…at Inaugural Caribbean-United States Security Co-operation Dialogue
Just this week, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force apprehended a vessel in The Bahamas territorial waters. The vessel had on board undocumented migrants from three countries, one of them in far away Asia.
The vessel also had on board illicit narcotic drugs and illegal weapons. Every indication is that the illegal migrants and illicit narcotics on that vessel were headed for the United States of America.
There is another critical element to this scenario. It is that some of the illegal weapons in the hands of the perpetrators in this illicit transnational venture would likely find themselves in the hands of criminal elements in The Bahamas. On our streets and in our communities, they fuel crime and violence, and heighten the fear of crime among our citizens and residents.
This single incident presents a graphic illustration of some of the principal security threats to states of the Caribbean and to the United States, which account for our longstanding and ongoing security co-operation at the bilateral and regional levels, in our mutual interest. It also underscores the importance we all attach to this High-Level Dialogue.
The incident also shows the broad scope of the law enforcement challenges confronting our region and the United States, on land, on the sea and in the air. Some of these challenges are of long-standing, and others are still emerging.
The 2007 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)/World Bank Report attributes much of the Caribbean’s crime and security problems to illicit drug trafficking, and the reasons that make the region vulnerable to this traffic.
The countries of the Caribbean and the United States know these reasons well, as does all our partners.
The region comprises predominantly small states, most of which are islands and archipelagic states.
“We have extensive coastlines and national territorial waters. We are a natural transit area for narcotic trafficking from source and supply centres in the south to markets in the north.
“We have small populations and limited resources for countering the transnational criminal enterprises that control the international drug trade and related criminality, and which have incomes that can be the size of our national budgets,” one regional leader said.
He said that the region has experienced the drug trafficking problem as it moved from incipient, to acute, to grave, and as it became the platform facilitating and precipitating other transnational crime, including illegal immigration, human smuggling, trafficking in persons and the traffic in small arms and light weapons.
“We cannot discount the potential risk this drug trafficking platform might provide for terrorist activities against so-called “soft targets” in our country, or for the transit of those bent on committing terrorist activities in other countries.”
The upshot is that when activities associated with transnational crime are taken together with social, economic and other factors precipitating crime and criminality in our countries, the complex and grave crime and security challenges our law enforcement forces, and particularly our Police Forces face, become self-evident.
“I could quote crime statistics from each one of our countries, and they will underscore the point I am seeking to make. I need not do so, however, because they are reflected in the negative headlines that tarnish the image of our region.
“They point to the Caribbean region, for example, as one having among the highest murder rates, and the highest prisoner to population ratios in the world, and this has serious implications for our growth and development.
“Statistics and headlines alike show that our law enforcement challenges come from the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, and the use of these weapons in the perpetration of violent crime, including murder, armed robbery and burglary.
“The challenges come from young people that engage in deviant and criminal behaviour, even in our schools, and that embrace the culture of criminal gangs. They come for those that would seek to launder the proceeds of crime or to engage in cyber crime. They can come from criminal deportees that continue their criminal enterprises when they are returned to our small states.”
Law enforcement challenges come from vessels of all kinds smuggling human cargo, increasingly becoming a cover for illegal arms and illegal narcotics, and from the precautions the people in the region must take to secure the ports and airports against criminal elements, without interfering with legitimate commerce.
Law enforcement challenges come from overburdened criminal justice systems and prosecutors. They come from the demands of seeking to keep in step with the state-of-the-art communications, technology and weaponry equal to that which criminal enterprises can easily acquire.
They come from the need to greatly enhance forensic and ballistics capabilities, to facilitate arrests, prosecutions and convictions of criminals and criminal enterprises.
This High-Level Dialogue is a tangible expression of the intent of the states of the Caribbean and the United States to further improve law enforcement co-operation and to build capacity to deal with the unacceptable levels of crime and criminality in the Caribbean and in the United States.
“We are particularly pleased to have the support of observer nations and organisations in our initiatives.”
The challenges we in the Caribbean face, in particular, are good indicators of those areas in which co-operation and capacity building are urgently required. Action in these areas will move forward the undertakings we make in this Dialogue, to the mutual benefit of the region and the United States, and should keep us in step with our international commitments.
Conscious of the gravity of the problems, the Caribbean continues to actively develop its crime and security architecture, particularly the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security and its sub-organs, the Regional Intelligence Fusion Centre (RIFC) and the Joint Regional Communications Centre (JRCC).
“We are of the view that co-operative initiatives that build on action we initiated in the context of the regional mechanism would enhance our partnership with the United States in the area of law enforcement and capacity building.
“We would especially wish to see enhanced co-operation in the area of border security, at airports, ports and on the seas, including assistance in the acquisition of new technology and assets, and intelligence sharing, says a regional leader, O. A. T. Turnquest, Minister of National Security.
“I say this from the perspective of a country whose repatriation bill to return illegal immigrants to countries around the world totalled more than two million dollars in 2009.
Action to halt and reverse the proliferation of small arms and light weapons is a critical area for improved law enforcement and capacity building, for our mutual benefit and to halt and reverse current crime trends.”
Mr Turnquest said that forensic science is the way forward for the successful arrest, prosecution and conviction of the criminals that are creating havoc in all our countries. “Speaking for my own country, oftentimes our dependency on foreign laboratories renders us unable to bring cases before the courts in a timely manner, and as a result, known criminals have been discharged after long periods. Co-operation in the development of a strong regional forensic capacity and mechanism is therefore critical to impacting the level of crime in the region.
“Training underpins law enforcement co-operation, in circumstances in which it is important for all, and particularly our Police Officers, to be on the same page. This is an area in which regional capacity can be enhanced. While technical and professional training of law enforcement officers is a priority, training and capacity building co-operation would have greatest impact if it is multi-sectoral, and this should be the norm.
“Building academic, management, scientific and research capacity, for example, would allow us to address security in its wider, and exceptionally complex, manifestations.”
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