Caribbean Regional Security

By Griffith, Ivelaw L. | Strategic Forum, February 1997 | Go to article overview

Caribbean Regional Security


Griffith, Ivelaw L., Strategic Forum


Sovereignty and Consensus

Defining the security concerns of the Caribbean and developing strategies for dealing with these concerns vary considerably among its nations. Yet there are certain "realities" affecting that security upon which most analysts and policy makers find consensus. These realities include: the multidimensionally of security, the saliency of drugs to security, and the necessity for cooperation.

Security is Multidimensional

Security in the Caribbean has not been viewed just as protection from external military threats, or as military force, equipment, or even military activity. Security is multidimensional, with military, political, economic, and environmental dimensions.

The Caribbean approach to security has been concerned not only with protection from external threats; the internal arena is very much part of the security purview. Moreover, the prevailing view does not focus on the state as the only unit of analysis. Non-state actors are equally important. Some non-state actors have more assets than those of some Caribbean nations. For instance, the operating budgets of some cruise lines are larger than those of several Eastern Caribbean states combined. Moreover, some drug traffickers have more and better weapons than some law enforcement agencies in the region.

Drugs are the Primary Threat

There is near-universal agreement among officials in various Caribbean, North American, and European capitals that the top security concerns of the region are drug production, consumption and abuse, trafficking, and money laundering. The Caribbean has the misfortune of being close to South America, a major drug supply source, and to North America, a major drug demand area. Most of the world's cocaine is produced in South America, and a significant amount of its heroin and marijuana also comes from South and Central America. And, the United States has the dubious distinction of being the world's largest drug consuming nation. Yet, not all the drugs trafficked through the Caribbean are destined for North America. Europe is also a huge drug consumer, and a considerable amount of the drugs consumed there comes through the Caribbean. A glimpse at drug seizures over the past five years (see Table 1) indicates the scope and scale of trafficking.

Other narcotics problems are drug production, consumption and abuse, and money laundering. Although the three main "danger drugs" in the Caribbean are cocaine, heroin, and marijuana, only marijuana is produced there. Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and St. Lucia are among the countries with the highest marijuana production. Drug consumption and abuse are not limited to any social or economic group. Marijuana, for example, is predominantly a working class drug of choice. Crack cocaine is widespread among lower and middle class people because it is cheap and has the attributes of being "hard" and a "status" drug. Heroin, on the other hand, is a rich man's drug. Apart from the cost factor, the impact of heroin abuse in the region has been mitigated by a needle phobia in the region. Like production, drug abuse differs from place to place. The greatest drug abuse problems are in Puerto Rico, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Belize, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and in parts of the Eastern Caribbean.

Money laundering is another aspect of the narcotics phenomenon. Indeed, it is partly the money laundering "reputation" of the Caribbean that made Anguilla the choice for Operation Dinero, a major money laundering under-cover operation that ran from January 1992 through December 1994. By the time the operation ended, U.S. and British authorities had seized nine tons of cocaine and $90 million worth of cash and assets. They also made 116 arrests and gathered a wealth of intelligence on world-wide drug trafficking and money laundering operations. Caribbean countries are vulnerable to money laundering because of their relative political stability, bank secrecy, low taxation, and relatively well-developed telecommunications. …

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