Moving Forward Together
CDA Robert Thomas
AMCHAM Thanksgiving Speech
Good morning, everyone! It is an honor to join you all here today as we celebrate Thanksgiving – my favorite civic holiday. This time-honored American tradition provides us with an opportunity to reflect upon the importance of thankfulness and community. Thanksgiving is part of the fabric of the United States – the idea that democracy and our freedoms depend on the responsibility and sacrifices that each one of us makes for each other. On this day, above all others, we give thanks to our neighbors and the spirit of community that is the foundation of who we are as a nation.
Let me start by thanking the AmCham Board, and especially President Roberto Herrera and Executive Vice President Bill Malamud. Your leadership continues to make AmCham a key pillar of our community here, and the Embassy is proud to have you as one of our most important partners.
We have so much to be thankful for. Particularly amid the ongoing challenges that we have all faced with COVID-19, I am grateful for the support of my family and friends, both back home in the United States and here in Santo Domingo, as we have stuck together and supported one other through the challenges of the last two years. That includes many of you in this room, who have worked closely with me and the team at the embassy to keep this relationship growing, despite the obstacles. I’m honored to work with you, and grateful to you for your leadership.
The United States and the Dominican Republic have also stuck together through COVID and in the face of rising authoritarianism around the world, and I believe that is because our nations form a community of democracies that has proven to be resilient.
Despite the pandemic, the United States and the Dominican Republic have continued to partner on everything from security and trade, education and development, to energy, health, efforts to combat transnational crime, and much more. Looking back at everything that our two countries have achieved in the past year, it is clear that we have created over many years a relationship that can stand up to great challenges. I want to thank all of you, as fellow members of this community, for playing a critical role in that process, both as members of AmCham and in the work you do every day in your own businesses to create greater prosperity for the people of our two nations.
Yet, I think that it is important to recognize that our work is not over. In fact, as we know, the work of building stronger communities is never over. And as we are emerging from the pandemic into a future that we all know will be different than what any of us could have imagined two years ago, I want to offer a perspective on where our greatest opportunities lie to further enrich our community.
The United States’ overarching objective is to support the development of a secure, democratic, and prosperous Dominican Republic. In other words, it is in America’s national interest to see the Dominican Republic succeed.
The United States wholeheartedly believes that we are more secure and prosperous when we work together with successful, strong, and likeminded partners such as the Dominican Republic to advance our shared interests so as to create an environment in which all our citizens can thrive. As we have learned in the United States, truly achieving this vision, of a society in which all citizens can realize their full potential, is not easy. It is work that stretches over generations, as our own sometimes painful history proves.
It is because we want all the citizens of our sister democracies such as the Dominican Republic to succeed that we have worked so hard over the years to help the country achieve its full potential. This is the basis on which we have made long term investments in the health care system, for example, where the United States has invested $298 million for health over the last 20 years.
This is why we donated over $13 million to support the COVID-19 response in the Dominican Republic, which includes field hospitals, ventilators, PPE and laboratory equipment. And it is why we will continue to make investments in the health system here, including over the next 12 months, where the USG will work closely with Dominican Ministry of Health to strengthen epidemiological surveillance at the national and provincial levels to improve data driven decision-making; train healthcare workers on COVID-19 care; scale-up contact tracing; strengthen genomic sequencing through laboratory support; mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on HIV treatment activities; and support the country’s vaccination campaigns by supporting data analysis to inform campaigns and expanding transport options for community delivery of vaccines. Many of these investments will support the Dominican government to strengthen health systems and better respond to future public health threats in addition to responding to the current pandemic.
In addition to our steadfast support in bolstering the Dominican Republic’s health sector, the United States remains unwaveringly committed to our enduring security partnership with the Dominican Republic. Through U.S.-funded technical training activities and capacity building exercises, we have worked with the Dominican Republic to strengthen its ability to conduct maritime security and counterdrug operations. $120 million has been invested in the Dominican Republic since 2010 to achieve these goals through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative.
We are also proud to have been a foundational partner in the establishment of the Dominican Republic’s 911 system—in which the U.S. government has invested $20 million to date. Also in the security sector, we have supported DNCD’s canine training academy, and the digitization of Supreme Court records, as just two of the many examples of how we are helping the government achieve its goal of building a more secure and just country.
This includes supporting the Abinader administration in its efforts to build strong and resilient public institutions through institutional reform. Well-functioning institutions, where officials are held accountable under a robust legal framework, and where watchdogs are empowered to investigate wrongdoing, are critical to protecting the country against future corruption and encouraging foreign investments.
Our High-Level Dialogues with the Dominican government have been focused on strengthening these institutions, so that corruption is less likely not just under this administration, but in governments of the future, too. We are prioritizing public procurement reform so that the fraud and bribery that plagued public procurement in the past does not repeat itself. We are supporting the transformation of the national police so that police follow a system of rules and protocols that are consistent with international best practices, and where police who engage in wrongdoing are held accountable.
We are also working with the government on civil asset forfeiture legislation to make it possible for the government to reclaim stolen assets from criminals and corrupt officials, so that it doesn’t pay to be a criminal. We are supporting these reforms, and others, because we are confident that they will advance transparency, security, and economic prosperity for years to come.
Our educational ties play an integral part in building a foundation for this relationship. The Embassy has trained more than 2,500 Dominican English teachers over the past five years, launched the first Embassy-supported American English teacher training centers in the world, and recently celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Fulbright Program, in which over 500 Dominicans have participated.
