Brigadier General Patrick West, chief of staff of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), was pleased to co-host the Caribbean Nations Security Conference (CANSEC) for the first time. The event took place in Georgetown, Guyana, from December 6–7, 2017, bringing together military and security representatives from 16 nations to analyze the security threats affecting the Caribbean.
In his opening remarks, Brig. Gen. West was optimistic that CANSEC would succeed in addressing regional security challenges, as well as forging collaborative efforts to dismantle transregional and transnational threat networks, known as T3N. Brig. Gen. West spoke with Diálogo about the importance of co-hosting CANSEC and GDF efforts to build national and regional capacities to counter security threats.
Diálogo: What is the importance of CANSEC being held in Guyana for the first time?
Brigadier General Patrick West, chief of staff of the Guyana Defence Force: It is very important that the populace and the region see that Guyana is playing an integral role in the entire regional security architecture of the Caribbean. The conference was beneficial because it projects us as a partner to everyone who is involved in and out of the region. It helps to promote our cause for regional development and security, humanitarian, and peace efforts. Guyana is uniquely positioned geographically in South America and historically in the Caribbean, and thus is able to contribute to both groups.
Diálogo: What is the main mission of GDF?
Brig. Gen. West: Our mission remains fixed; to maintain our territorial integrity (defining aggression on our borders), to assist the civil powers in the maintenance of law and order, and to contribute to the economic development of Guyana.
Diálogo: What do you feel is the country’s main security concern?
Brig. Gen. West: My main concern is the fact that we have limited capacity to project power. We are currently working on several initiatives which will address this issue so as to ensure that we are in a position where we can guarantee a safe environment for economic development beyond the shores and boundaries of Guyana.
Diálogo: At the inauguration of CANSEC, Guyanese Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo mentioned that over the last 30 months, the government of Guyana has seen some of the biggest interceptions of illicit drugs. How has GDF been involved in this effort?
Brig. Gen. West: GDF also plays a part in our second role, which is to assist the civil powers in the maintenance of law and order. There exists a structure within the Guyana’s security architecture, established in 1979, known as the Joint Services Coordinating Council (JSCC). The commissioner of police, the director of the prisons, the chief fire officer and I, the chairman, sit there. At this level we coordinate our resources when dealing with internal issues, which includes aspects related to the illegal drug trade.
Besides the JSCC, we have a superior council called the National Security Council (NSC), where the director of the National Anti-Narcotics Agency (NANA) sits for strategic planning and coordination. There is also a direct relationship between GDF and the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU), where, from time to time, soldiers would be requested to support specific counter-narcotic operations. Over the period, our Coast Guard was also integrally involved in such operations.
Of recent, we have had interceptions both at sea and on land. A number of aircraft, which had landed on illegally constructed airstrips in southern Guyana were seized by the government. There were also incidents where cocaine had been discovered in various agricultural products, such as rice, etc., and the use of semi-submersible vessels has emerged as part of the illicit scheme of manoeuvre by traffickers. Additionally, the quantities of seizures have increased tremendously.
Diálogo: Piracy used to be one of the national security concerns, and it has been almost completely defeated. How did GDF contribute to defeating piracy?
Brig. Gen. West: Piracy was a major concern for us, but not anymore. We refer to them as pirates, but it is more akin to armed robbery at sea, where fishermen and traders were being assaulted and robbed. In 2017, we had a single incident in the northwest district of Guyana. This was mitigated by intensifying patrols in areas prone to such activity by the GDF Coast Guard in boats, which were donated by the United States, through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI). Additionally, the Coast Guard and Air Corps coordinated several joint patrols to gather intelligence and to act as a deterrent to such activities.
Diálogo: Is terrorism a regional security threat?
Brig. Gen. West: Terrorism is a major concern in the region. We must pay attention to this issue as our intelligence suggests that foreign fighters are returning to the region, especially to Trinidad and Tobago, and in some instances Jamaica. We have had a few issues where Guyanese were arrested for being involved in terrorist activities, such as Adnan Shukrijumah, who was the number one for al-Qaeda in this region.
We’ve also had a few persons who were identified by the police as being funded in an attempt to recruit individuals and have them radicalized. So we are paying attention to this issue because it is not something strange to the region, and moreover, because everything is now linked by the Internet. As such, nobody is beyond this whole scope of being radicalized and our institutions must ensure that we stay on top of the game.
Diálogo: How does Guyana cooperate with partner nations to counter international organized crime?
Brig. Gen. West: Guyana is a part of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), and we are also part of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). CARICOM coordinates all the security issues through the Implementing Agency for Crime and Security, known as IMPACS, and the issues for disaster relief are solved through the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA).
Guyana has been an active participant over the years for security in the region. For example, we were deployed to Trinidad and Tobago when they had the Yasin Abu Bakr’s coup (1990). We were there to assist in stabilising and restoring order in that country. We were also in Jamaica for Hurricane Gilbert (1998), in Grenada for Hurricane Ivan (2004), and the list goes on. We can look at Guyana’s contribution in terms of manpower to assist, but there was also material and financial assistance given by the government to countries in the wake of those disasters. Through CARICOM, we will continue contributing to the various challenges in the region. Guyana remains a stable partner in the contributions to security and disaster relief operations within the region.
Diálogo: How does GDF work together and cooperate with the United States?
Brig. Gen. West: We have a number of coordinated efforts with the United States. We have the CBSI, CANSEC, Tradewinds, the Conference of American Armies, the Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas, etc., Outside of that, we also have the International Military Education and Training Program and the Foreign Military Sales Program, among other collaborations in terms of security cooperation.
Diálogo: What is your message for the Caribbean region?
Brig. Gen. West: Let us continue to work together and to have open lines of communication, so that we can be able to support each other in times of need.