Stronger Together – Ambassador Robin Bernstein’s AMCHAM Thanksgiving Speech

Una mujer para detrás de un podio, con las banderas de los EE.UU. y la República Dominicana detrás de ella.

Good afternoon to everyone here today as we gather for this American tradition of Thanksgiving.  Being together this year to give thanks and be grateful, even if it is virtually, is a testament to the journey we have embarked on in 2020.  It has been a rollercoaster of a year, and we have all faced struggles.  But the important thing is that we faced those challenges together, which is a potent reminder of the original message of Thanksgiving.

Today, I am more appreciative and grateful for my family, colleagues and friends – as we support each other and stand together through the ups and downs.  That is also true of the relationship between the Dominican Republic and the United States.  It has proven to be more than being neighbors, more than just a friendship, more than just a partnership, for me, we are family.  It has been said that families are the compass that guides us.  They are the inspiration to reach great heights, and they are there for us when we need help.  Our strength and partnership is unwavering even in periods of great change.  We stand together, we count on each other, as we have seen from our cooperation on COVID-19 to Secretary Pompeo’s historic visit in August to today.

When I first arrived, I made promises to you where I laid out my vision and plan to create a stronger bilateral relationship between our two great nations.  From safety and security, investment and trade, disaster preparedness and education – I have kept my word.  This year, even through the obstacles and challenges that the coronavirus has brought us, we have worked on strengthening our relationship, bringing us closer together, and working to achieve shared progress and success.  This relationship has a strong foundation that will endure.

The United States continues to help the Dominican Republic in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, illustrated by the foreign assistance made possible by the American people’s generosity and the U.S. government’s action.  Assistance from the U.S. government in the Dominican Republic is almost at $9 million in support of the COVID-19 response. This summer we completed a donation of 50 ventilators to provide life-saving equipment across 13 hospitals in the Dominican Republic through USAID.  We also donated two field hospitals with a 40-bed capacity and four ventilators each, through the United States Southern Command.  The Centers for Disease Control has been working hand-in-hand since the beginning of the pandemic with local government partners to provide technical assistance and guidance on how to respond.  We have also engaged the private sector by highlighting how U.S. companies contribute to the Dominican people and have worked with AMCHAM to provide a virtual forum and opportunities to see how businesses can successfully respond to the challenges. Our Public Affairs department provided $100,000 to Dominican designers who produced medical sheets, scrubs, booties, and hats for frontline medical workers.

Many of us have lost family, friends and colleagues, and our hearts go out to each and every one who has suffered loss and pain.

Despite COVID-19, we have still focused on the four pillars – SIDE – I established when I arrived in the country. S in SIDE is for safety and security and our security partnership is stronger than ever. In regard to citizen security, through SOUTHCOM we have provided PPE to Dominican partners and recently donated eight Jeeps to increase the Dominican Navy’s ability to rapidly deploy along the maritime border in support of maritime and land interdictions and other operations.  The U.S. government, also through SOUTHCOM, donated a Near Coastal Patrol Vessel (NCPV) to the Dominican Navy valued at $8.5 million that builds the capability and capacity to conduct maritime security and counterdrug operations.

As foreign direct investment is at the heart of the “I” in SIDE, we made it a goal to strengthen the foreign investment ties between the United States and the Dominican Republic, and brought the Development Finance Corporation for a visit back to the country.  I am especially proud of this accomplishment.  Even in the face of challenges, we were at the Presidential Palace last month where we were honored to participate in the ceremony to sign the MOU that formally marks the incorporation of the Dominican Republic in the America Crece initiative.

The signing of the America Crece MOU between the U.S. and the Dominican Republic sets the stage for U.S. investment in infrastructure, energy, tourism, and other projects that will strengthen key industries, create jobs, and bolster the local economy.  The DFC Chairman indicated that the United States is eager to support this effort if the Dominican Republic follows through on key reforms that are necessary to improve the investment climate.  The USAID Caribbean Energy Initiative is also part of the America Crece initiative that aims to catalyze private investments in the energy sector that will modernize energy infrastructure and improve energy resilience across the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean.

Because the decision to invest in the Dominican Republic will ultimately be made by private firms weighing a vast array of complex factors, a transparent, rules-based investment climate is critical.  We have been encouraged by some of the new government’s statements and actions on this front, including its commitment in the America Crece MOU to implement new public procurement legislation and develop investment projects financed via public-private partners in a way that is timely, transparent, and consistent with international best practices.  The Dominican Republic’s recent decision to join the Clean Network is another important step in ensuring that it maintains control of its robust digital and telecommunications infrastructure, which the private sector requires in order to thrive.

It also presents an incredible opportunity for the Dominican Republic to become “La Perla del Caribe” in the hi-tech and innovation sectors in the region, as Undersecretary of State Keith Krach said on his recent visit.

We look forward to working with the new government to implement those commitments.  We have already done a great deal of work through USAID providing technical assistance to develop new public procurement legislation, which we hope will be advanced soon.  We are also working with the Dominican government to identify further areas where we can support the administration’s top reform priorities to advance transparency and a rules-based business climate, and broaden access for small and women-owned businesses to government contracts.

And I would be remiss not to mention the strong relationship our embassy continues to nurture with AmCham, which has been pivotal to advancing our mission priorities.  Whether it’s providing commercial services to potential U.S. investors, coordinating business roundtables, or organizing events like Semana Dominicana, AmCham has worked side-by-side with us to help bring our two nations closer than ever before.

