Dutch Caribbean Islands Combat a Different Type of Piracy

Dutch Caribbean Islands Combat a Different Type of Piracy

By Dialogo
March 03, 2015




For some, the area of responsibility of the Netherlands Forces in the Caribbean, which encompasses the nations of Aruba, Curacao, and Saint Martin, as well as the dominions of Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius might sound like an idealized paradise, but in reality, patrolling their waters has become a daunting task since the amount of drugs trying to reach the United States multiplied in recent years.

To talk about this and other issues affecting the Dutch islands in the Caribbean, Diálogo
talked with Netherlands Navy Commodore Hans Lodder, Commander-in-Chief of the Netherlands Forces in the Caribbean and director of the Dutch Coast Guard in the Caribbean, during the XIII Caribbean Nations Security Conference (CANSEC 2015), in Nassau, Bahamas, during 20-23 January.

DIÁLOGO:
Your area of responsibility sounds very interesting and exciting, but it’s not a walk in the park, is it?

Commodore Hans Lodder:
No, it is not. It is indeed interesting; it is exciting, but it is a challenge because the three islands, Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao are close to South America. The other three islands are about 600 to 800 miles away. It’s a rather large area with a lot of traffic and open to a lot of illegal traffic coming through.

DIÁLOGO:
What’s the significance of being close to South America?

Commodore Hans Lodder:
Being close to South American countries means that there is a lot of illicit trafficking from those nations coming up through the area I’m responsible for and making its way up to either North America or Europe, and that’s something we don’t really like, so we try to stop those in advance.

DIÁLOGO:
Do you think that the fact that Aruba and Curacao are rich islands attracts more drugs and drug dealers?

Commodore Hans Lodder:
Not really. What we are seeing is that they are used more as transfer ports. Of course, there is drug use in any nation, but the fact that they are so close to the source doesn’t mean there is more use of drugs than in any other nation. It’s more about how they are transporting them that is an issue, because they use these islands as a hub.

DIÁLOGO:
For an outsider, the Netherlands looks like a country that is very open with regard to drug use, including the presence of so-called coffee shops, where you can buy drugs freely. So what is the big concern in this region?

Commodore Hans Lodder:
There is a difference, I think. In the Netherlands, the politics on the use of soft drugs is that it’s not legal. However it’s—you can use soft drugs for your own use, that’s basically what we said. Hard drugs are still illegal, so we enforce the laws very strongly in reference to that. So it’s being seen by the outside world as a very open country where everybody does drugs. It’s absolutely not the case. It is controlled. Also, there are strict regulations with regard to the coffee shops, the owners of which have to abide by and if they don’t, they are closed down. We have laws on how you should open the coffee shop, but also which kind of people could buy things over there and so on. So it’s not as open-minded as some people think, and if you go over there, you can see it yourself. It is controlled, and we really are hard on the hard drugs because of all the criminality that comes with it.

DIÁLOGO:
When I interviewed Brigadier General Dick Swijgman two years ago during CANSEC 2013, he told me that little by little, the Dutch islands in the Caribbean are starting to suffer through what other islands in the region have been facing for a while now, meaning, young males getting access to heavy weaponry because the drug traffickers leave them behind as they pass through. These individuals then organize themselves into gangs. Did this problem increase or decrease in the last two years?

Commodore Hans Lodder:
It’s not the same in all the islands. All six islands are different and also their problems are different. The problem you see over there is always related to economic problems. Is there enough employment, is there enough future for the youth? What we see is that we are doing a lot together with the other nations on these kinds of problems. In Curacao and Aruba, we have a program in place with the government to help the youth that has been involved in small crime, to train them, to also give them education so they can have a future, and that’s the way we try to get these people out of the crime organizations and the criminal activities. That being said, during the last year, Curacao saw an increase in crime, and the local government acted on it. They asked for our help, and we responded. We are slowly pushing it back, but it’s a long-term process, and it’s not something you can solve straight away, unfortunately.

DIÁLOGO:
The Netherlands participate actively in operations conducted by the Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-South). Is JIATF-South a model that should be replicated?

