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Challenges to Jamaican and Caribbean Security


Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

Challenges to Jamaican and Caribbean Security

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

Lecture at the University of the West Indies (MSBM), Kingston, Jamaica (15 March 2019)

Thank you for asking me to share my perspectives on Challenges to Jamaican and Caribbean Security. I will try to narrow the scope of my presentation as best I can to fit into the limited time given to me.

I decided I would use my lecture to challenge Jamaican and Caribbean policymakers and decision makers, leaders of the security and law enforcement services and first responders to engage in serious discussions of current and emerging security challenges facing Jamaica and the region, and to develop strategies and capacities to deal with these challenges and threats to the nation and the region. My intention is not to lecture anyone on how to respond to the threats and challenges but to urge policy makers to recognize the imperative to transform current practices of being reactive and to put in place effective preventative measures.

Driving along the Palisadoes Road from the airport, as I arrived in Jamaica last Wednesday, I noted the changes rapidly taking place to the downtown skyline, in particular, on the possible security and vulnerability issues of the Kingston waterfront. I also thought about the evolving nature of security threats and challenges and the pace at which Caribbean governments are prepared to respond effectively.

The reality is, for most states around the world, security capacity building is reactive rather than proactive. And, by the time countries catch up with current threats, new, more sophisticated and complex security challenges emerge.caribbean-map

The Caribbean region is no exception. National and regional security services lack the resources necessary to keep pace with the threats and the advantage invariably shifts to the bad guys. Security services unpreparedness inhibits their effectiveness in dealing with the complexities and evolving nature of current security challenges.

The disadvantage of unpreparedness was aptly expressed by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during the period of bombing attacks by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in London. She said: “The bad guys only have to be lucky once; we have to be lucky all the time.” Thatcher’s fear is often repeated by politicians, even though they fail to grasp the importance of the preventative preparedness she espoused.

The bad guys can do significant harm to life and property with one successful attack. We cannot wait for them to act. It is imperative that our intelligence and preventative security are a step ahead of them. Preventing mal-intentioned acts is good security; bringing the bad guys to justice after they have acted shifts primary responsibility to law enforcement services. While there are significant differences in the roles and responsibilities of security and law enforcement services, we often conflate the two in Jamaica and the Caribbean.

While security and law enforcement responsibilities often overlap, and there are often shared responsibility between them, the security forces’ whose primary responsibility is the country’s security, in particular when the threat is external, and, in cases of emergencies and other extraordinary circumstances, assist law enforcement agencies in crime prevention and citizens’ protection, as well as in recovery efforts from catastrophic events.

When the threat is from within, especially when the bad actors get lucky, the burden shifts to law enforcement to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Ground Zero - WTC after towers collapsed

Ground Zero – The WTC after towers collapsed

The terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, exposed the lack of preparedness of the U.S. Government to prevent terrorist attacks against the U.S. Homeland. The 9/11 attacks awakened the entire global community and created the impetus to prioritize national and global anti-terrorism and counter-terrorism capacity building. The countries of the Caribbean, responding slowly to the terrorism phenomenon, lagged far behind in implementation of universally acceptable anti-terrorism standards and best practices.

More than 15 years after the UN Security Council counter-terrorism mandates were adopted, some Caribbean governments had not enacted comprehensive  antiterrorism laws or established administrative and operational capacities to prevent and counter terrorist threats.

caribbean-mapCaribbean Governments often fall short of their responsibilities to provide the resources necessary for security and law enforcement services to do their jobs effectively.  To be effective, they must be appropriately resourced, trained, equipped, and provided with the legal framework within which to operate. They must have access to actionable intelligence of the highest quality; and they must ensure the rights of the civilian population they are sworn to serve are not violated.

While security cannot be fool proof, security and law enforcement agencies must be able to respond effectively to minimize the damages from the actions of bad actors. Thus, as we enhance the capacities of security and law enforcement services, we must also build our resilience for quick recovery from natural and man-made catastrophic events that are likely to have domestic and international implications.

Jamaica and other Caribbean countries that are highly dependent on tourism are particularly vulnerable. Yet, governments tend to downplay obvious existential threats to the tourism sector. Let me share a real life example with you.

