take that lead. He has not worried about what is politically popular. He has done what is right!!!  That is a testament of a true leader!!!

That said President Obama has not had it easy. Every day he wakes up with criticism and prejudice against him. That has not stopped him. As his wife, and the First Lady said: “When they go low, we go high” and I will always remember that and I hope we will all remember that. As I said I wasn’t easy when it came to taking over as president. He inherited a country on the verge of economic collapse and now we are a strong and growing economy again.  That growth has extended to the DR.  We have made great progress bilaterally on trade and commerce between our two nations. In my tenure we’ve had 32 delegations visit U.S. trade shows, including over 1,400 Dominican business people, to learn about diverse industries from cosmetics to renewable energy.  We’ve had seven trade missions including delegations from the states of Florida, Mississippi, and Alabama and another one coming next week from Florida to share how they can do business with the DR.  We’ve helped over 1,700 U.S. businesses in fact, in my time here, with their prospects in the Dominican market.  We’ve also advocated tirelessly on behalf of U.S. interests in the steel, ship building, telecommunications, and food export sectors.  I’m exceptionally proud of something and it may seem small to you but it was big for me and the people that where there. And that was the mobile application launch to help facilitate travel for disabled tourists here, which will make such a huge difference to people with disabilities.  Each of these accomplishments has been the result of a team effort by smart and hardworking individuals, both Dominicans and Americans, at our Embassy.  My words cannot express the gratitude that I have for their dedication.

And if we are talking about trade we have to talk about the DR-CAFTA.  This continues to have a lot of conversations and some questions. People ask if it’s a good agreement… let’s talk about the facts. That agreement opened the U.S. market – the largest consumer market in the world — and the markets of all of Central America to Dominican exports.  The door is still open.  It is up to all of you to walk through it.  Since 2007, when the trade agreement went into effect, DR exports to the U.S. have grown by over 10% and have been the cornerstone of development of many industries and jobs.  Trade between our two nations now stands at close to $12 billion dollars, a staggering number that continues to grow. Tourism continues to grow in large numbers and the establishment of an LGBT Chamber of Commerce, now one of a global network of 50 such chambers, will do even more to help Dominican businesses access a trillion dollar global market, providing you are willing to open your minds and your businesses to those opportunities.

We will continue to work with you to help your industries take full advantage of the opportunities under CAFTA …for example; USAID’s rural economic diversification project has helped 800 Dominican farmers achieve internationally recognized organic, fair trade labels.  A web based permit program we worked on with the Ministry of Environment doubled the number of companies meeting environmental permit requirements and reduced the time needed from two years to six months. All of you smart business people know the reduction of time represents cutting costs.  Our Department of Agriculture, sometimes overlooked, continues to contribute immensely to agricultural development programs like the Exporting Quality and Safety program for Dominican agribusiness to improve food safety and quality, which also helps make them more competitive.  Thanks to help like this, Dominican fruit and vegetable exports to the United States have increased 44 percent, while exports of cocoa products to the United States have more than doubled. I have personally taken the time to observe firsthand the production of agricultural products as Bob and I have seen in out travels and personally spoke with many farmers in the Cibao region.

When fruit flies threatened the DR’s agricultural exports, I personally took an active role in providing scientific assistance and resources to control the fruit fly and get your agricultural trade back on track. It was slower than some of you wanted. But the work between our two governments was the one that achieved it. Ladies and Gentlemen, these are more than statistics and words, these are words in action!

Even after all of these increases, there are still immense business opportunities that remain.  For instance I have heard personally heard from U.S. grocery store owners that they would eagerly procure more Dominican food products if they were available. The opportunity is there, it just has to be capitalized upon.

