Defense And Security Forces Of The Caribbean Community, Along With Southcom, Are
Working In Close Coordination To Counter Transnational Organized Crime In The Vast
Caribbean Maritime Region
Raúl Sánchez-Azuara/Diálogo Staff
Autumn temperatures were almost winter-like for many of the Caribbean
visitors meeting at the United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) headquarters in
Miami, Florida, on December 12, 2012. However, the friendship and camaraderie among
those attending the 2013 annual Caribbean Nations Security Conference (CANSEC) made
for a warmer atmosphere, and the defense and security chiefs, as well as other
representatives of various nations, felt at home during the two days of intense
The conference theme was “Sustaining the Force: Ensuring Maritime Capacity to
Counter Transnational Organized Crime through Maintenance, Logistics and Training.”
U.S. Marine Corps General John F. Kelly opened his first regional conference
as SOUTHCOM commander by saying: “I’m very concerned about the Caribbean
vulnerability. [In response] to shifts in any illicit trafficking that could be on
the horizon and likely is, I’m confident we can take steps now to ensure continued
Gen. Kelly also said SOUTHCOM is “going to prioritize programs that
demonstrate a clear return on all of our investments.” The commander specified that
the United States will remain engaged in the Caribbean, without losing focus on the
fact that “investments by the United States and the Caribbean community have to be
sustainable and continued by Caribbean nations.”
In a spirit of mutual respect and trust, representatives from Antigua and
Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada,
Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines,
Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago discussed proposals for cooperative solutions to
support the operations to counter transnational organized crime, and the
international, regional and subregional challenges their countries are exposed to
This iteration of CANSEC became a discussion forum focused on exploring
options for a unified strategy to fight illicit trafficking and organized crime.
Once again, the conference showed the commitment of shared responsibility among the
Caribbean nations and the United States to collaborate and reach regional and
international agreements with the goal of defeating common threats.
Along with regional organizations, the conference was attended by guest
observers, official representatives from several nations of the Western Hemisphere
and SOUTHCOM components, such as U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Charles D. Michel,
director of Joint Interagency Task Force-South (JIATF-S).
The strategic and complex geography of the Caribbean includes islands, islets
and isolated bays that are cleverly used by organized criminals to hide and carry
out the trafficking of drugs, weapons and people. According to SOUTHCOM statistics,
80 percent of the drugs destined to the U.S. are transported through Caribbean
To offset this illicit trafficking, SOUTHCOM launched Operation Martillo
through JIATF-S. Fifteen countries are contributing to the effort or participating
directly: Belize, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, France, Great
Britain, Guatemala, Honduras, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, Spain and the
Designed as part of a transregional security strategy, Operation Martillo is
an example of a coordinated effort by regional agencies and partner nations to fight
transnational organized crime.
In the words of Rear Adm. Michel: “Over two-thirds of seizures performed by
Operation Martillo have been made with the collaboration of the partner nations.
This is the highest number in history, and, frankly, I would like to continue being
a part of this, since it is a true coalition effort.”
CANSEC 2013 also included informative sessions, debates and meetings focused
on maintaining maritime capabilities during operations to counter transnational
organized crime in an environment of limited resources. Furthermore, it provided
updated information about the Cooperative Situational Information Integration system
(CSII) and the Secure Seas maritime assistance program.
The goal of Secure Seas is to strengthen the Caribbean nations’ capabilities
to fight transnational organized crime and provide each nation with a clear
advantage in detecting, monitoring, tracking and pursuing criminals, and
facilitating the cooperation between partner nations.
Secure Seas, sponsored by SOUTHCOM, is linked to the Caribbean Basin Security
Initiative (CBSI), a multiyear, multifaceted effort by the U.S. Government and
Caribbean partners to develop a joint regional citizen safety strategy to tackle the
full range of security and criminal issues affecting regional security in the
Caribbean Basin. CBSI is made up of all the members of the Caribbean Community
(CARICOM) and the Dominican Republic.
As part of Secure Seas, the U.S. Coast Guard is in charge of purchasing
vessels and communications systems, as well as facilitating training for nine
countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, St. Kitts and
Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Suriname.
The skills taught by Secure Seas are aimed at complementing the efforts of
participating nations to patrol all possible routes, providing constant regional
cooperation to address common security concerns and improve each nation’s
capabilities to respond to other threats, maritime emergencies and natural disasters
in their territorial waters.
With regard to Gen. Kelly’s request to maintain and use resources in an
efficient and planned way, Major General Pedro Cáceres Chestaro, vice minister of
the Dominican Republic Armed Forces, told Diálogo that “in my country, we consider
resource maintenance to be crucially important, and we efficiently manage and
maintain defense and security capabilities.”
At the end of his speech, Gen. Kelly said: “CARICOM has done an outstanding
job in increasing regional cooperation and promoting increased maritime interdiction
among its members. Now it is time to focus on how we can consolidate and sustain
this progress.” CANSEC is critical for this purpose, he added.