On 12 October 2002, terrorists exploded two bombs at a nightclub and bar in Bali, Indonesia, killing some 202 people from 21 countries; most of the victims were tourists, 88 Australians and 28 British, as well as 48 Indonesians.  The island of Bali is highly dependent on Australian and British tourists.

Bali Terrorist Attack

Bali Terrorist Attack

The reason given by the perpetrators for the attack – it was planned as part of a jihad, or holy war, to defend the people of Afghanistan from the Americans and their associates. The Australians and the British were targeted as principal allies of the United States fighting against al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Five weeks after the terrorist attack, I visited Bali to participate in a conference on counter terrorism financing at the Nusa Dua Sheraton hotel on Bali’s popular beach. The hotel was empty and the beach was deserted. As far as one could see, there were no tourists anywhere; only a few locals hung around on the beach.

I visited one of Bali’s large tourist shopping arcades and found dozens of the shops and restaurants shuttered. I was the only patron in one of a few restaurants that remained open.

Tourists did not begin to return to the island of Bali until a year later when the Australian government arranged charter flights to Bali for a memorial to those who were killed in the terrorist attack.

ISIS image

ISIS image

This anecdote illustrates the vulnerability of tourism-dependent countries such as Jamaica and other Caribbean islands to acts of terrorism. The people and island of Bali were not the target of terrorists, the allies of the United States were. Beyond the loss of lives, the economic life of Bali was impacted significantly and took several years to recover.

The terrorist’s strategy is to attack soft targets, such as tourism, and Jamaican and Caribbean tourism sectors are as vulnerable today as Bali’s was in 2002.

American citizens, properties, and interests are targets of international terrorism around the world. You are well aware, that American visitors comprise the largest number of tourists to Jamaica and the Caribbean each year.  An act of terrorism against American tourists, on Jamaican territory, would engender fear among potential visitors to Jamaica and the entire Caribbean region.  American and other foreign visitors would stay away, and the tourist industry would be severely impacted. It would be devastating to Jamaica’s tourism sector and the country’s economy.

While lives lost cannot be replaced, buildings can be reconstructed. But, in the aftermath of a terrorist attack, recovery from the psychological threat of insecurity will take a very long time.

I am troubled by what I’ve heard often from the Caribbean, including right here in Jamaica, that we should not be concerned about the terrorist threat; that terrorism is someone else’s problem.  Truth is terrorism is every country’s problem. The Bali experience should serve as an example to governments of the region that terrorism is everybody’s business; and they should appreciate the seriousness of the terrorist threat, and the challenges terrorism poses to security and law enforcement in the region. Many of the recent acts of terrorism have been carried out by individuals or very small groups,and their favorite targets are areas frequented by tourists.

Security threats to American interests in the Caribbean have been the focus of successive U.S. governments.  U.S. national security policymakers and practitioners recognize that a threat to Caribbean security is also a threat to U.S. national security. Because Jamaican and Caribbean security are critical to United States national security and the safety of American citizens and property, it is in America’s national security interest to help Jamaican and Caribbean governments build their security and law enforcement capabilities.

ISIS Image

ISIS Image

Regional security is in the mutual security interests of both the United States and the Caribbean.

For many years, Jamaican and Caribbean political leaders believed they had no room to negotiate or determine their countries’ security priorities with regard to security assistance. Caribbean governments accepted determinations by Washington and other capitals on how security assistance is prioritised; a “take it or leave it” approach to security assistance from their external partners. Because of their dependence on external assistance, Caribbean countries are challenged to wean themselves and are unable to assert their own security priorities.

For the past two decades, United States-Caribbean security partnership programmes, from President George W. Bush’s Third Border Initiative (TBI) through President Barack Obama’s Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), reflect the perspectives and dynamics of different U.S. administrations on the importance of U.S.-Caribbean security. The  current non-specific policy of President Donald Trump for the region is a deviation.

