Wednesday’s news of the massive drug haul netted by Operation Lionfish — 30 metric tons of cocaine, heroin and marijuana, with a street value of $822 million — highlights yet again the thorny problem of drug trafficking in the Caribbean and Central America. Indeed,Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfielddeclared late in June that the amount of drugs coming into the U.S. via the Caribbean has increased in the past year. His claim is supported by the U.S.2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report(INCSR), which similarly states that “approximately 5 percent of all drugs destined for United States are estimated to pass through the major list countries of The Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica.”
Brownsfield’s statements as well as the INCSR report portray drug trafficking activities asthemajor security threat for Caribbean states. The problem is that Washington is looking at this region with a focus on U.S. interests, which only provides a partial picture of the multiple challenges Caribbean governments are facing.
In Brownfield’s recent testimony beforethe House Foreign Affairs Committee, he argued that “whether measured by citizens demanding that their governments take action, numbers of law enforcement and prosecutors trained and deployed, drops in homicide rates, or youth enrolled in after-school programs, the United States and our partners in Central America and the Caribbean are making progress.” But this progress is limited by constricted U.S. military budgets, particularly because the Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) is under pressure to tighten its belt. Nevertheless, the U.S. Navy continues to use state of the art military technology, includingdrones, to look for suspicious vessels and aircraft around the Caribbean.
The INSCR report also highlights specific developments that the U.S. regards as worrisome. For example, regarding Jamaica, the report states that “despite competent leadership and political will, their efforts [to fight drug trafficking] were only moderately effective in 2012 because of a lack of sufficient resources, corruption, and an inefficient criminal justice system.”
It is fair to critique regional partners for corruption, but it should also be noted that Caribbean nations are trying to enhance their security and defense capacities, both via training and acquisition of badly needed, new equipment, as demonstrated by The Bahamas’ recent contract with theDutch company Damen Shipyards Groupto construct nine vessels. The country’s goal is to modernize its naval fleet to better protect its territorial waters from drug trafficking and other criminal operations.
Moreover, there are important joint initiatives by Caribbean nations, via its flagship regional organization, CARICOM, to find a multilateral approach to transnational crime. One of CARICOM’s security agencies, known as theImplementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS)is bringing member nations together to construct a comprehensive approach to transnational threats. For example, at a CARICOM summit in Port au Prince this past February, IMPACS presented an ambitious security doctrine entitled: “CARICOM Crime and Security Strategy 2013: Securing the Region.” The report articulates the region’s security challenges other than drug trafficking, such as human trafficking, illegal weapons trafficking, and the rise of cybercrime. For example, a major source of insecurity for Jamaica has been the illegal entrance ofweapons from Haitiin exchange for drugs.
Clearly, the security priorities of Caribbean governments differ from their U.S. counterparts. A request to “do more” by officials in Washington is understandable, but Caribbean states corruption is just one of many challenges that these states have to deal with, along with limited budgets and trained personnel.
Furthermore, besides well-trained, uncorrupt security personnel and equipment, a comprehensive regional strategy is needed. Hopefully, SOUTHCOM and State Department officials have read the 2013 IMPACS strategy report in order to get a better sense of what friendly Caribbean governments consider the most pressing security breaches and the solutions these governments would like to implement. For example, the IMPACS report recommends that member States “attack the financial underpinnings of organized criminal syndicates; strip criminals of their illicit wealth; remove their access to the financial system.” In other words, security officers must not just focus on seizing cocaine shipments, but targeting the financial assets of known criminals. The report states (rather hopefully) that “an aggressive and successful programme of asset forfeiture could cripple organized crime in the Region,” and recommends the “establishment of National Asset Recovery Offices (AROs).”
Considering the expansive territory (particularly maritime) of the 15 countries of CARICOM, the IMPACS report strongly suggests greater intelligence sharing among the security agencies of its members. These proposals include the creation of “a network of Liaison Officers and National Points of Contact (NPCs)” between member states and the expansion of the “CARICOM Integrated Border Security System” (CARIBSEC).” The U.S. must continue to support the commitment of CARICOM nations to fight drug trafficking in the Caribbean. However, Washington should also recognize the importance that CARICOM governments give to addressing other regional security concerns. With that said, if agencies like SOUTHCOM are unable to provide that support due to budgetary constraints, Washington should turn to other partner nations, such as the U.K. and The Netherlands (which have overseas territories in the Caribbean), or regional states like Mexico and Brazil, to support IMPACS’ policy suggestions.