DR-CAFTA also provided a strong incentive to improve the business and investment climate in other ways.  The significant efforts to modernize local laws and regulations to make the DR more competitive globally are going to continue to generate positive impacts for this country. Modernization has increased foreign investment and led to better manufacturing jobs.  Foreign investment likes nothing better than clear, certain, steady rules of engagement. I bring this up every time I talk to every one of you. But until this happens, the DR will not be able to elevate above other countries that do offer this. That’s why, under CAFTA, the DR has begun to take steps to strengthen contract enforcement, property rights, copyright and trademark, tax laws, worker rights and employee protections. The DR has improved its government procurement processes, and created greater transparency in some sectors. There is no more comfort to foreign investors than transparency.  Additionally, the launch of the Dominican Export Bank last year as well as the important role that the Investment and Exportation Center plays in supporting exports are good examples of other reforms that the DR has undertaken to become more competitive.  It is true that some Central American countries are capitalizing to a greater degree on some portions of the agreement than the DR. I think, if I were a Dominican business person, I’d want to analyze why that is happening and look at some of the overarching, macro level things the DR could do to improve its competitiveness in this increasingly global economy – things like improving education, expanding workforce development, protecting the environment, and strengthening competition laws to ensure fair and transparent competition for all companies.  So, while much remains to be done, let’s all be cognizant of the fact that this agreement has benefitted, and continues to benefit, both of our countries.  We need to look forward in this increasingly  globalized economy.

I think that historians may find President Obama’s work in the environmental sphere to be his most profound legacy.  His advocacy on energy and climate are truly historic, fundamentally changing the way we look at producing and consuming energy.  Carbon emissions are down. Solar installations have increased by nearly two thousand percent (2000%) since he took office.  We, and our global partners including the Dominican Republic, have committed to our most ambitious climate targets ever under COP 22.  Protection of our natural environment is important for the world but, let’s be honest, it is even more important for a Caribbean island nation that relies heavily on tourism.  An estimated 70-90% of the coral reefs in this country are severely degraded. That’s why the USAID-funded Caribbean Marine Biodiversity Program to work with coastal communities to protect and conserve the county’s marine environment, including establishing coral nurseries to grow new coral structures, is so important.  Partnering with INTEC University, USAID’s Urban Resilience to Climate Change (CLIMA) program has successfully introduced climate change adaptation into the planning and environment departments of four of the country’s most important urban centers.  They have already trained 89 people from different Dominican Government agencies, NGOs, and municipalities and are in the process of establishing a Regional Climate Observatory to gather and disseminate climate change related information.  I also want to recognize the work my husband Bob has done to draw attention to some of these issues as well.  When he and Jake Keel went to D.C. and met with members of the U.S. Congress to discuss Jake’s movie “Death by a Thousand Cuts”  they got immediate attention as a result our Embassy and the various agencies that work in the environmental sector were tasked with the job of providing research and feedback on this subject matter.  I guarantee you Bob won’t let this issue die either.  He will work tirelessly to ensure that U.S. imports of Dominican wood charcoal are halted. But it is up to you as well.  Work needs to be done here as well to stop the illegal deforestation of the Dominican Republic’s public lands for personal private gain.  We are very supportive of the initiatives of Minister of Environment Dominguez Brito and the actions he is taking to stop further degradation of the environment in this country.  I also want to applaud President Medina’s plan on reforestation.  It is a critical step in protecting the vital resources to keep a nation viable as a country as we have seen next door in Haiti what can happen once you lose those resources and its long term impact.

And while it is perhaps easier to see the environmental impact of degraded coral reefs or disappearing forests and the correlation that has on tourism and the economy, let’s not forget the enormous role energy production plays in this debate. As President Obama said, “The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way…”  The Dominican Republic is to be lauded for having established the largest solar power plant in the Caribbean in Monte Plata.  The potential for further expansion in solar and wind energy is immense.  Government officials, monopolies and others who block the positive steps the country and companies like yours are taking to be smarter and cleaner need to get out of the way and not deter advancements for their own self-interest.  It has to STOP, not tomorrow but NOW or you won’t have a country left!!!

