A/S Royce: Resilient, Connected Communities can conquer Violent Extremism

Assistant Secretary Marie Royce

APRIL 27, 2019

Good morning everyone.

Thank you for joining us and spending your weekend to participate in this very important workshop.

I’d especially like to thank:

  • Gary Griffith, Commissioner of Police
  • Ronald Harford, Chairman of Republic Bank

As Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, I am here to recognize the importance of our shared mission:

To make our countries and communities more secure and safe.

Together, we can counter violent extremism, or as we call it, “CVE,” with a whole-of-society approach to building connected, resilient communities.

This effort not only addresses terrorism, but also helps reduce the impact of crime, violence, and natural disasters, and gives societies a chance to thrive.

One of President Trump’s key priorities is to see the end of ISIS strongholds in Syria and Iraq – and we have seen success in achieving that goal.

However, continuing radicalization in Trinidad & Tobago and the threat of returning extremist fighters has made CVE a focus for the U.S. government and one of the U.S. Embassy Port of Spain’s top priorities.

Rising crime and the lack of economic opportunities are top concerns for many citizens of Trinidad & Tobago.

From recruitment into ISIS, criminal gangs, or drug abuse, to the simple need for economic opportunity, there are many factors that make individuals succumb to extremist behavior.

To address these issues, U.S. Embassy Port of Spain has piloted a dynamic three-phase strategy:

  1. Creating a network of key influencers across society
  2. Training this group to become true CVE advocates equipped to reach at-risk populations
  3. Leveraging resources to support this coalition in the fight against extremist recruitment.

We call this initiative “SafeCommuniTT,” and it is driven by public-private partnerships.

This initiative supports U.S.-Caribbean 2020, the U.S. Strategy for Engagement in the Caribbean, to increase the security, prosperity, and well-being of the people of the United States and the Caribbean.

Through the SafeComuniTT initiative, a group of key influencers and stakeholders have learned to create credible messaging campaigns to counter radicalization through exchange programs in the United States, focused on countering crime and violent extremism.

The individuals in this group range from top government officials to former convicts, but they all have one thing in common:  they are dedicated to community service and want to help influence at-risk populations.

Upon these stakeholders’ return to Trinidad and Tobago, U.S. Embassy Port of Spain facilitated grants helping them launch several CVE and anti-crime campaigns throughout the country in areas where gangs are prevalent and terrorist recruitment has taken place.

In fact, I was able to meet two of the incredible leaders in the SafeCommuniTT group yesterday and recognized them as U.S. Embassy Port of Spain’s Women of Courage award recipients.

Sensei Marva Logan provides an oasis to youth vulnerable to violent extremism and crime through the Ryu Dan Dojo Youth Empowerment Centre.  This center is based in an area where several foreign terrorist fighters originated.

Her work is organized, results-oriented, and supported by numerous partners within the community.

Hundreds of youth have benefitted from the Ryu Dan Dojo programming, which includes counseling for parents, life skills training, trade classes, and leadership development.

I’d also like to recognize Kiran Maharaj.

Those of you who know her realize she is a force of nature when it comes to coordinating people and projects to create improvements to our society.

As the implementing lead for the SafeCommuniTT initiative, she worked nights and weekends with the Embassy to ensure these countering violent extremism and crime efforts were a success.

We are confident that impactful CVE programs will not only stop recruitment into international terrorist organizations, but also strengthen young people’s ability to say no to gangs, drugs, and crime.

We must provide youth with alternative opportunities through sports, arts, technology, and entrepreneurship.

To address this critical issue, I am proud to announce two new U.S. initiatives.

The first is a new collaboration between the U.S. Embassy Port of Spain and the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs, which will launch on May 20.

The initiative provides after-school sports activities for primary school students in three different neighborhoods.

I’d also like to announce an interfaith project being coordinated by the embassy that is set to launch here in mid-June.

It will bring religious leaders across Trinidad & Tobago together for a three-day retreat with the objective of promoting peace and unity among all religions.

You will hear more about this programming and others throughout today’s workshop.

These programs are possible because of collaborations with partners like you.

As President Donald Trump has said in his National Strategy for Counterterrorism:  “We must seek partners, not perfection – and to make allies of all who share our goals.”

Today is about coming together to reconnect, focus, and rededicate ourselves to SafeCommuniTT.  It has never been about one person, one organization, one government, or one initiative.

It is a whole-of-society approach comprised of committed people with a shared goal – to use our goodwill to:

  • protect our youth and our nations from the negative forces that want to drive wedges between us and our children,
  • emphasize our commonalities rather than our differences, and
  • ensure the vision stated in your national anthem of every creed and race having an equal place.

Many of you have been leaders in this goal, but we must seize this moment to create more opportunity and introduce this effort to new stakeholders so that more of this important work can be done.

We must continue to work together to make Trinidad & Tobago, and the United States, safer and stronger countries.

We can, and will, accomplish this.

Thank you all for being here today.

I look forward to joining forces together and achieving our shared goal to create a more secure world.