2012-02-22

Interview with Mr. Denzil L. Douglas, Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis

Mr. Denzil L. Douglas, Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis during CANSEC 2012. Photo: Marcos Ommati/Diálogo

Mr. Denzil L. Douglas, Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis during CANSEC 2012. Photo: Marcos Ommati/Diálogo

Marcos Ommati/Diálogo

The Prime Minister of Saint Kitts and Nevis, Mr. Denzil L. Douglas, gave one of the most passionate presentations during the 2012 Caribbean Nations Security Conference (CANSEC), hosted and sponsored by that Caribbean nation with co-sponsorship of the United States Southern Command, in December 2011. Diálogo had the opportunity to talk to Prime Minister Douglas right after his opening remarks about some of the topics referenced in his speech, such as regional security, information sharing, and disaster relief.

Diálogo: What is the importance of a conference like CANSEC?

Prime Minister Denzil L. Douglas: Because everybody here has a shared interest in protecting the region, and this conference calls for in-depth analysis and planning of our way forward. Transnational organized crime is not what it used to be. It is ever more sophisticated, ever more complex in its operations, ever more covert, and ever more resolute, and that is why CANSEC 2012 is so important to us.

Diálogo: What are the main security concerns for Saint Kitts & Nevis today?

Prime Minister Douglas: Whether one is the world’s leading superpower like the United States of America, or the Western Hemisphere’s smallest nation like St. Kitts and Nevis, national security is the pivot on which all else turns. We battle criminality because, regardless of size or stature, the fight against crime is key to social stability. [We] battle criminality because without such a fight, the gears of our economic engines become completely jammed. And we battle criminality because criminality unchecked is a threat to the political system on which any credible, legitimate government stands.

Diálogo: Why is it so important that countries in the region share information with the U.S.?

Prime Minister Douglas: Whether we, in this hemisphere, institute systems to expedite secure sharing of actionable intelligence or not, will, without a doubt, determine whether we tip the balance in this hemisphere in favor of transnational organized crime, or in favor of the democratic law-and-order values that we are responsible for protecting. The time for high and sustained levels of intraregional collaboration is now. The U.S. Department of Justice states that the primary threat of drug smuggling to the United States on aircraft will continue to be composed of criminals using commercial airlines from South America and the Caribbean to smuggle heroin and cocaine. Caribbean governments, at the same time, know that the seminal threat to Caribbean societies remains in the unrestricted flow of conventional arms, including small arms, light weapons, and ammunition, from the United States into several of our countries. The juxtaposition of these two facts makes it abundantly clear just how pressing the need is for dramatically improved and fully reciprocal information-sharing amongst all states represented here at CANSEC.

Diálogo: What is the framework for crime and security instituted in the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) recently?

Prime Minister Douglas: A critical component of the management framework for crime and security instituted by the CARICOM heads of the joint crime-fighting mechanism is information-sharing, and this is implemented through our principal agencies that are tasked to work collaboratively at the regional and national levels in addressing our security interests. Indeed, we have seen the positive outcome of this collaborative approach in various areas of operations, whether it is in border security, where movement of individuals across our borders must be closely monitored, or whether it is spatial and aerial surveillance, as our officers work strategically to stem illicit trafficking in firearms, drugs, or humans in our waters, or to give humanitarian assistance in times of national disaster. The platform for information-sharing [is] provided for in the regional security architecture as an integral part of our plan of action and will continue to be pivotal to the success of the work of our military and our law-enforcement and intelligence officers as they work collaboratively within the region and with their colleagues of the United States Southern Command on this all-important area of national security.

Diálogo: Is it necessary to develop stronger links between the Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-S), in Key West, and the Caribbean?

Prime Minister Douglas: Yes, absolutely. Developing stronger links between JIATF-S and Caribbean law enforcement and core staff authorities would benefit all involved, and so, seeing this, we must now explore the logistical and other details that would go into having a Caribbean on-site liaison at the Interagency Task Force to help anticipate, to help expedite facilities and initiatives on a range of matters, from transnational criminality to humanitarian disaster assistance.

Diálogo: What can be done to improve a regional response for disaster relief?

Prime Minister Douglas: There is an urgent need for a truly hemispheric disaster-response mechanism, both in terms of access to assets as well as in terms of an early-warning and response system, as Hurricane Ivan’s devastation to Grenada back in 2004 illustrated in such a stark, graphic, and tragic way. We now find ourselves in an era of increasingly deadly climate-change-triggered storms, and small vessels are simply incapable of handling the rapid-response humanitarian assistance that these crises call for. This region’s low-cost advantages compared to other regions and nations would permit off-the-shelf large vessels like trampers, outfitted with the best equipment and painted gray, to take the lead in both pressing humanitarian-assistance operations as well as drug-interdiction operations on our open seas, and all at a fraction of the cost elsewhere.

Diálogo: What is the importance of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative?

Prime Minister Douglas: The Caribbean Basin Security Initiative provides that platform from which the United States and the Caribbean can collaboratively advance the national-security interests of our beloved region, and in that initiative, we committed ourselves to pursuing a coordinated approach in engaging development partners in implementing all important social-development and crime-prevention initiatives.

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