Energy security and clean energy is such an important topic that my good friend, Vice President Joe Biden, in the first trip since 1966 of a U.S. Vice President to the Dominican Republic, raised the issue of energy security with President Medina, when he launched the U.S. Caribbean Energy Security Initiative. I just want you all to know how much importance we place on this topic and that we think the impacts of climate change are very real and we need to work together to mitigate them.  That is why I’m  proud of the work the Technological University of Santiago (UTESA) is doing with USAID financing clean energy research, testing the feasibility of using deep sea water to air-condition hotels in Puerto Plata.  But, we can do more, together, on these issues.  In fact, each of you personally can do something, starting today, to help. I have a personal challenge for all of us: let’s resolve to reduce trash and increase recycling.  I can’t tell you how embarrassed I become, with my love of this country, when I’m taking my friends down some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and they have to step around a pile of garbage.  Or they cut their foot on a broken beer bottle some idiot has left on the coral.  Or we drive through a side street not ten minutes from where we sit right now and it is littered with mounds of refuse.  I know that many Dominicans don’t see this as an “environmental issue” but I beg to differ.  I know no one likes the moniker “developing nation” but, I’ll be frank with you as friends, the quickest way to give a tourist the impression that you are a “developing nation” is by not having systems in place to recycle and dispose of trash. Recycling is in your interest!  It keeps the oceans cleaner and ultimately reduces emissions that cause the rise in sea levels which could be so devastating here.  We’ve made some small effort in this area with our support of Junior Achievement Dominicana and their efforts to engage Dominican youth on the issue, but, by itself that isn’t enough. So, please, if you take nothing else away today, let’s work together to protect this wonderful treasure of an island that God put here in the Caribbean for all of us to enjoy.

President Obama’s work on education has received less attention but should be celebrated.  The thirty-six billion dollar expansion of the Pell Grant program, alone, will aid aspiring U.S. college students for generations, keeping our work force among the best educated and most prepared in the world, you should do the same. The Medina administration deserves a lot of credit on this front as well and this is an area in which I think we have made a lot of progress working together.  Our USAID project Leer effort at the primary level and our cooperation with MESCYT on Fulbright and higher education exchange are solid building blocks for a brighter future for Dominican students and the Dominican work force.  I cannot emphasize enough how important this issue should be to all of you.  I encourage you to work with CONEP and EDUCA to make the CONNECT-DR initiative successful and reflective of your labor force needs.  The competition is focused on the education of their work force, I can guarantee you that.  And the English language, the lingua franca of commerce and tourism, is a big factor as well. We are putting a lot of effort into enhancing the DR’s English capacity.  In the last three years we have provided funding for more than 200 Dominican teachers from MINERD, MESCYT, and the two binational centers in Santo Domingo and Santiago to become SIT TESOL certified.  The two bi-national centers, some of our closest partners, reach over 15,000 Dominicans per year with English instruction.  We support the largest English teaching conference in this country annually with keynote speakers reaching over 800 Dominican English Teacher participants.  In partnership with the Santiago Bi-National Center we support an English training program for at-risk youth that includes networking assistance with call center companies looking to hire. I promise you I talk to them every day and they still need more people. Our access micro-scholarships are supporting youth in two underserved communities here in Santo Domingo.  I was so pleased that Dr. Jill Biden, an educator herself, she has worked and continues to work in community colleges every day. She had the opportunity to discuss education with President Medina when she was here, a few months ago, and visited the first community college in the DR, the ITSC in San Luis.  The skills those students at ITSC are picking up are so vitally important to all of you in this room.  Economies don’t run on lawyers and professors, they run on welders and hotel concierges and many other jobs.  So I hope those efforts will continue and we can continue to support them through academic and student exchange. I feel strongly that our actions are having an impact on people in the education realm and we are doing our part to help prepare the next generation Dominican labor force for this global economy.

