By: Ambassador Robin Bernstein
The highlight of 2018 was my appointment as Ambassador to the Dominican Republic – and so far it has been a magnificent journey. 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. Within my four months in country, I have met incredible people and traveled throughout the country. Your strength, perseverance and ingenuity inspire me. Whether it was speaking with young women who have faced insurmountable hardship at Mariposa foundation in Cabarete; listening to the ideas of business leaders; handing out holidays meals with Vlad Guerrero; or supporting mothers and children affected by zika – I want to continue to engage with the heart and soul of this country.
The United States and the Dominican Republic share a strong bilateral relationship and it is growing stronger every day. It is one of my personal and professional goals to make sure we become even more united and stronger together. I am excited for the New Year, 2019, as it gives me the opportunity to implement more ideas, projects and programs that will strengthen our relationship.
Since my arrival, my priorities in this country have focused on security, investment and trade, disaster preparedness and education, which I have coined as “SIDE.” Indeed, our two countries work together side-by-side, living by our shared values and commitments, “Estamos Unidos.” When we are united, we can move towards continued prosperity together.
Security is an important concern for both our nations and a crucial component to stimulating trade, tourism and investment. That is why we have so many U.S. federal agencies directly involved in counter-narcotics efforts, crime prevention, and capacity-building for law enforcement, military, and the justice system. We are very proud of our cooperation with the Dominican government that has resulted in the seizure of almost 6.5 tons of cocaine this year (more than half since September), significant training via the Colombian Action Plan, the recent inauguration of a new investigative unit and donation of polygraph equipment at the National Police. Not to mention search and rescue exercises by our U.S. Coast Guard and donating yet another Boston Whaler to the Dominican Navy for patrolling and narcotic seizures.
With investment and trade, the United States is by far the Dominican Republic’s main trading partner. This is reflected in how many American-owned businesses chose to do business here and the number of Dominican businesses that travel to U.S. trade fairs to find new markets for their products and services. During my tenure, I am confident this will increase exponentially. We recently hosted a successful Florida Trade Mission where 60 Florida-based representatives of companies, organizations, port authorities traveled to the Dominican Republic to find business opportunities and create partnerships. That visit has already identified over $11 million in potential new business opportunities and this was just last month!
We cannot forget that we are all subject to natural disasters and they can set back all our hard work and investment in an instant. That is why disaster preparedness is also a focus and a key element of our relationship. We continue to collaborate with the Dominican government on collecting and analyzing data of vulnerable areas to develop contingency planning, provide capacity-building on incident management, disaster response and mitigation. We are currently preparing for a major multinational exercise with the Dominican military and the Emergency Operations Center (COE) that will take place in May 2019.
Last but not least, education, which holds a close place near to my heart, and that I continue to advocate. I believe education is the pathway out of poverty to achieving one’s dreams. The U.S. government has many programs that seek to promote educational opportunities such as the Fulbright-Mescyt program, which reached its tenth anniversary this year, among several other scholarships. Through USAID’s project “Read,” 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. We trained 687 English Language Teachers across the country last year and distributed 200 tablet computers to 65 schools near Puerta Plata. Also, we provided opportunities for Dominican youth to become entrepreneurs, such as the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative for thirteen Dominicans, or the more than 30 small businesses created through the “Alerta Joven” project.
I know that 2019 holds more opportunities for the United States and the Dominican Republic to cooperate. I am thankful I can continue alongside all of you on this magnificent journey. Thank you Dominican Republic for welcoming me side-by-side with open arms! Happy Holidays and Happy New Year! Estamos Unidos hoy y en el futuro!