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BIDEN SUMMIT

By Lara Pickford-Gordon Monday, May 27 2013

click on pic to zoom in

Caribbean Community (Caricom) leaders arrive in Port-of-Spain today and are to have a caucus on the eve of high-level talks with US Vice-President Joe Biden.

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar is host to Biden, who flies in this afternoon, and regional leaders, including President of the Dominican Republic Danilo Medina Sanchez for a major meeting at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s tomorrow.

Talks with the US Vice-President will cover regional security, trade, energy and human and social development, and a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) between Caricom and the United States will be signed.

In a release yesterday, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) said Persad-Bissessar and Biden “will meet privately for bilateral discussions before the multilateral meeting between Heads of State and Governments of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and of the Dominican Republic and the Vice-President.”

Among the regional leaders for the mini-summit are: President of Haiti and current Caricom chairman Michel Joseph Martelly; President of Guyana Donald Ramotar; Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie; Grenada Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell; Prime Minister of St Kitts/Nevis Dr Denzil Douglas; St Vincent Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves and Deputy Prime Minister of St Lucia Philip Pierre, representing Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony who is attending a meeting in Cuba.

Jamaica’s Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller misses the meeting as she is on official business in Ethiopia and will be represented by her National Security Minister Peter Bunting.

The OPM said Persad-Bissessar graciously agreed to use the opportunity of Biden’s visit to facilitate her colleagues in Caricom and the Dominican Republic.

“It is anticipated that this meeting with the Vice-President may serve to lay the groundwork for robust cooperation during the (US) Administration’s second term,” the release said.

At a press briefing last Wednesday in Washington, a senior administration official said the US anticipates “ good discussions on regional efforts to promote economic growth, on cooperation around citizen security, on energy issues, and other issues that are high on the priority list of our partners across the Caribbean.”

Biden, along with his wife Dr Jill Biden, will touch down at Piarco International Airport aboard Air Force 2, at about 6.45 pm, for a visit lasting less than 48 hours.

Persad-Bissessar will be at the airport along with Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran to welcome the Bidens.

OPM said the US Vice-President would be invited to inspect a Guard of Honour, following which the Prime Minister would introduce him to members of Cabinet and other officials. Newsday learnt that upon arrival Biden will get a sample of TT culture as the Defence Force Steel Orchestra has included in its repertoire a medley of tunes by calypsonian Timothy “Baron” Watkins, which includes the popular “Soca Man”, “Somebody” and “We Havin’ A Party”.

Security forces are on high alert during the visit and particularly in Port-of-Spain where most activities will take place.

Initial reports disclosed the Bidens would be staying at Hilton Trinidad, St Ann’s but additional information has indicated they will be at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Port-of-Spain.

The Bidens’ itinerary for tomorrow starts with courtesy calls on President Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona and his wife Reema.

Mrs Biden is expected to meet with local female entrepreneurs at 10.30 am at Cocobel, Woodbrook, and the Vice-President will pay a courtesy call on Persad-Bissessar during which they will meet privately before the meeting with regional heads of government.

OPM said Persad-Bissessar will host a luncheon for the visiting delegations at the Diplomatic Centre. A press briefing will take place at 2.15 pm during which addresses will be given by Biden, Persad-Bissessar and Martelly. In a Newsday interview yesterday, Mitchell said in the context of economic growth, he would want to raise the issue of information and communication technology as a means of spurring economic activity.

In a brief telephone interview from Miami, Mitchell said through cooperation and endowments the US could support the region in developing information communications technology (ICT). Alluding to the “immigration issue” he said through the creation of jobs through ICT it would be “less attractive to go to the US.”

Ramotar said Caricom heads would meet in caucus prior to discussions with Biden. He said due to the limited time of the visit they would have to prioritise what issues would be raised. Ramotar said there was concern “on both sides” about drug trafficking and deportation of persons from the US to the Caribbean.

“We have trade issues and so forth, because of the limited time we have to prioritise,” he told Newsday.

Ramotar said Caricom leaders still expected to have a meeting this year with US President Barack Obama.

For the high-profile visit “all necessary security measures” will be in place and security personnel on “high alert.”

Deputy Commissioner of Police Ann Marie Alleyne, Gold Commander during Biden’s visit, yesterday said all heads under National Security (Defence Force–inclusive of army, Coast Guard, Air Guard, National Security Operations Centre, Police, Special Branch, and Special Branch VIP Section) would be involved.

Alleyne said there would be “a full force” present from the time Biden arrives at Piarco International Airport. More than 200 local officers would be involved in the exercise.

Before flying to Trinidad, Biden met with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in Colombia, earlier today, to discuss security and other issues of mutual interest as part of a three-nation tour that includes Trinidad and Tobago and Brazil.

See Pages 5 & 18A

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