To participate in a global economy and capitalize on the strengths of Dominican society and your next generation of leaders we must also address common challenges. I know we talk about it but it’s getting worse. Crime and citizen security. narco-trafficking, and corruption are a three-headed monster that feed and nourish each other around the globe.  We are speaking with our actions in the bilateral relationship on these issues.  I am particularly proud that we were able to update our extradition treaty recently.  It is the first such treaty we’ve in 105 years, I might add.  This will significantly assist us in the fight against narco-trafficking, money laundering, and corruption in general. The security and prosperity in the Caribbean are inextricably linked to that of our own in the United States.  And so that’s the driving principle behind our security policy with the Caribbean, but also the rest of the hemisphere. That’s why we created our Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, which is an integrated strategy that recognizes that social development and economic growth are key components to our shared security. And it is a regional strategy, with our partners, including the Dominican Republic.  So yes, our Justice Department has worked with the Attorney General office to stand up an elite unit of investigators under the Attorney General’s here with the mandate of one day being able to tackle the most difficult to solve types of criminal cases in the DR shared between our two nations.  Because you and I know there have been high level cases and you know who they are and what they are that have not been able to be prosecuted. And, yes, our Defense Department continues its $10 million dollar annual effort with the Dominican military to improve capacity, professionalism, and interoperability to help us address trans-national organized crime.  I would add, while speaking of our Defense Department, that the finalization of a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) is critical to our efforts. These initiatives are not just words but WORDS IN ACTION.  I think you all witnessed how a few voices were able to paint the noble Dominican humanitarian effort to Haiti a few months ago with a nationalist brush? Similar nationalist voices here, these people have been too loud and for way too long. It’s time to stop. God forbid we should ever need to deliver assistance to a Dominican crisis, but, how can I ask our armed forces to do so if there is no legal agreement in place to define the status of our troops in your country?

So, returning to our security cooperation, our sometimes underappreciated Coast Guard continues collaboration with Dominican naval resources and the DNCD in their heroic efforts to save lives and interdict illicit goods in Caribbean waters. And, yes, our Department of Homeland Security continues to partner with Dominican customs authorities to facilitate travel, secure our borders, and prevent the smuggling of illicit goods.  The upcoming successful launch of the customs pre-clearance facility in Punta Cana is a milestone achievement to be celebrated in both economic impact and security terms.  And, yes, I’m proud we were able to contribute to the President’s effort to rollout the 911 emergency response programs here and in Santiago.  Far from just talking about security, each of these programs has been an example of putting those WORDS IN ACTION!  But these are only part of the story.  I want to emphasize that the partnership between USAID and the Catholic University of Santiago to keep kids in school is just as important to our shared future security and prosperity as the Boston Whalers we have donated to the Dominican Naval Forces.  If we don’t look at all of these issues in an integrated manner- and we don’t focus on them, we have to see these things as intertwined-, security, economic prosperity, social development, justice, those themes, those democratic values that form the basis, the bedrock, for the kind of society we all want to live in, then we are missing the bigger picture and our actions won’t be consistent with our words for the average citizen. To put it in terms you all can relate to, we will not maximize the returns on our investments in security if we don’t also focus on improving people’s lives.

The Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature health care reform, has been widely discussed and critiqued. I could not be prouder of President Obama for attempting to secure affordable health care for our nation’s most vulnerable. The healthcare of all our citizens not just the wealthy should be a priority for both our countries. I’m also extremely proud of the efforts our mission makes to work with our Dominican partners on a host of issues in the health sector.  I witnessed first-hand some of the health needs of the Dominican public when the USS Comfort visited last year and treated over ten thousand Dominicans directly.  As a result of USAID’s five-year, $15.5 million Maternal and Child Health Center of excellence project, the 10 participating hospitals reduced maternal mortality by 46% and infant mortality by 42%.  At the request of the Ministry of Health, we were able to contribute training for 45 human resource analysts in the Ministry and financed a joint payroll analysis.  The ensuing results have led to a savings of $9.5 million in the Ministry’s budget which were used to finance 2,511 new health care workers and 3,210 health promoters.  Our support for a National Pharmaceutical Management System, centralizing procurement, and de-centralizing distribution, has reduced the cost of medicine purchases by 60%, resulting in cost savings equivalent to $61 million along with improved access to essential medications.  Between 2007 and 2015, through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEFAR), the American taxpayer has contributed $106 million to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in the Dominican Republic.  Our Center for Disease Control (CDC) office is building Dominican capacity to monitor and control diseases like Zika, and assisting with our efforts to assist with sex education and family planning, though I think it is ridiculous that our condom distribution efforts and that of the government faced opposition in a country that has the highest child and teen pregnancy rate in the region and increases the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. I think this is related to women and young girls rights and I will come back to that.   ALL OF THESE INITIATIVES ARE NOT JUST WORDS, THEY ARE WORDS IN ACTION!