President George W. Bush

Pres. George W. Bush

The Third Border Initiative (TBI)

President George W. Bush and Caribbean government leaders, at the Summit of the Americas in Monterrey, Mexico in April 2001, launched the Third Border Initiative formally recognizing the Caribbean as America’s “third border.”  President Bush acknowledged the importance of a secure Caribbean to U.S. national security interests. Intended as a U.S.-led partnership with its Caribbean neighbors, the TBI focused on three main areas:

  1. facilitating and strengthening Caribbean nations’ institutional capacities to deal with social and economic problems;
  2. combating transnational crime, particularly illegal drug trafficking and illicit arms trade; and
  3. promoting regional security

Perhaps, the cost of prosecuting two wars at the same time in Afghanistan and Iraq negatively affected TBI funding, and its full potential was never realized. The region’s security capacity failed to keep pace with regional security and law enforcement challenges which were exacerbated by the rapid evolution of transnational criminal networks in a globalized environment.  Institutional deficiencies remained and security challenges outpaced national and regional security capacity building programs.

Successive U.S. administrations, in this post-9/11 period, required Caribbean governments to increase, significantly, anti-terrorism measures. The TBI vision was broadened to include enhancement of the region’s capacity for U.S.–Caribbean cooperation in dealing with potential terrorist threats, including protection of Caribbean seaports, airports, and civil aviation to guard against terrorists using the Caribbean to gain access to the U.S. homeland; and to prevent the smuggling of WMDs on board ships or aircraft destined for the United States.

In January 2004, President Bush and the leaders of CARICOM states and the Dominican Republic issued a joint statement emphasizing security and counter-terrorism in US–Caribbean relations. The challenges identified then remain quite relevant today.

U.S. and Caribbean leaders recognized the shared interdependence and importance of close cooperation to combat new and emerging transnational threats. Noting the small size and geographic configuration and lack of technical and financial resources of Caribbean States, the leaders said they were 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.

Nothing has changed since. As a matter of fact the challenges not only remained, they have gotten much greater and more complex.

Over this period, Caribbean governments became dependent on the United States to provide technical assistance and financial resources necessary for them to build their overall security capacity, and deal with rising crime which was fueled by the drug trade through the region to North America and the illicit arms trade to the region, primarily from the U.S.

U.S. security-related assistance targeted drug interdiction, and, in the post-9/11 period, migration control, airport and seaport security enhancement were added. Interdiction of illicit arms trafficking to the Caribbean received far less attention, due primarily to the lack of political will on the part of successive U.S. administrations.

Even though security and law enforcement capacities improved somewhat, the problems multiplied and far outpaced security assistance programs. Globalization created new vehicles for international criminal networks, terrorist groups, and other bad actors to increase their capacities to do harm.


President Barack Obama

President Barack H. Obama

Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI)

At the Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, in 2009, President Barack Obama sought to improve U.S. security engagement with the region, including by putting more resources into institutional capacity-building of the security and law enforcement sectors, by announcing the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI). CBSI was introduced as a partnership between the United States, CARICOM member states, and the Dominican Republic working together to improve citizen safety throughout the Caribbean region.

President Obama called the CBSI “A shared Regional Security Partnership” in which the United States and the countries of the Caribbean would work together to combat the drug trade and other transnational crimes threatening regional security. Accordingly, the CBSI represented a significant element of U.S. national security imperatives on its third border, and it was based on partnerships in a collaborative framework with Caribbean governments.

Underfunded in the first year, the CBSI received full funding throughout the succeeding years of Obama’s presidency. Overall, the CBSI contributed significantly to security and law enforcement capacity in participating Caribbean countries and in the region generally.

With the new opportunity provided for consultation between the State Department and Caribbean governments under the United States-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act of 2016, in formulating U.S. policy on the region, Caribbean governments have an opportunity to seek expansion and increased funding of CBSI programs. The Obama signed law puts Caribbean governments at the negotiating table on CBSI programs and priorities.

Like any other country, the United States prioritizes its own national security; and U.S. security assistance programs are linked to U.S. national security imperatives. Drug trafficking through the region remains a major problem for the United States and a threat to U.S. national security. Furthermore, there is increased synergy between the security interests of the United States and the Caribbean, more so now than ever before, as a result of the increasing threat from radicalization and violent extremism in the region. Caribbean governments should boldly seek increased funding under the CBSI to deal with these new threats to stability and security in the region.

