Defense leaders from 14 Caribbean countries along with their counterparts from Canada, France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom attended the Caribbean Nations Security Conference (CANSEC), at U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), November 14-15, 2019, in Miami.
SOUTHCOM sponsors the annual regional security conference to promote dialogue among defense and security leaders, so they can work jointly to defeat transnational threats, be better prepared to respond to crises, and support disaster relief operations.
The topics discussed at the conference included humanitarian assistance, disaster relief operations, regional security objectives, and the annual multinational security exercise Tradewinds.
“One of the themes was how do we work together as partners and how do we utilize and work effectively with the regional security organizations like Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency,” said U.S. Navy Admiral Craig S. Faller, SOUTHCOM commander, to reporters. “We think it’s important to tell a story about the important work that we’re doing collectively, together, to enhance the security of this neighborhood, because we are all neighbors and friends,” he added.
At the forefront of security threats to the region are transnational criminal organizations and illicit trafficking. Although these organizations are well-funded, progress has been made in deterring their networks thanks to regional cooperation and working with Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF South) in Key West, Florida.
“Since this year , we have had over $4 billion of cocaine, in terms of street value, that we have seized, and just under $1 billion in marijuana. So it has been a very successful year for us working with JIATF South,” said Lieutenant General John Meade, Jamaican Chief of Defense.
Venezuela as a narco-state
Defense leaders recognized that narcotraffickers have taken advantage of the breakdown in security and civil society perpetuated by the corruption of the regime in Venezuela.
“Maduro’s regime has facilitated narcotrafficking,” Adm. Faller said. “There’s over a 50 percent increase of narcotrafficking in and through Venezuela, and Maduro and his cronies are lining their pockets, in cahoots with the illicit narcotrafficking.”
Providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief was also on the agenda as defense and security leaders discussed their roles in response to crises in the region, as was the case during Hurricane Dorian, which devastated the Bahamas in early 2019.
“We are seeing more severe weather systems coming through the region,” said Barbados Defence Force Captain Errington Shurland, executive director of the Regional Security System (RSS). “It is anticipated that the systems will be more severe, more frequent, and I think that a tabletop exercise, if done on an annual basis, would allow us to better improve our response,” he added.
The road ahead
In the face of all these threats, regional leaders recognized the importance of like-minded democracies and nations working together in support of mutual goals and shared interests.
“I was pleased that we achieved the goals of the conference to really strengthen friendships, commitments, and looking at ways to have a more secure, peaceful, and prosperous hemisphere,” concluded Adm. Faller.