On health, we are clearly speaking with our actions about our commitment to the Dominican people and their well-being.

President Obama will be known in history books as a champion of human rights.  As President-elect Trump has said, the case is closed on the issue of gay marriage in the United States, folks.  The Supreme Court upheld the decision.  Gays can serve openly in the military.  We have an openly gay Secretary of the Army. I know many of you think that I’m the gay activist Ambassador and all I ever think about is that issue. But it isn’t true.  Bob and I will stand up for human rights, however, wherever we see human rights being abused, whether that is in Duarte Park or anywhere else.  This is not just about policies, it’s about people.  One day a young woman approached Bob outside a colmado (yes we actually go to colmados) where he was waiting with friends from the States for me to arrive.  She wanted to say thanks to us and Bob said wait, the Ambassador is on his way.  Minutes later I arrived and she approached my vehicle and right there-in front of all of my security officers, my friends and people standing around on the street- she literally began to cry huge tears and she couldn’t even speak.  I honestly didn’t know what to do so I just stood there and eventually she began to speak. She told me that he had a brother who was gay and that nobody knew about him, that his brother was terrified for anyone to find out and this young man was very afraid his brother was eventually going to leave the country, leave the family or kill himself.  She went on to say that since Bob and I have been here and have done so much work to make people realize that gay people are just people too, she felt that maybe his brother would stay in the Dominican Republic and one day could have a wonderful and happy life with someone he loves.  …That is why this matters so much, for that young woman, and her brother, and anyone else who feels alone or scared in their own society.  Bob and I have received probably over a thousand of messages like this. It makes me wonder, for the one person that has bravely reached out to us, how many more are truly scared silent?  So yes, I am very proud that Bob and I have been able to serve as inspiration.  You can close your eyes and pretend the LGBTI community doesn’t exist if you want but, statistically speaking- it is projected that 10% of people in this country are a part of the LGBTI community and let there be no mistake there are people in this room who have friends and family members who are gay.  Instead of embracing them for the person they are, you are ignoring their sexual orientation entirely, as if it doesn’t exist,…why you wouldn’t want those people openly celebrating their orientation, their diversity, themselves! It’s a mystery I will never be able to wrap my mind around.  We have made progress. But I don’t understand how hate can continue to rise above the progress. The conversation has to be elevated.  I believe there is a greater vigilance against hate now more than before. I believe we share a mutual interest in the equality of all our citizens.  I want to personally thank our good friends Gustavo and Claudia and Alejandro and Kelly for spending time with us during the gay pride celebration this past summer here in Santo Domingo, as well as many members of the diplomatic corps.  In addition I want to thank all of you, that over the course of the past 3 years who have privately come to Bob and me to express your support and tell us that you believe in equality.  But now the time has come when you need to be public about those conversations. Don’t misunderstand me, we truly appreciate your support and the extension of your friendship, but if you are truly being honest with Bob and I. But it’s now time to ask your government, not just behind closed doors and support, you need to demand the protection and equality for all of your citizens. Silence is acceptance.

But as a trusted friend, one who will tell you the ugly truth, I sometimes wonder about the commitment to action versus words.  You can tell me that’s cultural, you can tell me it isn’t diplomatic to demand that kind of intolerance stop…I get it.  I’m over it, frankly. Excuses have to stop. I guess if you get publicly insulted with slurs like “faggot” or called a “housewife who should stay home because I am a woman” or “imperialist” or the many names you have all seen enough times your skin thickens a bit.  I did not cast the first stone, for the record.  I’ve developed a thick skin to such insults, but there are many thousands of Dominicans and others for whom those words still cause great pain.  My challenge to all of you is to self-reflect and examine your actions and let them speak…and spread…

