Caribbean Security H.R.4939 U.S.-Caribbean Relations

Caribbean Security Integration, Threat of Transnational Crimes, and implications of Budget Cuts on Caribbean Security

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Written by Amb. Curtis Ward

clarke-panel-3Panel Discussion sponsored by Rep. Yvette Clarke and Rep. Maxine Waters

Rayburn House Office Building, June 8, 2017. Presentation by

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward, Caribbean Research & Policy Center

Caribbean Security Integration, Threat of Transnational Crimes, and implications of Budget Cuts on Caribbean Security

I have been asked to share my perspectives on Caribbean security integration; the threat of transnational crimes to the region; threat of U.S. budget cuts on Caribbean security capacity-building, including the possible effects of budget cuts on capacity building in the financial sector to ameliorate the conditions, and effect of de-risking by U.S. banks which threatens correspondent banking relationships with banks in the Caribbean region.

This is a lot to cover in the allotted time, so I can only scratch the surface of these very complicated issues.

The danger to Caribbean societies posed by transnational organized crime has significant implications for the security of the region and citizen safety.

Increasing drug trafficking through the region, the threat of diminishing security assistance, and signs of radicalization leading to violent extremism threatens Caribbean societies.  U.S. national security is inextricably linked to Caribbean security, a policy perspective shared by successive U.S. administrations.

President George W. Bush, in April 2001, in partnership with the heads of government CARICOM member states and the Dominican Republic, launched “The Third Border Initiative” a U.S.-led partnership with its Caribbean neighbors that would facilitate and strengthen those nations’ institutional capacities to deal with social and economic problems; to combat transnational crime, particularly illegal drug trafficking and illicit arms trade; and to promote regional security. The TBI, though well-intentioned, was under-resourced.

In the post-9/11 period, America’s Third Border, the Caribbean, became the focus of added attention by the Bush administration which emphasized security measures to prevent the Caribbean from being used as a staging area for terrorist attacks on the United States.

Successive U.S. administrations have required Caribbean governments to increase significantly security screening in Caribbean airports and seaports to guard against terrorists using the Caribbean to gain access to the U.S. homeland; to protect civil aviation between the Caribbean and the U.S.; and to prevent smuggling of WMDs on board ships or aircraft destined for U.S. seaports and airports.  In this post-9/11 context, the TBI vision was broadened to include enhancement of the region’s capacity for U.S.–Caribbean cooperation in dealing with potential terrorist threats.

The terrorist threat to the U.S. Homeland, and the U.S.-Caribbean security nexus, was elaborated in a new declaration in January 2004, which recognized the interdependence and the importance of close cooperation between the U.S. and the countries of the Caribbean to combat “new and emerging transnational threats that endanger the very fabric of” U.S. and Caribbean societies. It noted that, “By virtue of their small size and geographic configuration and lack of technical and financial resources, Caribbean States are particularly vulnerable and susceptible to these risks and threats, especially those posed by illicit trafficking in persons, drugs, and firearms, terrorism, and other transnational crimes.”

Those words hold the same resonance today as they did 13 years ago.

The U.S. has focused primarily on a range of transnational organized criminal networks engaged in:

  1. trafficking in illicit drugs – the Caribbean as a source (marijuana) and transit (cocaine) from South America to the U.S., Canada, and Europe;
  2. money laundering, primarily proceeds of transnational crimes – illicit drug trafficking and related criminal activities, including corruption;
  3. human trafficking – Caribbean countries as source, transit, or destination; and
  4. illicit arms trafficking to the region, primarily from the United States.

In more recent years, there has been increasing concerns about radicalization and recruitment to terrorism, in particular recruitment of foreign terrorist fighters from the region joining ISIS (Da’esh or Islamic State) in Syria and Iraq.  The more serious problem will be faced by the region and the Hemisphere when these foreign terrorist fighters return to the Caribbean. They can be expected to pose future significant risks to their countries of origin, to the entire region, and to United States citizens (tourist and business visitors), as well as to U.S. owned assets in the Caribbean region.

At the Port of Spain Summit in 2009, President Barack Obama introduced the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), aimed at improving U.S. security engagement with the region, including institutional capacity-building of the security and law enforcement sectors. CBSI was a commitment “to deepen regional security cooperation … in an integrated effort that includes the other citizen security initiatives in the Hemisphere.”

The CBSI is regarded as the United States, CARICOM member states, and the Dominican Republic working together to improve citizen safety throughout the Caribbean region. The CBSI is a significant element of U.S. national security imperatives on its third border based on partnerships in a collaborative framework with Caribbean governments.

Despite being under-resourced, the CBSI is fulfilling some of its original aims to assist countries in the region to build security and law enforcement capacities to deal with drug trafficking and related criminal activities.

However, there is still much to be done. Any reduction of current funding levels for the CBSI would adversely affect the security capacity of the region, and the threats to U.S. national security emanating from or transiting the region will increase exponentially.

As you are no doubt aware, most of U.S. bilateral and regional programs are paid for out of the State Department/USAID’s budget and any budgetary reduction, such as the proposed 28% cut in FY 2018, a $14 billion reduction, will force the State Department to slash programs, including funding of security and law enforcement capacity-building assistance programs in the Caribbean.

Failure to prevent transnational criminal activities in the region – drug trafficking, illicit arms trafficking, money laundering, human trafficking, and emerging radicalization and violent extremism in the region present security implications for the United States, as well as the Caribbean.

Similarly, the proposed $800 million cut in the Treasury Department’s FY2018 budget will severely impact U.S. anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) capacity-building programs in the Caribbean.  This will further exacerbate the risks attendant to perceived deficiencies in the region’s financial sectors which drives de-risking and denial of correspondent banking relationships by U.S. financial institutions and Caribbean banks.

There is a strong case to be made that current and future programs are geared towards maintaining and improving a virtual security wall on the “third border” that serves the mutual security interests of the United States and the countries of the region.

This brings into sharp focus The United States–Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act of 2016 (H.R. 4939) (PL PUBLIC LAW 114–291—DEC. 16, 2016 (130 STAT. 1497)) which was signed into law by President Barack Obama on December 16, 2016.  The provisions of H.R. 4939 provide a framework for addressing important issues in U.S.–Caribbean relations and provide a working platform for developing and maintaining strategic partnerships and programs to address, inter alia, pressing security and law enforcement capacity deficiencies in the Caribbean region.

There are a number of Conclusions we may draw from this discussion:

  1. Transnational threats, such as drug trafficking and other criminal enterprises operating in and through the Caribbean, pose significant threats to the U.S. Homeland. This threat is exacerbated by radicalization and recruitment of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) by ISIS; and the anticipated return of FTFs to the region creates further urgency and new dynamics for security cooperation and security capacity-building in the region.
  1. The CBSI program, the current principal vehicle for U.S. security and law enforcement capacity-building in the region, is critical to future Caribbean security and protection of the U.S. third border.
  1. R. 4939 provides a unique opportunity for strategic engagement and to build upon the valued partnerships and programs, such as the CBSI, which serve the mutual security interests of the United States and the Caribbean region.
  1. Any attempt to diminish CBSI and similar programs through any means, including budget cuts, not only threatens the security of the Caribbean region but also threatens U.S. national security.
  1. Building security and law enforcement capacities, promoting human security and ensuring citizen safety, protection of human rights, rule of law and good governance are important to the United States and its Caribbean partners.
  1. Diminution of security and law enforcement capacity-building will create space for transnational organized criminal enterprises and create instability in the region.

(Photo: Amb. Curtis Ward & Rep. Stacey Plaskett)

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

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Amb. Curtis Ward

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