Commodore Hans Lodder:
It could be. I think the overall approach of JIATF-South of incorporating more and more agencies is the same thing we did in Afghanistan. We had this strategy called the 3D Approach: defense, diplomacy and development. It’s an overall approach to the problem, not just a defense approach, but an overall government approach and what you do is get all the agencies involved. You are not just looking at fighting the crime that is there, but also at getting rid of the source of the crime, which means that you have programs to help nations educate a population, not just educate their police force, because, again, that’s the aspirin to the problem and you want to get to the root cause of it. That could be something which we should be doing more often, and if you do it multinationally, that strengthens the strategy even more because then you can actually contain the region and contain the problem.

DIÁLOGO:
During CANSEC 2015, you mentioned that you feel information-gathering and sharing is almost a utopia, because countries don’t share enough. What did you mean by that?

Commodore Hans Lodder:
I meant that you cannot expect a nation to share all the information with everyone who is playing on the field. That’s just impossible. What I meant to say is that, if you require information you tell someone, “Listen, in order to do my operation well, this is the information I require and then I can do this with that information.” Then it’s much easier to tell someone, “If that’s what you require, we can set up an arrangement for you to get that information. The more you want the more complex the arrangements become.” So instead of asking for a whole array that’s available, just ask for what you actually require for what you want to do with it. That makes it much easier and that’s what I meant with it, because if you want to go and say, “We want everything, nobody will do it.”

DIÁLOGO:
You participated in a mission in Somalia that involved counter piracy operations. How does it compare to your current mission?

Commodore Hans Lodder:
That’s the same kind of idea, basically. It is the needle in the haystack that you are looking for. I have been trained in the past to find Soviet submarines in the Northern Hemisphere, which was also the same kind of idea. So what I did by fighting pirates is I just used the tactics I learned to find Soviet submarines and that’s the same issue here. That’s a great thing of the military training they give people, it’s not something you learn for one specific task. If you used it and if you used it cleverly, you can use it in a much broader spectrum. So you can look at this whole idea and say okay, how would we approach finding drug smugglers in the area I am responsible for? It’s a big ocean and it’s a small ship. The Soviet submarine was in an enormous ocean and under water. We were still able to find them and that’s the same here, and that’s how I did it. In Somalia, we did the same.

DIÁLOGO:
How would you asses CANSEC 2015?

Commodore Hans Lodder:
This conference was great because it’s the way that you meet up with each other and the only way forward for the military to work together and inform each other. It’s not about only sharing information, but about informing each other, knowing each other and communicating. That’s the most important part.



For some, the area of responsibility of the Netherlands Forces in the Caribbean, which encompasses the nations of Aruba, Curacao, and Saint Martin, as well as the dominions of Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius might sound like an idealized paradise, but in reality, patrolling their waters has become a daunting task since the amount of drugs trying to reach the United States multiplied in recent years.

To talk about this and other issues affecting the Dutch islands in the Caribbean, Diálogo
talked with Netherlands Navy Commodore Hans Lodder, Commander-in-Chief of the Netherlands Forces in the Caribbean and director of the Dutch Coast Guard in the Caribbean, during the XIII Caribbean Nations Security Conference (CANSEC 2015), in Nassau, Bahamas, during 20-23 January.

DIÁLOGO:
Your area of responsibility sounds very interesting and exciting, but it’s not a walk in the park, is it?

Commodore Hans Lodder:
No, it is not. It is indeed interesting; it is exciting, but it is a challenge because the three islands, Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao are close to South America. The other three islands are about 600 to 800 miles away. It’s a rather large area with a lot of traffic and open to a lot of illegal traffic coming through.

DIÁLOGO:
What’s the significance of being close to South America?

Commodore Hans Lodder:
Being close to South American countries means that there is a lot of illicit trafficking from those nations coming up through the area I’m responsible for and making its way up to either North America or Europe, and that’s something we don’t really like, so we try to stop those in advance.

DIÁLOGO:
Do you think that the fact that Aruba and Curacao are rich islands attracts more drugs and drug dealers?

Commodore Hans Lodder:
Not really. What we are seeing is that they are used more as transfer ports. Of course, there is drug use in any nation, but the fact that they are so close to the source doesn’t mean there is more use of drugs than in any other nation. It’s more about how they are transporting them that is an issue, because they use these islands as a hub.

DIÁLOGO:
For an outsider, the Netherlands looks like a country that is very open with regard to drug use, including the presence of so-called coffee shops, where you can buy drugs freely. So what is the big concern in this region?