Those who call themselves leaders but who stand in the way, do not want change, who use such hateful words to exclude some members from society, those people are the exception and do not deserve to be a representative of this great country and of all of you. That lack of love and empathy is not reflective of Dominican society. That is not reflective of the “will of the governed”. You know Pope Francis said: “Every man, every woman who has to take up the service of government, must ask themselves: “Do I love my people in order to serve them better?” Do I love my people in order to serve them better?  I like that.  It’s something we should all reflect on. It makes me wonder how much one loves his neighbor when they lobby to maintain monopolistic business practices that inhibit competition and prohibit your compatriots from taking advantage of free trade? Can you really love your country when the reason you want to be elected to public office is for the purpose of personal financial gain?  Can you really love your neighbor if he is born on your land and his parents worked your fields for decades yet you deny him citizenship?  Do you love your neighbor if you steal from him?  Because, let’s be honest…corruption is theft…theft from the governed. Theft from all of you. I’m proud of the work we’ve done to combat corruption, of the fact that there is now some self-policing beginning to happen on the issue, and I applaud the AmCham on leading the way in elevating that conversation.  But there is a lot of work that remains, you all know.  And my last hard truth today for my friends, can you really love yourself if you practice domestic violence or violence against women and girls? And this is where I want to revisit the issues of Women and young girls rights. I understand and appreciate that progress has been made on gender violence issues in the DR, there is a hotline, there are some shelters, and the Attorney General has signaled he wants to make a difference on this issue.  That is all for the better and I applaud those efforts.  But they are insufficient, in so many ways.  With over 70 women already dead this year from gender based violence, according to the Attorney General’s Office, it is going to take concerted and individual effort from all of us to reverse this trend.  Addressing the highest rate of gender based violence. How can that be in this beautiful nation. Because behind closed doors we are not talking about it. So this would be a good place to start as a nation. …addressing the gender balance in this room and in your businesses would be a good place for all of you to start. Take a look around you. This is the 21st century we are living in.  I know that AMCHAM has been a progressive institution on the issue of gender equality but I suspect we could do more. We have to protect our young girls and the women of this country and around the world.  Because words matter….actions matter!!! And to the men in the room, the words you say behind closed doors do matter. No more death of girlfriends and wives, no more suffering of the rape and trafficking of young girls. Society has to change and it starts with strong laws, elevated social conversations and where everyone engaged! and making government accountable for these issues. I hope everybody talks about these issues and put this into action.

No longer can women wake up in fear of their lives and parents think their children will be abused by predators.

  We are a global community now more than ever. It’s time for all of us, on both sides of this relationship, to ACT for the greater good.  It is time for all of us to reflect with compassion and love on how our actions can make a wider difference.

I have been an open homosexual for over 30 years.  Growing up in Texas, let me tell you, it wasn’t always easy, Dominicans are not the only culture in the world that claims to be machista.  But my love for Bob and our relationship and our faith has nourished us through some difficult times, ours wasn’t that different from everyone else.  We all have difficult times.  Relationships have them…but love, honesty, friends, and family see us through.  I hope all of you will hear my words in the spirit of love, honesty, and friendship that I hold for this dear country and our strong relationship.  I hope that you will hear it as a call to action, to strengthen democracy, to empower the governed, because I know what great things we can do together and what a promising future we have together. It is often said that democracy is not given but earned, earned through courage, resolution, and sacrifice through actions not words. I hope that we can all marshal the courage, resolution, and sacrifice needed to love each other and our future for our shared prosperity.

Once again I want to end by thanking you from the bottom of my heart for having me here today to speak at this important meeting and for all that you do to contribute to our mutual future. Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to leave you with the most heartfelt expression of gratitude to all of you and the people of the Dominican Republic for all that have provided me and Bob an amazing experience throughout these past three years. This has been the greatest experience I most likely will ever have in my lifetime. However I want to let you know that I have chosen to submit my resignation as of January 20th, 2017 at 12 noon when our president leaves office as well. Bob and I will depart the Dominican Republic for new adventures ahead of us, as we have been blessed to have many of them in this life. Our spirit will not leave here. Because as you know once you are in Dominican Republic you can never leave. Even though we may leave we will continue to fight for both our nations for the rest of our lives. Happy Thanksgiving, God bless each and every one of you and your families and God bless the DR.

Thank you.