Defense and public security leaders from 13 Caribbean nations and four territories participated in the 2020 Caribbean Security Conference (CANSEC) June 2-3, hosted virtually for the first-time by U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM).
At the beginning of hurricane season, this year’s CANSEC focused on regional mechanisms to mitigate the impact of disasters in a COVID-19 environment.
The conference included virtual briefings and moderated discussions on the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the region’s preparedness for the hurricane season, which began June 1 and continues through November 30. The participants also took part in table-top exercises, led by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), with scenarios involving simultaneous regional responses to hurricanes and pandemics.
The participating Caribbean countries included Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, as well as Trinidad and Tobago.
Representatives from Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Montserrat, and the Turks and Caicos also participated.
Five regional organizations took part in the virtual forum, including the Caribbean Community, known as CARICOM, Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS), CDEMA, Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), and Eastern Antilles’ Regional Security System (RSS).
Security leaders from the Inter-American Development Board, Canada, France, Mexico, the Royal Netherlands, and the United Kingdom also contributed to this year’s conference.
The participants were joined by leaders and security experts from SOUTHCOM, the U.S. Department of Defense, National Defense University, U.S. State Department, U.S. Northern Command, as well as adjutant generals from Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Dakota, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Washington, D.C.
U.S. Navy Admiral Craig S. Faller, commander of SOUTHCOM, welcomed CANSEC’s participants and addressed the importance of sharing lessons learned during the ongoing pandemic that prompted the need to host it virtually. “COVID-19 has swept the globe and affected all of us,” he said, “It’s the norm, and it will be the norm until we can inoculate and immunize the globe.”
He described the COVID-19 assistance SOUTHCOM has provided to its partners in the Caribbean, Central America and South America as “robust,” consisting of “some 200 projects that have been very flexible and rapid” totaling approximately $2 million.
“Overall, the U.S. government response into the region for the COVID [efforts], principally through USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development], has been close to $100 million,” he added.
He commended Caribbean countries for developing regional approaches to security challenges.
“We have the right mechanisms,” he told them, referring to CARICOM, IMPACS, RSS, CDEMA, CARPHA, and the Multinational Caribbean Coordination Cell in Barbados. “We have all those structures in place. We’ve got to make them work.”