Monday, July 2, 2012

Commonwealth Caribbean getting intense attention - who are the beneficiaries?

By Ian Francis

In recent weeks, Caribbean Commonwealth nations have been the centre of attention and recipients of many donated national security resources that received media coverage and repeated Government Information Services (GIS) announcements in recipient nations.

Ian Francis resides in Toronto and is a frequent contributor on Caribbean affairs. He is a former Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Grenada and can be reached at
Donations ranged from fast patrol boats for drug interdiction; donations of firearm identification equipment; un-named donor sources to assist many regional nations to participate in the Rio Summit; the United States of America resident Ambassador to the Cooperative Republic of Guyana visit to the CARICOM IMPACS Secretariat in Trinidad, which is currently embroiled in civil litigation with its former executive director and Canada’s recent decision to establish a military hub in Jamaica, which has been formalized in a bilateral treaty between the two nations that was recently signed in Kingston between Canada’s Defence Minister, Peter MacKay and Jamaica’s National Security Minister, Peter Bunting.

The Canada military hub initiative should not draw any excitement or anxiety, as Canada has no intention of colonizing the region or trying to govern and influence the governance process in the region. The Canadian initiative should be viewed as positive, as Canada continues to recognize its special status with the region. Unfortunately, those in political leadership continue to misunderstand such status and see this wonderful nation as a cheque writer. While Canada continues to hand out cheques, regional decision makers must understand that Canada is a nation of plenty, blessed with resources and capacity building tools. The military hub is a step in the right direction.

Given all the above initiatives, there seems to have been a sudden awakening in the Caribbean Division of the European Union (EU) whose director, John Calochirou, recently announced in Jamaica that the EU is planning to pump in 10 million pounds into the region to fight drug trafficking. While this announcement might be encouraging news to many of our regional multilateral outfits, who no doubt have begun to jockey for project management of these funds, there remains an interesting and imbalanced indictment that the Caribbean region remains a source for drug transshipment into North American and European shores. This is probably why such attention continues and mass investment of resources geared primarily to fight drug trafficking. This is why it is reasonable to ask who will the EU initiative benefit?

The Caribbean region has been under the microscope of many powerful nations as a major geographical passage for illegal drug transshipment. It is also well known that Caribbean political leaders remain extremely concerned about the existing indictment but have apparently bought in to the notion or belief that beefing up the regional coast guard and being the recipients of fast patrol interdiction boats might alter or eliminate the existing concerns.

This is why I have consistently expressed in this medium that, while the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) is a step in the right direction, there is 1) pressing and urgent need for the Washington-based Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to accept and recognize that the donation of fast interdiction speed boats might not be enough to address the situation; and 2) our current regional leaders must show responsibility and application of governance common sense by clearly telling DHS that, while they are grateful to receive such donations, there is an abundance of other needs that are required to address national security capacity building and sustainability.

This is why I am closely watching the EU’s intended move in the region. While they remain short on specifics, given their past colonial deeds in the region, there is no doubt that they have a much better understanding of national security in the region. It is sincerely hoped that if the EU approaches the situation as a true and sustainable partner, then much can be achieved with the amount to be invested by the EU. However, effective deliverables can only be realized if EU officials fully commit themselves to addressing the true and realistic situation about national security in the Commonwealth Caribbean and recognition that the rebuilding of police forces is of prime importance supported by a strong and effective IT mechanism..

The current national security structure in the region clearly indicates that Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana and Barbados are well advanced in national security initiatives. Jamaica has an excellent military and police structure that relies heavily on its constabulary for all investigations and apprehension of criminals, the Jamaica Defence Force also plays a vital role in intelligence gathering and other aspects of public order and safety when called upon. I can only assume that the other Caribbean nations mentioned above have adopted a similar practice.

There are currently several national security initiatives underway in the Caribbean region. It is understood that Washington’s much touted CBSI has gained flagship status; the government of Canada soon to be established military beachhead in Jamaica, which will serve the region in disaster preparedness and national security; the OAS/IADB firearms registration and identification program and the EU’s pending investment of 10 million pounds for combating drug trafficking. There might be many more but this is what have been publicly shared with the people of the region.

National security continues to be a topic that consumes my interest and this is why I am supportive of the EU initiative. While the EU has my critical support, I would be remiss by not making the following suggestions that might result in some successful outcomes:

• The EU initiatives should focus on the OECS nations, as it is extremely urgent to rebuild national security capacities.

• The EU must understand that an effective drug combating program in the Caribbean region must be supported by a strong national security intelligence structure. The current Special Branch structure is outdated, irrelevant, weak and does not possess any capacities that will effectively address the drug trafficking concerns.

• Those involved in drug smuggling are better equipped with resources, including equipment, cash and local sources.

• EU assistance should go to rebuilding the local police training schools, revamping the training curriculum and having good facilities at these training outlets that will give a sense of pride and appreciation.

• The OECS and EU must work together in building a well-equipped national intelligence structure, well trained with demonstrated linguistic, analytical and global affairs capacity.

• The EU should refrain from retaining an execution agency in the region, as most of the funds will go to project management fees and little or no benefit to those who should receive it.

• Drug trafficking is not the only crime or national security concern in the region. Therefore foreign agencies who have expressed the desire to assist the region must expand their narrow thoughts that the Caribbean region is only faced with a drug trafficking problem. This is not the case and our regional leaders are obligated to show contempt and resistance.

• An effective and sustainable national security infrastructure in any CARICOM state must be inclusive, non-corrupt, ability to collaborate with other stakeholders regionally and international, have adequate resources and be diverse.

The rush of foreign governments and their outlandish agencies that are bent on dumping certain Latin American models on regional governments must be rejected. What might have been successful in some of our neighbours gang infested streets should not be dumped in CARICOM nations. Our needs are different and this must be clearly understood. Donating a few dollars or hosting a regional security meeting of law enforcement officials will not bring relief to the region’s national security problems or eliminate the drug trafficking. It is an outright fallacy and trickery by certain Washington and European bureaucrats, who simply want to tell their bosses that they are getting results.

Finally, snitching and other forms of cooperative initiatives between the region and foreign governments seem to be paying off. About one month ago, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in New Brunswick and the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) were successful in stopping a shipment of imported food from Guyana to a destination in Ontario that was laced with cocaine.

In spite of the Commonwealth of Dominica’s recent misguided vote in ALBA with Cuba and Venezuela to vilify the United States Agency For International Development (USAID), a few days later they were quite successful in working with the governments of the United States and Colombia to halt a major cocaine transshipment. This is a heroic act by the government of Dominica and they must be commended for their efforts.

Let me conclude by saying yes for foreign assistance to regional governments to address national security issues. However, it is important and mandatory that donor and recipient understand the importance of building sustainable security and intelligence structures. If these necessities are ignored, then no amount of outlandish grants and contributions will bring about a resolution to effective national security management in the region.

July 02, 2012