The European Connection: A Regional Approach to Fighting Drugs in the Caribbean

By Penfold, Peter A. | Hemisphere, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview
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The European Connection: A Regional Approach to Fighting Drugs in the Caribbean

Penfold, Peter A., Hemisphere

To the Latin American drug trafficker, the Caribbean represents just one entity through which the merchandise can pass to reach the lucrative markets of the United States and Europe. The drug trafficker ignores--but at the same time exploits--the region's territorial boundaries and national differences. By using various routes through different Caribbean countries, the drug trafficker spreads the risk of detection. Meanwhile, due to the local spillover effect of the drug trade, the drug trafficker also spreads more widely throughout the region the problems associated with drugs.

The view held by most Caribbean states in the past was that drug trafficking was not their problem--it was a problem for the Latin American producer countries and the North American and European consumer countries. They, the Caribbean countries, just happened to be on the route through which the drugs passed. The traffickers, though, began to pay those who helped the flow of drugs through the Caribbean in kind as well as in cash; a local demand was created, drug abuse and drug-related crime increased, and governments came to realize that drug trafficking was in fact a problem. Some countries, often with outside assistance particularly, from the United States and Britain, took measures to counter the flow of drugs. The traffickers, however, continued to exploit the weakest links in the chain of efforts to curtail the trade, whilst many of the small island states continued to turn a blind eye, either to benefit from the boost to their economies from the injection of drug money, or because they felt powerless to act individually against the vast resources available to the drug traffickers.

Attempts by the countries of the Caribbean to come together and to cooperate more closely have generally met limited success--even with common language groups. Cross-language cooperation (e.g., English/Spanish) has been virtually nonexistent. A regional approach offers the only effective way to fight the drug problem in the Caribbean. The region abounds with regional organizations, but apart from odd exceptions such as the West Indies cricket team and the University of the West Indies, few have been much more than fora for meeting and talking.


In April 1996, a team of eight European Union (EU) Drug experts produced a report which formed the basis for the Plan of Action adopted at a meeting organized by the United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP) and hosted by Barbados in May 1996. Over 250 delegates from every Caribbean country attended, along-side delegations from North America and Europe. For the first time, the nations of the Caribbean adopted a raft of practical proposals to strengthen the regional effort against the drug problem. The Plan of Action was an encouraging step to turn the tide against the flow of drugs.

The European Union team was comprised of experts from Britain, France, the Netherlands and Spain, countries with the closest traditional links with the Caribbean. This team's collective antidrug experience covered all aspects of the drug problem, from police and customs interdiction, prosecution and money laundering, to demand reduction and rehabilitation. The EU team included a French professor of toxicology, a Dutch prosecutor, a Spanish police officer, and a former governor of a British Caribbean territory. The team's coordinator, representing the European Commission, had been the UNDCP's representative in the region for the previous three years. This range of interests and expertise gave the team unprecedented access and cooperation from all the countries of the region.


As mandated by the European heads of government--on the initiative of British Prime Minister John Major and French President Jacques Chirac--the team brought to the forefront a number of significant gaps and weaknesses in the regional effort to combat the drug problem, and made specific practical proposals on how to fill these gaps and overcome these weaknesses.

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