Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. It is a pleasure to be back in Freeport among so many friends of the United States. It is also wonderful to welcome the U.S. Navy back to Freeport. I hope that you will join me in giving Commander Jason Reller and the men and women of the USS Roosevelt a warm Bahamian welcome to Freeport and Grand Bahama Island. Commander Reller, thanks to you and your crew for hosting us here this evening.
The USS Roosevelt is in Freeport for a short visit from her home in Mayport, Florida. Like other U.S. Navy vessels, she has a long history of service to her country, most recently deploying in November 2014 for nine months of operations with the USS George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group. During this deployment, she also continued a longstanding Navy tradition of giving back to the communities she visited. The men and women of the USS Roosevelt will continue this tradition in Freeport by providing service at the local YMCA – a place that provides so much to Freeport’s youth, but is in need of maintenance and repair after being seriously damaged by past hurricanes.
The USS Roosevelt’s visit is also another reminder of the strong, deep bilateral partnership between the United States and The Bahamas. Beyond the links of language and geography, our two nations are tied together by values and by our shared commitment to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. It is you, our key partners, who continually strengthen this relationship.
Whether it is an American business person’s visit to seal a deal with a partner in Freeport, students from Grand Bahama deciding to study in the United States, or even local citizens helping lost American cruise ship tourists find their way around your city – which I’m sure never happens – each of you builds and reinforces the people-to-people relationships that bind together our economies, our citizens, and our countries.
What is it that makes our relationship so strong? It is everything we do together to make our countries safer, more prosperous, and better places to live, work, and visit.
A key goal of our relationship is ensuring the safety and security of the United States and The Bahamas, and of our citizens. Under the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, we provide over $2 million to The Bahamas each year to fund training for judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement officials, and for police equipment such as intercept boats – including one based here in Freeport.
The Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Coast Guard, and other U.S. law enforcement agencies work hand-in-glove with Bahamian partners to stop those who would traffic drugs, weapons, and people to and through The Bahamas. At the same time, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Pre-Clearance Stations in Nassau and Freeport work hard to facilitate efficient, legitimate travel between the United States and The Bahamas.
Another goal in our relationship is to promote trade and prosperity in The Bahamas and the United States. It is no secret that the high cost of energy remains a particular challenge in The Bahamas. The United States is ready to work with The Bahamas on energy issues, including through the Caribbean Energy Security Initiative and the newly-created Clean Energy Finance Facility that President Obama announced during his meeting with Prime Minister Christie and other Caribbean leaders in April. We applaud the Bahamian government’s focus on sustainable energy, including the adoption of “greener” energy technologies, which will help The Bahamas maintain its pristine environment, while mitigating damage caused by climate change.
We also were heartened by the government’s announcement just this week that it has designated additional Marine Protected Areas – including four here on Grand Bahama. This brings the total amount of the country’s nearshore and marine environment under protection to more than 10 percent, making good on a Bahamian government pledge at Secretary of State John Kerry’s 2014 Oceans Conference in Washington.
We all understand that it is the young people of our nations who will drive the economies of the future, and so we must invest in education and opportunities for them. Improving education and providing diverse educational experiences are critical to social and economic development. We are increasing student exchanges throughout the Western Hemisphere as part of President Obama’s 100,000 Strong in the America’s Initiative. I’m pleased that The Bahamas is a regional leader in the number of students studying in the United States, with 1,744 students studying there this year, an increase of seven percent over last year.
Finally, we are going to keep working with the government and the people of The Bahamas to promote and defend the many values that we share. In this regard, we will continue to support marginalized groups, such as women and girls, the disabled, those living with HIV/AIDS, and The Bahamas’ significant Haitian population.
Ultimately, the value of our relationship will be judged by the benefits it brings to our respective citizens, which will happen only through your continued help and partnerships. It’s through your efforts – your willingness to roll up your sleeves and find new ways in which we can work together, communicate with one another, and ensure that The Bahamas and the United States continue to enjoy one of the strongest, most enduring relationships in the western hemisphere.
Thank you again for being here tonight, and thank you for all that you do every day to make The Bahamas – and by extension – The United States, a stronger, more vibrant, and more inclusive country for all of our respective citizens.