THE Republic of Trinidad and Tobago has no greater friend on this earth than the United States of America.
As the closest friend and partner to Trinidad and Tobago, we share more than 200 years of friendship and cooperation, from the war of 1812, through our centuries-long commercial ties to our shared democratic values.
It is with great assurance that I say to you—we will continue to march together towards progress, and the United States of America will always be your best ally.
Under my leadership of the US Embassy, I will personally see to it that:
• our unique bond is further strengthened;
• that our already close relationship deepens and grows;
• and that our cooperation yields positive results for both of our countries.
I’m truly humbled by the turnout in this room and the love I’ve already felt since I arrived here with my family. We’ve experienced the various acts of kindness expressed by Trinbagonians, whether at the Bamboo Cathedral, the Caroni Swamp, hanging in the panyard, shopping at the farmers market or sitting at the Creole kitchen. From the very start, T&T, you’ve made us feel right at home.
I can feel the electricity in the air as we all anticipate the “Mother of all Carnivals” in two months. Like all of you, I hope we will see a huge number of US citizens arriving to play mas and lime with all of us.
What a unique time to arrive in Trinidad and Tobago. For this reason, I’m truly excited to help write the next chapter in the close and treasured history of the diplomatic ties of our two great countries.
I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself, and to tell you a little bit about who I am, where I came from, and my personal ethos.
The Bond family represents a proud line of black educators, professionals and community leaders. Descended from slaves, our family has made meaningful contributions to the fabric of our country. Indeed, our history is a proud American story.
I was born in the heartland of the US in St Louis, Missouri, to Dr Leslie Bond and Anita Lyons Bond. My mother was an educator who served as president of the St Louis school board—the first black woman to do so—and she served on President Lyndon Johnson’s civil rights commission.
She was the first black woman to graduate from St Louis University, where she graduated magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, and recently received her honorary doctorate. At 92 years of age she is still fierce, and my brother and I are still slightly scared of her.
My late father was a general surgeon and family practitioner. He also served in the public health arena, pushing for greater health equity for underserved communities for over 50 years. He also served on the board of police commissioners.
As a kid, I used to go on house calls and hospital rounds with him. Often his patients could not pay for his services so we often had huge meals sent to the house—chitterlings, collard greens, barbecue, peach cobbler, you name it. But he taught me the valuable lesson that each and every individual has value—rich or poor, no matter their culture or station in life.
My parents were both actively involved in the civil rights movement in the US. They were instrumental in the early days of garnering key community and business support that was crucial to getting black candidates elected to political office, to which they had never before had access.
From my parents I learned firsthand the value of civic engagement, community organising; and not only the right, but the moral imperative of the people in a democracy to stand up and be counted when they raise their voices and move their feet and, most importantly, when they exercise their right to vote. Together, my mother and father served fearlessly as agents for social change during very tumultuous times in our country’s very recent history.
And while we are talking about family, let me introduce you to my immediate family here tonight. My amazing husband of 27 years, Steve McKeever, is a highly accomplished music executive, entertainment attorney and founder of Hidden Beach Recordings. He is excited to be here and quite ready to immerse himself in the rich and unique musical culture that thrives in Trinidad and Tobago.
My fabulous daughter, Maddox, is here as well and she is a talented student and singer, eager to immerse herself in the soca and parang scenes, and learn to play pan. She is also excited to be of service to the community.
My son, Brent, is away at college in New York City and he is already an established photographer, recently shooting Rihanna for her latest campaign.
I feel blessed that the values instilled in me by my family, and my experiences as a community and business leader, have equipped me to advance the common interests of the United States of America and Trinidad and Tobago as the US ambassador, furthering my life’s purpose to be of service.
Indeed, the United States is an imperfect union, yet at a time when our country is polarised by so many dividing lines, I’m struck by the way different ethnic groups here in Trinidad and Tobago participate and celebrate with each other.