On disaster preparedness and resilience, the “D” in SIDE, we achieved numerous advances.  The foundation we laid to be ready for a disaster allowed us to respond quickly to the pandemic. The field hospitals are one prime example of this partnership.  I worked tirelessly to bring these hospitals to the Dominican Republic to be used for a natural disaster.  They arrived right on time to respond to the health crisis in the most-needed areas in the country.  One of the field hospitals was presented by Dominican Vice President Raquel Peña to serve the Esperanza community in Valverde while their main hospital gets renovated.  The other is now in Villa Vasquez in Monte Cristi.  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.  We also held an annual disaster preparedness event with AMCHAMDR for their members to know how businesses can prepare for natural disasters, especially in light of COVID.  Through USAID, we worked with the COE to update the mobile application (Alerta COE), an early warning system app downloaded on your smartphone for natural disasters.

Finally, the E is education – our project last year to build partnerships between Florida and Dominican higher education institutions was essential in providing resources to find solutions to the current educational challenges because of COVID-19.  The Embassy funded five research and virtual exchange partnerships between U.S. and Dominican higher education institutions to address issues exacerbated by COVID-19 and to foment youth leadership development.  Twelve higher education research and exchange partnerships resulted from this summit and the Embassy implemented nine webinars showcasing best practices and research featuring U.S. faculty.  More than 200 Dominican higher education representatives participated in each webinar.  We also saw a need to provide more English resources virtually and the Embassy funded the OPEN Learning English Program which provides more than 500 Dominican youth with access to English and career preparation webinars, and mentoring and training for English teachers to transition to virtual education.

With the privilege of being my country’s Ambassador here, I have also aimed to be a voice for women and children in this country.  In that vein, our initiative with Vitamin Angels to bring prenatal vitamins to vulnerable pregnant Dominican mothers is really important.  Focusing on building the capacity for women entrepreneurs, last year, I brought the pilot of the Academy of Women Entrepreneurs or AWE to the Dominican Republic.  The 8-month training and mentorship program with 36 women entrepreneurs was so successful that we recently launched the second iteration of the program for 30 women across the country.  Through the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative (W-GDP), USAID is partnering with local banks to incorporate innovative financial products that do not involve hard collateral, opening up new resources to support the growth of women-led businesses.

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the murder of the Mirabal sisters, and together we need to do more to honor their memory by eliminating violence against women and the most vulnerable.  Together with the Dominican government, we are working to combat gender-based violence, trafficking in persons and to support human rights.

Additionally, I’m really proud of the light we are trying to shine on promoting healthy and successful lifestyles for Dominican youth athletes through our SAFE program.  It really took root from my personal experience with a young baseball player here whose leg was amputated due to a disreputable ‘buscon’ who injected him with steroids meant for a 1,000 pound horse, but it is equally important that all academic athletes are Sanos, Asegurados, Formados, and Exitosos (SAFE)! We have continued the conversation virtually by having monthly discussions with prominent athletes and baseball players on the Embassy’s social media platforms.

I would like to now present a visual representation to show you how the journey of 2020 has so much we should be grateful for – roll the clip.

As we reflect on the past and continue to build on this amazing foundation in the present, I can confidently say that we have paved the road for the continuation of a great future.  It is through this strong partnership we have built that our two countries will move forward together.  Both of us have faced many changes and challenges this year – 2020 has not been easy – but we have a clear path moving forward.  The U.S. will collaborate to ensure that we are a partner in the new Dominican government’s vision to create more opportunities for foreign direct investment through reforms and legislation that will make it easier for companies to compete via public procurement and more opportunities for public-private partnerships.  We stand ready to assist the new administration and continue to be a partner when it comes to addressing the themes that they have highlighted, including anti-corruption, safeguarding your strategic assets, and transparency.  As I said before, the United States is ready for companies interested in investing in the DR and we are happy to collaborate to work together to meet current challenges.

We also understand the need to make sure COVID-19 is under control in the country so that businesses, tourism and the economy can get restarted.  Our colleagues at the CDC, USAID, and other parts of the U.S. government are collaborating across all sectors of the Dominican government to make sure we can provide the best tools, assistance, and guidance to reactivate key sectors of the Dominican economy.

Finally, we are here to collaborate and be a partner for the new opportunities and challenges the future will bring – whether it be telecommunications, 5G, expanding ports, or any other investment and assistance in citizen security or other critical parts of the government.  We know how important it is for a country to make sure they continue to own their strategic assets.  That is why we are the Dominican Republic’s number one partner.  We have invested in a strong and resilient Dominican Republic. A democratic, safe, prosperous Dominican Republic is in both our interests.  That is critical for continued U.S. investment, which is essential to Dominican economic growth. The Dominican people know what is at stake.

As I said in the beginning, we are family – we are here for each other through the good and the bad.  Personally, for me, the Dominican Republic has become my second home.  From the music – merengue and bachata – to the culture, the food, the baseball, the magnificent environmental beauty of the beaches and mountains- but most of all the people.

Ustedes son mi familia. Ha sido una experiencia única, de verdad. Ha superado mis expectativas. No sé si decir que mi percepción ha cambiado, sino que se ha profundizado. La calidez del pueblo dominicano y la energía con la que me han acogido a mí y a mi familia han sido realmente gratificantes. Este país está lleno de potencial y vamos a continuar fortaleciendo nuestra increíble relación bilateral en interés de ambos pueblos.

Como dijo George H. W. Bush: “No desconfío del futuro; no le temo a lo que viene. Porque nuestros problemas son grandes, pero nuestro corazón es más grande”.

República Dominicana, siempre estarás en mi corazón. Somos más fuertes juntos.

Como siempre y para siempre – Estamos Unidos.