St. Kitts and Nevis, a Sentinel in the Trafficking Transit Zone

St. Kitts and Nevis, a Sentinel in the Trafficking Transit Zone

By Dialogo
February 10, 2016




St. Kitts and Nevis is the smallest sovereign state in the Americas, both in size (261 km2/104 sq mi) and population (a little over 55,000). Both islands combined share a Defence Force comprising 300 service members who are mostly involved in policing and drug-trade interception.


Diálogo
took advantage of the XIV Caribbean Nations Security Conference in Kingston, Jamaica during the last week of January to talk to Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Wallace, Commander, St. Kitts and Nevis Defence Force, about the country's security priorities.

Diálogo:
What are the main security concerns and priorities for St. Kitts and Nevis at this time?

LTC Patrick Wallace:
We are small islands in the Eastern Caribbean, and we sit basically in the middle of the Caribbean chain of islands. So we are basically a sentinel in the transit zone, so drugs going north pass by us and guns coming down pass by us. That is our major problem.

Diálogo:
How do illegal weapons affect the country?

LTC Patrick Wallace:
We have a problem with illegal guns in our island and it’s impacting our young people. If you look at the statistics, you can see that St. Kitts, for its small size, has a very high murder rate. We don’t manufacture guns. We don’t manufacture ammunition, but still, we are experiencing an upsurge in gun-related crimes. That is a very important thing for us. And right now that’s the main focus of our Defence Force. We are heavily engaged in working with the police to stem these murders and these gun-related crimes in our islands. Because of lack of surveillance capability in the maritime zone, we feel that a lot is happening which we are not able to come to grips with. So that’s why we are taking a regional approach to the problem of guns and crime, guns and drug trafficking in the Eastern Caribbean.

Diálogo:
As you said, the country is not so big, so what is the main difficulty to control the influx of drugs and weapons being left behind?

LTC Patrick Wallace:
Well, the major problem is resources. We are a very small population. We’re not wealthy islands, and so the government has to balance its programs. They have to meet the needs, the social needs of its people: education, health care, infrastructure maintenance. Because of these other social needs, allocating the security forces will not be a high priority. Then you look at the fact that the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean are vast areas, and we don’t have the resources to adequately control these, our maritime zones, and larger areas of exposed coastline that are ideal for guns to come in and also drugs.

Diálogo:
How about aero surveillance?

LTC Patrick Wallace:
We don’t have that. We have two aircraft which are operated by the Regional Security System. We’re supposed to cover an area from Barbados in the south, up to my islands in the north, and at any one time, both aircraft may not be operational. As a matter of fact, currently we only have one operational aircraft. One is in the United States for maintenance and refurbishment. So these are the things that impact security in the Eastern Caribbean, and in particular, my island.

Diálogo:
What is the role of the Defence Force in combating illicit trafficking? Do you think that this is a new role that the Defence Force will have to adapt to as in the case of the militaries in other countries, such as Colombia and Honduras?

LTC Patrick Wallace:
It’s basically the same thing. So it means that, yes, you have to modify your training program and the focus of your troops for that kind of operation. We do that by working very closely with the police and basically train for our involvement in policing aspects so that the young soldiers become better equipped to assist in that kind of operations.

Diálogo:
Does the St. Kitts & Nevis Defence Force also participate in disaster relief and humanitarian aid efforts?

LTC Patrick Wallace:
Disaster and humanitarian relief is one of our primary roles, and that makes what we are doing more difficult for a small Defence Force. The hurricane season officially starts in June, so between January and June, our training is also geared towards preparing our troops for any eventuality which may happen during the peak of the hurricane season. That is because we’re not only there to take care of our islands, but because of the Regional Security System, we have to assist any other island that is struck by a hurricane. You look at the small Eastern Caribbean islands, [and see we have] very small forces, very limited resources. No island can adequately deal with such problems on its own. So the Regional Security System compels us to assist each other effectively, for which we must train our people internally, and collectively to be effective.

Diálogo:
The U.S. Southern Command has a new commander, Admiral Kurt Tidd. What do you expect from this new leadership?

LTC Patrick Wallace:
Well, General [John F.] Kelly was a very good commander for SOUTHCOM. They all were, and I hope that Admiral Tidd will continue in General Kelly’s way. General Kelly focused on the security training, disaster relief and humanitarian assistance aspect because he understood that the Caribbean is a very particular zone. We are, as he says using the American term, a hurricane alley. Hurricanes pass through the area all the time. He was very conscious of that, but he never lost sight of the fact that there are also security issues. He was very well aware of the threat ISIS poses to the Caribbean in terms of members of the population who are traveling to the Middle East and becoming Jihadists, bringing back with them ideologies that can potentially impact security in the region.

Diálogo:
Is this even a concern for St. Kitts and Nevis?

LTC Patrick Wallace:
It is a concern, but not in the same way as maybe, Guyana, or Trinidad, or Suriname.

Diálogo:
Why?

LTC Patrick Wallace:
St. Kitts doesn’t have a Muslim population, so the [radicalized] groups cannot come in, take root, and disrupt the normal activities. I don’t see it happening that way. However, we are very reliant on tourism. A lot of tourists are Americans and because of our limited resources, anyone who wants to strike at America may choose to strike at America through us. So that is one of our major concerns. And if that happens, then our economy will suffer because Americans won’t come, causing a further decline in the economy. It’s a domino effect.
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