I’ve talked to Catholics who celebrate Divali and Hindus who really get in the Christmas spirit. This rainbow nation may be what other countries are afraid of, but it is truly an example of how we are all stronger together. Just look at this room—it looks like the United Nations. I love it!
And even though I’ve drawn attention to the challenges that the US continues to face as a country, please note that I come to this position as US ambassador, the very highest honour of my life, with great pride in my country, and with great humility.
It is the challenge to do better, to be better, that sparks us to do the work—the deliberate, grinding, consistent, dedicated work toward improvement. We are, after all, the grand experiment of a living and breathing democracy.
The United States of America is still a land of exception. It is, after all, the place where Kamala Harris, a woman of colour with a brilliant legal mind and background, the daughter of two immigrants, one from India, the other from the Caribbean, could rise to the second-highest position in the land, just one heartbeat away from the presidency.
It is quite exciting for me personally to see the tremendous impact she is making around the globe as a world leader and trailblazer. Knowing my professional and personal background as intimately as she does, Vice President Harris called me, asking if I would be willing to serve our country as US ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago.
Now, that’s a call I will never forget. Notably, in that call, she explained the strategic importance of Trinidad and Tobago as the leader in the Caribbean region.
She told me about the framework for the administration’s PACC 2030 initiative to strengthen energy security, promote climate resilience and improve access to development finance.
From that minute I spoke to her, I was sold and committed on the spot. As a businesswoman and servant leader, these are all areas in which I have both business and community development experience.
This is why I’m particularly excited about the President and Vice President’s leadership and commitment to the Caribbean region. And I can tell you from one-on-one conversations with them, that they get it. They understand the importance of this region, and that historically it has not received the attention or resources it truly deserves. This is why I look forward to helping to support their leadership in Trinidad and Tobago.
Rest assured, T&T, you certainly have good friends in the White House as we work together on issues of security, governance and inclusive growth.
During my tour here, I commit to listening to you and working my hardest to advance a sustainable, equitable future for Trinidad and Tobago. This includes advancing our national policy on climate change, migration, and increasing trade between our countries.
And to the greatest extent possible, we will work together to chip away at this scourge of violent crime and disruption to everyday life, and bring our best and most comprehensive capabilities to help make Trinbagonian communities safer.
This will require a laser focus on our long-standing security partnership and the diligent implementation of Caribbean Basin Security Initiative-funded citizen-safety programmes, that work to prevent gang violence, reduce violent crime, and strengthen Trinidad and Tobago’s judicial system. Know that I am committed to developing and implementing win-win initiatives that work for both sides, as these are initiatives that secure results with sustainable impact.
It is true that as ambassador, I am first and foremost dedicated to ensuring the safety and security of US citizens visiting and resident in Trinidad and Tobago.
Trinidad and Tobago is indeed a regional leader on security, and our partner in the fight against transnational organised crime. I know we can do this by working smart and collaboratively/ together.
I am not one to wear rose-coloured glasses. I understand the geopolitical challenges that your country faces, and I’m pleased to deliver a whole-of-mission approach with our full array of services and support.
Like the United States, Trinidad and Tobago stands in the face of major geopolitical shifts, including the challenges of a massive migration crisis throughout the western hemisphere, particularly from neighbouring Venezuela, whose economic and political crisis has generated one of the largest external migration crises in the world by displacing more than six million people.
Similar to Trinidad and Tobago, we, too, are in the headwinds of this unprecedented crisis, yet we are a nation built by immigrants. While met with certain resistance, we have learned that when immigrants enter the labour force, they increase the productive capacity of the economy and raise GDP. Ultimately, the facts have proven that our diversity, like yours, is a source of strength that few countries can match.
Speaking of economic drivers, I am also committed to working with all of you in the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, and the private sector, to help build capacity for future economic diversification, and increasing trade between our countries, particularly among small and medium-sized businesses, leveraging the dynamic diaspora between our two countries.
—The above address, edited for length, was delivered by new United States Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago Candace Bond at a welcome reception last Wednesday at the Hyatt Regency, Port of Spain.
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