President Donald J. Trump

President Donald J. Trump

Trump Administration and Caribbean Security

In contrast to the Bush and Obama Administrations, which offered a policy of shared responsibility wherein Washington bore primary responsibility for CBSI funding, the Trump Administration’s approach to Caribbean security is to shift more of the burden to Caribbean governments. This should be a non-starter, and Caribbean governments should let Washington know this. The U.S. has a lot at stake in ensuring Caribbean security. Preventing and countering violent extremism in the region which poses significant dangers to the U.S. homeland should be among U.S. priorities.

While it is impossible to predict the future of Trump Administration’s security policies for the region there is enough evidence over the past two years to discern the direction in which it is heading. Although there is no strategic or policy framework by which to evaluate the Trump Administration’s future Caribbean security assistance programs, an attempt to reduce CBSI by some 50% in the FY2018 budget offers a clue.

For now, defying the Trump Administration, the Congress reinstated the Obama Administration funding level, but the future of the CBSI remains uncertain.  In the context of huge deficits due in part to the 2018 tax cuts and the president’s priority of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, future cuts in CBSI funding is a distinct possibility. Future funding reductions will create an even wider gap between security requirements of the countries in the Caribbean and the region’s vulnerabilities to evolving security threats.

Without a concerted well-informed effort by Caribbean governments the future of the CBSI is tenuous at best.

Growth of Radicalization and Violent Extremism in the Caribbean

As noted earlier, there has been a growth in the level of radicalization and violent extremism over the past several years in the Caribbean region. Caribbean governments have paid very little attention to this new phenomenon. However, in the past year, the Government of Trinidad & Tobago, jolted by the recruitment of some 100 of its citizens to fight with ISIS/ISIL in Syria and Iraq, began to pay attention. Some terrorist fighters also left Suriname and possibly Guyana to join ISIS/ISIL.

With the degradation of ISIS and dreams of a Caliphate destroyed, tens of thousands of foreign terrorist fighters have been scattered around the world. No one knows how many have returned to the Caribbean, or how many will make their way undetected back to the region. The government of Trinidad doesn’t know who they are; the Jamaican government doesn’t know; Interpol doesn’t know; and the United States, with perhaps the most sophisticated intelligence capability in the world, doesn’t know.

Radicalization, violent extremism, and returning foreign terrorist fighters could pose significant future security and law enforcement challenges for the entire Caribbean. The ease of travel of CARICOM citizens throughout the region will make this even more challenging. The security interest of the U.S. in the security of its so-called “third border” is a U.S. security imperative.

I now return to where I started on my view of downtown Kingston and harbour from the Palisadoes Road.

I didn’t see any Jamaica coast guard vessel on patrol, or any other visible sign of maritime security deployed on the waterfront. Perhaps they were deployed elsewhere in Jamaica’s territorial waters; probably preoccupied with interdicting drugs being trafficked from South American suppliers destined for United States consumers.

This raises a number of questions. Were the Kingston waterfront and other critical infrastructure along Jamaica’s coastline left unprotected? Are Jamaica’s limited maritime security assets appropriately deployed in the interest of Jamaica’s security? Are Jamaican security assets deployed to prevent illegal drugs from reaching the United States as a matter of priority or to protect Jamaica? Are there sufficient maritime security assets to do both at the same time?

I understand fully that drug interdiction in Jamaican territorial waters, and across the Caribbean generally, also inures to the benefit of Jamaica’s and the region’s crime and security imperatives. The collateral effects of drug trafficking through the region, and related criminal conduct present serious challenges to Jamaican and Caribbean law enforcement services. There doesn’t seem to be any good choice.

Members of our security forces are no doubt much more aware of the security challenges the country and the region face better than anyone else. They also are aware of their deficiencies and what they need to improve their capacities and effectiveness. But, too often the public never hears from security and law enforcement members on what they need to do their jobs effectively. They are constrained from speaking publicly, perhaps muzzled; as such exposé would embarrass policymakers

The fact is law enforcement and security forces in Jamaica and the Caribbean lack adequate resources and capacities to deal effectively with the prevailing threats. They are always playing catch-up while security threats metastasize at alarming rates.  The globalization of transnational crimes creates an imperative for a global response; and each partner must have the requisite capacity to play its role.

When it comes to Jamaica and Caribbean security the reality is there are limitations on the level of security each country individually or collectively can provide without the help of external partners. Since Jamaica gained its independence and assumed responsibility for its own security the country has been dependent on external partners for protection.  This applies across the Caribbean.  No country in the region has developed its security capacity to a level commensurate with its security needs.

