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Mitigating the “Balloon Effect”: Pressure on Mexican Routes Leads to Trafficking Back to Caribbean, Central America

By   /  November 29, 2011  /  Comments Off on Mitigating the “Balloon Effect”: Pressure on Mexican Routes Leads to Trafficking Back to Caribbean, Central America

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At a media roundtable in Miami on November 8, 2011, William Brownfield, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, projected the return of drug traffickers to old Caribbean smuggling routes used in the 1970s and 1980s due to heightened law enforcement measures on land routes through Mexico. Brownfield suggested that other options, such as moving drugs through Brazil and Argentina as well as using routes along the Pacific coast of Central America, are less attractive for drug traffickers. An additional threat to U.S. security is that of the increasing human trafficking problem, and related crime outbreak, currently being experienced in the Caribbean due to the forced or underground migration of Haitians for a variety of purposes including sex trafficking and slavery.

The United States is attempting to meet these ongoing and future challenges jointly with partner nations through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI). According to the State Department’s website, the CBSI is “the latest pillar of a U.S. security strategy focused on citizen safety throughout the hemisphere” and aims to “bring all members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Dominican Republic (DR) together to jointly collaborate on regional security with the United States as a partner.” Its three core objectives are to reduce illicit trafficking, advance public safety and security, and promote social justice. Fifteen countries form the CBSI: Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.

This year on November 9-10, 2011, The Bahamas hosted the second Caribbean Basin Security Initiative Dialogue, where Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, delivered the keynote address. Napolitano referenced the creation of a fingerprint collection system by the FBI, U.S. agencies, and Caribbean partners that will help to combat terrorism and transnational criminals. Napolitano also stressed the importance of using cooperative models to increase the sharing of information between the Caribbean and the U.S.: “[t]his increased collaboration may include sharing technology with partner countries, creating a system to share near real-time information about threats, and developing a maritime and air control strategy.” She expressed hope that a new forum could be created to develop tactics to counter drug trafficking and transnational criminal organizations. The idea is that once such systems are in place, they could easily be converted into monitoring other illicit activity, such as illegal arms sales or human trafficking.

While Napolitano’s comments revealed more concrete plans for the CBSI, they indicate that the U.S. remains primarily focused drug interdiction, one of the biggest criticisms of the Initiative to-date. In order to work, the CBSI must also take a holistic approach, seeking to link the chains of land-based law enforcement from local to national to international, not just the national Coast Guards as currently stipulated. Additionally, it must promote avenues of social justice, including the utilization of crime-prevention and anti-corruption measures. By truly making the CBSI a cooperative venture, individual countries can all further benefit by building strong and sustainable intelligence gathering bodies as well as “e-capacity” so as to quickly and effectively alert other countries of a criminal organization, its members, or suspected activity.

One expert, Ian Francis, former Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Grenada, suggests a multi-step plan that would consist of conducting a study of all the law enforcement agencies in the Initiative, approaching other “friendly nations” for training in intelligence gathering, and finally, re-organizing the judicial systems of the area so as to effectively prosecute offenders in criminal organizations. To make Francis’ last point have more of an impact, the CBSI countries through the technical working groups, should create or adopt a set of definitions defining relevant terminology, harmonize penal procedures and measures, and establish joint jurisdiction over criminals and criminal organizations in the Caribbean.

Next steps include local and regional leaders’ prioritization of trafficking in drugs and migrants to the top of public safety and national security agendas. Such prioritization should include a civil society counterpart, specifically the investment and strengthening of social mechanisms and structures so as to combat or extinguish the roots of organized crime and violence from taking hold in society.  As the Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos was quoted in The Guardian on November 12, 2011, in response to the ongoing damage suffered by drug-producing nations: “It’s time to think again about the war on drugs.”

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