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Caribbean Security Challenges Require Integrated Solutions

By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.

WASHINGTON – Security challenges in the Caribbean region vary, but they are increasingly interconnected, which requires regional governments to respond in a coordinated and integrated way, says a senior U.S. diplomat.

“A defining purpose of our policy in the Western Hemisphere is to build effective partnerships,” says Julissa Reynoso, deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. “In the security sector, this is reflected in a commitment to advance citizen safety.”

The newly launched Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) is a commitment to greater shared security throughout the region, Reynoso said December 9 at a subcommittee hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.

“This initiative will help the Caribbean nations address a wide spectrum of issues affecting the safety of our citizens across a 15-nation region with which we share close historical and cultural ties,” she said. “Stemming the flow of narcotics remains forefront in our national interest.”

The majority of drugs crossing the Caribbean flow to the United States through Hispaniola and Jamaica, she testified. While most of the drugs coming into the United States pass through Central America and Mexico, law enforcement officials anticipate that traffickers will seek more reliable smuggling routes in the Caribbean, she said.

Haiti, more than any other Caribbean nation, is of particular concern to U.S. officials because it lacks the capacity to counter international criminal groups or to fully prosecute crimes in its judicial system. Caribbean nations are already buffeted by narcotics-driven crime waves, Reynoso said, and an international study by the United Nations and World Bank supports that conclusion.

Caribbean leaders’ efforts to work with the United States on counternarcotics and counterterrorism issues are hampered by a lack of human, technical and physical capacity, Reynoso said. But these nations share the United States’ commitment to democratic principles and norms, and protecting the region’s democratic institutions will remain a hallmark of CBSI and the security partnership, she said.

“The danger of increased trafficking and negative spillover effects are too great to ignore,” Reynoso told committee members. “If the problem is not addressed now, traffickers will continue to expand operations throughout the region by exploiting these vulnerable transit routes, undermining local governments and increasing the likelihood of political instability.”

Actual work on the security initiative began in earnest following unprecedented efforts by Caribbean countries and the United States and other international partners to provide security for the 2007 Cricket World Cup, which was held in 10 countries in the Caribbean. What followed were a series of steps that led to development of the current security initiative, Reynoso said.

“President Obama recognized the need for deeper security cooperation with the Caribbean from the beginning of his administration,” she said. Obama announced an investment for the security initiative in April at the Fifth Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.

The 2010 federal budget includes a request for $45 million for the CBSI. If approved by Congress, it will become the first installment in support of this security arrangement, Reynoso said.

She said the State Department and other federal agencies have met with Caribbean partners in three conferences to plan the security initiative. A common regional strategy has been developed along with a framework to operate by, and a comprehensive assessment was conducted to identify the challenges and the resources and institutions needed, she said.

The security initiative is built on three strategic objectives: substantially reduce illicit drug trafficking, advance public safety and security, and promote social justice, Reynoso said.

“More than technical, financial and program assistance, our CBSI activities will reflect a unique mix of institutional and operational partnerships,” she added.

The United States will host the inaugural Caribbean-U.S. Security Cooperation Dialogue in early 2010. It will serve to launch the partnership with the Caribbean nations.

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