We have also launched collaborations with American public and private institutions, such as Ohio State University and the University of New York to strengthen the quality of Dominican higher education and programming.
Mutually beneficial trade is another cornerstone of our bilateral relationship. The Dominican Republic’s increasing integration into global markets, its stable democracy and democratic values, and of course the cultural ties that bind us present a remarkable opportunity for us to strengthen our economic ties and promote new opportunities for both U.S. and Dominican businesses to fuel economic growth and job creation and greater U.S. participation in the country’s future.
We welcome the efforts undertaken by the Abinader administration to maintain the DR’s attractive, stable, and predictable investment climate. Transparency and zero tolerance for corruption are absolutely essential to attracting and keeping U.S. investors and businesses here in the DR. The Dominican Republic has demonstrated remarkable promise over recent years, and we look forward to working closely with the Abinader administration as it pursues vital institutional reforms that will not only deter criminal activity and corruption, but also promote economic prosperity and faith in the Dominican Republic’s investment climate.
We remain firmly committed to collaborating with the Dominican Republic on opportunities that the future may have in store, whether it be expanding ports, telecommunications, or any other investment and assistance in security or other critical parts of the government. The United States believes that the Dominican Republic should not cede their assets to any country. Dominican assets are the sovereign property of the Dominican people, and clear, transparent, competitive public procurement and tendering processes will help to ensure those sovereign assets remain in the hands of the government and the people.
As we reflect upon this strong track record, we also need to ask ourselves, what comes next? I know that there are bright hopes for the Dominican Republic’s recovery from COVID in the coming year. Many of you have mentioned to us that we could be looking at over 10% growth as the DR’s increasingly varied economy seizes the opportunity in front of it.
But I would contend that COVID is not the most significant epidemic we face today – there’s another one that is going to be ultimately more relevant to the trajectory of history when the textbooks are written years from now. The rising tide of authoritarianism – aided and abetted by a culture of corruption and a lack of full inclusion in our political and economic systems – is the great challenge of our times.
But when I look around the world and around the region, what I see here in the Dominican Republic gives me great hope. All of the ingredients for a cure to this threat are here. The United States is partnering with the ascendant democracies of the world – like the Dominican Republic – who have the potential to lead a revitalization of the democratic, rules-based order.
This dynamic presents a unique opportunity that history does not offer very often. It is the opportunity to push progress that just two years ago we may not have dared to imagine. Back in the United States, this opportunity is at the core of the Biden-Harris Administration’s Build Back Better World initiative.
That’s why I am so pleased that the President Abinader has been invited by President Biden to participate in the Summit for Democracy next month. This summit is focused on countering this rising tide of authoritarianism, combatting corruption, and fostering equitable and inclusive democracies that work for all their people. Who better to have at that table than one of the region’s emerging leaders in all three of the summit’s key themes?
While we see authoritarian and anti-democratic trends on the rise all around us, the Dominican Republic has shown the world – through successful elections and a transition in administration last year – that democratically elected government that is accountable to the people is not just possible, but happening right here in the region.
The government of the Dominican Republic, with the support and encouragement of partners in civil society, the private sector, and international partners, has made bold commitments to combat endemic corruption, as I’ve already mentioned here today. If those reforms can be enacted and implemented successfully, and if the government’s commitment to end impunity and successfully investigate and prosecute cases of corruption and narco-corruption can be fulfilled, then the Dominican Republic stands poised not to simply uphold the desires of its citizens for transparent and honest government – but to surge ahead as the region’s leader and exemplar of democracy, justice, transparency, and a strong, stable economy.
Just as back home, the opportunity I see here in the Dominican Republic as it emerges from COVID is to build on the remarkable economic growth in recent decades that you in AmCham have directly contributed to, and broaden the opportunities available to all Dominicans.
We know from our own experience in the United States that building truly inclusive societies takes generations. I stand here today with no small amount of humility about how hard that has been for us in the United States. We have come far, and yet have far to go. That is why the Biden-Harris administration has placed issues of inclusion at the top of the agenda for recovery, so that we can move faster on the road towards a more inclusive and equitable society and economy now that we have this opportunity to reimagine how we put our values into practice.
This is not just a matter of building a stronger democracy. It is also good business sense. Across the United States in recent years, corporate America has looked in the mirror and seen that they too have a role to play in our ongoing efforts to fight institutional racism. Yes, to strengthen democracy, but also because they want to make sure that their workforce includes the most talented individuals they can hire.
I know you all think the same way, and as fellow members of this community, we in the Embassy want to work with AmCham to jointly pursue this goal now, when we have a once in a generation opportunity. At the Embassy, we are reevaluating our Mission strategy to include a greater emphasis on inclusion in everything we do. I would urge you to seize this moment to do the same in your business operations, and to use AmCham as a forum to share your good ideas and best practices not only with each other, but with the entire country.
The Dominican Republic is full of potential. That is why you all and your companies are here, and it is why we have made the investments we have over the decades. The progress we can make together is all of our responsibility.
As a sister democracy and committed partner, we want to do everything we can to see this country achieve that potential. I know that you do, too. If the efforts to reinforce democracy, reform institutions to root out corruption, and build a more inclusive economy are to succeed – they will depend as much on you as on the government. We could not ask for a better partner than AmCham in this effort. And that, my friends, is what I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving.
Thank you all for allowing me to address you today! Happy Thanksgiving! ¡Feliz Acción de Gracias!