Commodore Hans Lodder:
There is a difference, I think. In the Netherlands, the politics on the use of soft drugs is that it’s not legal. However it’s—you can use soft drugs for your own use, that’s basically what we said. Hard drugs are still illegal, so we enforce the laws very strongly in reference to that. So it’s being seen by the outside world as a very open country where everybody does drugs. It’s absolutely not the case. It is controlled. Also, there are strict regulations with regard to the coffee shops, the owners of which have to abide by and if they don’t, they are closed down. We have laws on how you should open the coffee shop, but also which kind of people could buy things over there and so on. So it’s not as open-minded as some people think, and if you go over there, you can see it yourself. It is controlled, and we really are hard on the hard drugs because of all the criminality that comes with it.

DIÁLOGO:
When I interviewed Brigadier General Dick Swijgman two years ago during CANSEC 2013, he told me that little by little, the Dutch islands in the Caribbean are starting to suffer through what other islands in the region have been facing for a while now, meaning, young males getting access to heavy weaponry because the drug traffickers leave them behind as they pass through. These individuals then organize themselves into gangs. Did this problem increase or decrease in the last two years?

Commodore Hans Lodder:
It’s not the same in all the islands. All six islands are different and also their problems are different. The problem you see over there is always related to economic problems. Is there enough employment, is there enough future for the youth? What we see is that we are doing a lot together with the other nations on these kinds of problems. In Curacao and Aruba, we have a program in place with the government to help the youth that has been involved in small crime, to train them, to also give them education so they can have a future, and that’s the way we try to get these people out of the crime organizations and the criminal activities. That being said, during the last year, Curacao saw an increase in crime, and the local government acted on it. They asked for our help, and we responded. We are slowly pushing it back, but it’s a long-term process, and it’s not something you can solve straight away, unfortunately.

DIÁLOGO:
The Netherlands participate actively in operations conducted by the Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-South). Is JIATF-South a model that should be replicated?

Commodore Hans Lodder:
It could be. I think the overall approach of JIATF-South of incorporating more and more agencies is the same thing we did in Afghanistan. We had this strategy called the 3D Approach: defense, diplomacy and development. It’s an overall approach to the problem, not just a defense approach, but an overall government approach and what you do is get all the agencies involved. You are not just looking at fighting the crime that is there, but also at getting rid of the source of the crime, which means that you have programs to help nations educate a population, not just educate their police force, because, again, that’s the aspirin to the problem and you want to get to the root cause of it. That could be something which we should be doing more often, and if you do it multinationally, that strengthens the strategy even more because then you can actually contain the region and contain the problem.

DIÁLOGO:
During CANSEC 2015, you mentioned that you feel information-gathering and sharing is almost a utopia, because countries don’t share enough. What did you mean by that?

Commodore Hans Lodder:
I meant that you cannot expect a nation to share all the information with everyone who is playing on the field. That’s just impossible. What I meant to say is that, if you require information you tell someone, “Listen, in order to do my operation well, this is the information I require and then I can do this with that information.” Then it’s much easier to tell someone, “If that’s what you require, we can set up an arrangement for you to get that information. The more you want the more complex the arrangements become.” So instead of asking for a whole array that’s available, just ask for what you actually require for what you want to do with it. That makes it much easier and that’s what I meant with it, because if you want to go and say, “We want everything, nobody will do it.”

DIÁLOGO:
You participated in a mission in Somalia that involved counter piracy operations. How does it compare to your current mission?

Commodore Hans Lodder:
That’s the same kind of idea, basically. It is the needle in the haystack that you are looking for. I have been trained in the past to find Soviet submarines in the Northern Hemisphere, which was also the same kind of idea. So what I did by fighting pirates is I just used the tactics I learned to find Soviet submarines and that’s the same issue here. That’s a great thing of the military training they give people, it’s not something you learn for one specific task. If you used it and if you used it cleverly, you can use it in a much broader spectrum. So you can look at this whole idea and say okay, how would we approach finding drug smugglers in the area I am responsible for? It’s a big ocean and it’s a small ship. The Soviet submarine was in an enormous ocean and under water. We were still able to find them and that’s the same here, and that’s how I did it. In Somalia, we did the same.

DIÁLOGO:
How would you asses CANSEC 2015?

Commodore Hans Lodder:
This conference was great because it’s the way that you meet up with each other and the only way forward for the military to work together and inform each other. It’s not about only sharing information, but about informing each other, knowing each other and communicating. That’s the most important part.
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