When dealing with security, what you don’t know will hurt you. This brings intelligence and use of intelligence effectively into sharp focus.  There are huge deficiencies in the capacity to collect information; and even greater deficiencies in analysing and processing information into actionable intelligence. The reality is Jamaica and Caribbean countries do not have adequate or enough intelligence to prevent crime and protect our nations’ security.

It is also true that even when there is actionable intelligence, locally derived or shared by external partners, local law enforcement and security forces across the Caribbean lack the capacity to act on the intelligence they have in order to effectively carry out their responsibilities to prevent and protect the people and the nation.

Notably, the U.S. Government does not share all the relevant intelligence they have on the Caribbean. Agencies of the U.S. intelligence community very zealously guard the intelligence they have and will only share a fraction of what they know. This is particularly true where there is good reason to believe that the receiving country is not capable of dealing with intelligence in a responsible manner.

Cybersecurity threats

One of the ironies of having a foreign government construct buildings, such as the new Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is that other foreign governments will be constrained to hold discussions with our top diplomats on sensitive issues within this building. The expectation is that when a major power constructs a building for another government it will be unsafe for any confidential communication to or from that building. The building is likely to be subject to eavesdropping and other covert forms of surveillance by the foreign power.

Similarly, a cyber security platform constructed for the Jamaican Government by a foreign government or government controlled entity is likely to be compromised. The foreign builder’s intelligence services will have easy access and ability to manipulate sensitive data of the country. Knowing of the sophistication of cyber intelligence gathering and cyber espionage, it raises questions about whose interests are served in these relationships.

Even as the Caribbean increasingly adapts to Chinese information technology and equipment, U.S. research institutions are getting rid of them; and the US military now prohibits the use of communication equipment using Chinese-made parts. Most importantly, in February, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned governments in Europe against adopting 5G gear from the Chinese telecom giant, saying the U.S. would not be able to share information with countries that used Huawei equipment.

Also, ICANN, responsible for maintaining the global Domain Name System warned of a “significant” risk because of ongoing attacks on the system.

Diaspora expertise (security, law enforcement, maritime security, and cybersecurity

As a member of the Jamaican and Caribbean Diaspora, I would like to conclude with a few words about Diaspora resources that are very often overlooked.

Members of the diaspora are engaged in law enforcement, security, and maritime security at the very highest levels; and, they have been researching, building, and maintaining cybersecurity platforms for many years. They are on the cutting edge of the latest cyber threats, preventative technology, and applications. They are in the private sector, research institutions, academia, and governments. They bring cultural competence to any situation.

Members of the diaspora are available to advise the governments of the region and provide their expertise in all security and law enforcement related fields, including cybersecurity. They can reduce the risks of compromise of cybersecurity platforms that are subject to the manipulation of foreign governments or foreign government controlled entities.

While there are some efforts to engage the diaspora, an effective mechanism is yet to be developed anywhere in the Caribbean to take full advantage of what is available. Diaspora resources remain untapped and underutilized.

It is my firm belief that diaspora expertise working in collaboration with available expertise in the region can have a significant impact on the current and future security and law enforcement challenges facing Jamaica and the Caribbean. The time for the Governments of the region to take advantage of this valuable resource is long overdue.

It is my fervent hope that I have met the challenge I set myself to challenge the people and government of Jamaica and the Caribbean, at least those who care about the safety and security of the nation and the region, to face the challenges we face and not think of them as someone else’s problems.

© 2019 Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post

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About the author

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward is a former Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the United Nations with Special Responsibility for Security Council Affairs (1999-2002) serving on the UN Security Council for two years. He served three years as Expert Adviser to the UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee. He is an Attorney-at-Law and International Consultant with extensive knowledge and experience in national and international legal and policy frameworks for effective implementation of United Nations (UN) and other international anti-terrorism mandates; the legal and administrative requirements to effectively implement and enforce anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism (AML/CFT); extensive knowledge of the legal and regulatory requirements for effective implementation and enforcement of United Nations multilateral and U.S.-imposed unilateral sanctions; and the imperatives for Rule of Law and governance. He is a geopolitical and international security analyst, and a human rights, democracy, and anticorruption advocate.

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