“The Caribbean is a vital region for [U.S.] Southern Command [SOUTHCOM], for the U.S. government, and for the American people. We want to remain your trusted partner,” said U.S. Navy Admiral Craig S. Faller, SOUTHCOM commander, as he welcomed participants to the 2021 Caribbean Nations Security Conference (CANSEC), held in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, April 20-21. “We are very interconnected […] we share the same values […], but we are also connected by common threats, and that is why we must work together to keep the region, our home, safe.”
Representatives of Belize, the Dominican Republic, France, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Suriname, and the United States attended the event in person. Anguila, Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, Canada, the Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Mexico, Montserrat, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Turks and Caicos Islands participated virtually.
The theme of the conference was Countering Illicit Trafficking and Responding to Natural Disasters in a COVID-19 Environment. CANSEC is a SOUTHCOM-sponsored annual regional security forum to encourage defense and security leaders to strengthen ties of cooperation, discuss regional issues, examine challenges, share lessons learned, and explore ways to improve cooperation on security matters.
The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), the Caribbean Community Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (CARICOM IMPACS), the Regional Security System for the Eastern Caribbean, and the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Defense Board also took part in the event.
Confronting threats during the COVID-19 pandemic
The CANSEC 2021 agenda addressed the importance of sharing lessons learned since the global declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as countering transnational threats in this environment. Participants addressed these topics during workshops and discussions with a moderator.
For Colonel Glyne Grannum, chief of Staff of the Barbados Defence Force, the rapid adaptation of transnational organizations’ modus operandi is worrisome. “How quickly those threat organizations are adapting and even embracing new methodologies, new techniques, even a boldness of action that prior to the pandemic we probably would not have seen, or may not have evolved as quickly, [is alarming],” he said. “We’ve noted a trend here of maritime traffickers being more willing to shoot at security forces than perhaps before that. Concerning the regional efforts to counter illicit trafficking under COVID-19 conditions, Brigadier General Steven Ortega, commander of the Belize Defence Force, said: “I think one of the conversations that we need to have and we need to discuss in particular [regarding] the changing dynamics of the threat force is: How do we lead and motivate our troops or defense organizations as our economies shrink, and the threat force is actually changing and increasing in their dynamics?”
Speaking on the topic of regional disaster response amid the pandemic, participants addressed the case of St. Vincent and the Grenadines following the eruption of the La Soufrière volcano on April 9. “We are burdened with the explosive volcanic eruption; we also are [handling] a COVID situation. Additionally, earlier this year we had an outbreak of dengue […],” said Commissioner of Police of the Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force Colin John, who also thanked regional nations, institutions, and entities for the support provided during the emergency. “We have had support from all the neighbors and internationally.”
In light of the threats, regional leaders recognized the importance of collaboration and teamwork to support mutual goals and common interests.
“This [CANSEC] is a great opportunity to share our experiences and ideas. We must be flexible; if criminals are flexible, we shall be more flexible than they are,” said Lieutenant General Carlos Luciano Díaz, Dominican minister of Defense. “There’s a saying that [U.S.] Southern Command uses a lot: ‘Together, we can.’ That’s why we are here together, to find solutions, to fetch solutions to the current problems in our region.”
This [CANSEC] is a great opportunity to share our experiences and ideas. We must be flexible; if criminals are flexible, we shall be more flexible than they are,” Lieutenant General Carlos Luciano Díaz, Dominican minister of Defense.