While tourists in Bridgetown, Barbados, enjoyed the white sandy beaches, warm blue waters, and bright orange sunsets, a group of more than 80 Caribbean military and police professionals debated on transnational security threats with security and defense experts. Criminal networks undermine economic stability and security in the region, thereby posing a risk to tourism, one of the region’s main industries.
To address this concern, the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies and the Regional Security System (RSS) held the “Caribbean Regional Seminar on Countering Transregional-Transnational Threat Networks (T3N)”, March 21st-23rd. Participants from Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States were in attendance.
Subject matter expert lectures and interactive panel presentations were part of the event’s agenda, which focused on the convergence of terrorism and crime, illicit networks in the Caribbean, interagency and regional cooperation, cyber security, and the promotion of inclusive security in the Americas. Assistants also discussed strategies and policies to help them counter security problems.
“We are now trying to address how the international criminal networks are connected,” said U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Todd McCubbin, deputy director of Operations (J3) of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), during his opening remarks. “For years we were focused on commodities (drugs, human trafficking, arms, etc.), but now we need to attack and stop their networks, regardless of the commodity.” In order to stop illegal networks, Brig. Gen. McCubbin added, they must find the financial resources. “Financial motivation is an indicator that links almost all the illegal networks.” During his speech, he invited everyone to work together to eliminate regional security threats.
The leaders of Caribbean partner nations know they can’t fight alone. “Transnational threats are migrating freely across our porous borders,” said Colonel Glyne Grannum, chief of staff and commander of the Barbados Defence Force. At his inaugural address, Col. Glynne urged participants “to meet, exchange ideas, policies, and strategies to counter the T3N.”
“The threat is transregional and transnational, and we cannot deal with these issues alone,” said Jullian Lovell, director of Guyana’s National Intelligence and Security Agency. “Certainly, collaborating with others is our goal moving forward. It’s collaboration or die.”
The multidimensional and multifaceted nature of risks and threats faced by the Caribbean nations brought the region together under the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS), the goal of which is to improve citizen security. “It is very important that IMPACS is here,” said Joseph Callixtus, coordinator of the Regional Crime and Security Strategy of CARICOM IMPACS. “We need to enhance our information intelligence sharing, and we are getting closer with our cooperating and supporting partners in particular, the United States.” According to Callixtus, the only way the region can move ahead countering T3N is working together in an organized and unified way.
“We have similar issues,” said Titania Ward, Strategic Intelligence Technical Advisor of the Jamaican Ministry of National Security. “We don’t have resources, and we need to train our law enforcement; we have gangs for drugs trade, lottery scamming, and electronic frauds.” Ward considered the seminar a great forum to share regional challenges, but also a good framework from which to build new networks for sharing intelligence and information across their islands since T3N are exploiting the region’s maritime space as they move weapons, drugs, and people illegally. “Our borders, like most of the countries in the Caribbean, are very porous,” stated Command Chief Petty Officer Wood Oral of the Bahamas Defence Force, emphasizing the importance of regional cooperation in preventing security threats rather than fighting it alone.
Cybercrime and new technologies were also addressed at the seminar. “We are looking at the issues of terrorist and cybercrime to deal with,” said Captain Errington Shurland, director of the RSS. “We want to create a new system of digital investigation and are also looking at the merging of progressive challenges in cybercrime.”
“It is very important for Haiti to participate in this seminar because all countries in the region are facing the same threats,” said Justin Mark, commissioner of Haiti’s National Police. “We are here to learn and to share best practices, to find, decide, and to elaborate on new strategies to better tackle those threats.”
In his opinion, the security strategy must reinforce the collaboration and cooperation among countries. “Without the cooperation, we can’t face those problems; they are far beyond one single country’s capacity,” affirmed Mark. “One country alone can’t deal with drug trafficking as [criminals] are networking. We need to create networks to fight against them; it’s networks against networks.”
Other participants expressed that the fight against T3N cannot wait any longer. “We have to coordinate all efforts to make the Caribbean safer,” said Richmond Valentine, superintendent of Dominica’s Police Force. “Our countries must understand the threats we are facing and use our wisdom and resources to collaborate.”
Promoting inclusive security
On the third day of the seminar, the question, “Why are women a factor in inclusive security?” was introduced to a panel on promoting inclusive security in the Americas. “It’s time for a new approach to security,” replied Doctor Kai-Ann Skeete, Trade Research Fellow at the University of the West Indies in Barbados and one of the panelists. “A lot of our security threats are unconventional, untraditional, and they take multidimensional thinking… This nontraditional approach must involve females. Women have certain mediation skills that we can best utilize in security.”
The inclusion of the topic was timely. “This is making history for us. We are creating room for our women to go further,” added Dr. Skeete, affirming that women need to be more involved in the decision-making process. The next step, she added, is to keep building capacity and changing the mindset of the male dominated armed forces environment.
After three days of discussions, participants were more convinced of the need to create stronger regional bonds to defeat T3N. They vowed to work closer together to achieve regional security and not compromise the perception that the Caribbean is a safe tourist destination. “We need to quickly adapt our networks to go against these global challenges we all face,” concluded Brig. Gen. McCubbin in his final remarks.