A little over two weeks after assuming command of United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) on January 14th, U.S. Navy Admiral Kurt W. Tidd traveled to Kingston, Jamaica to co-host the XIV Caribbean Nations Security Conference (CANSEC 2016), alongside Major General Antony Anderson, Chief of Defence Staff of the Jamaican Defence Force (JDF).
“I’m especially interested in hearing your ideas to improve our collaboration and integration of regional operations, exercises, and training activities. While I’m still new to the position of Commander of U.S. Southern Command, I’m by no means new to working with our partners in this region,” said Adm. Tidd during his opening remarks, alluding to his prior experience as commander of the U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet.
“From what I know, and from what I’ve learned over the past few weeks, I see tremendous opportunity for improving information sharing between our countries and leveraging already established mechanisms like CARICOM [Caribbean Community and Common Market] and the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative [CBSI],” he continued.
Speaking of justice sector reform, Maj. Gen. Anderson explained to Diálogo that the Citizens Security and Justice Program in Jamaica funds youth — normally young males — to attend vocational training. “After they’ve gone through a period of training at the vocational training center, then they come to us [JDF] and work with our military engineers on projects. And that daily interaction with our engineers, we found, has made them rethink life in general.”
Even though the JDF was established in 1962 to effectively protect Jamaica’s sovereignty with the capability to detect, identify, and respond to enemy threats against the country and consists of an Army, Air Wing, and Coast Guard, in recent years it has been called upon to assist the nation's police, the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), in fighting drug smuggling and a rising crime. JDF units actively conduct armed patrols with the JCF in high-crime areas and known gang-ridden neighborhoods. "We, in the military, and security officials are having to re-examine our roles as our government and people are looking for answers for these difficult problems, not only drug trafficking, but also humanitarian relief efforts and responding to pandemic diseases," explained Maj. Gen. Anderson.
Given these references, this year’s CANSEC theme is, “Strengthening Regional Capacity and Fostering Cooperation to Counter Regional Threats,” in order to focus on how to deal with challenges such as natural disasters, drug trafficking, terrorism, and transnational crime.
In addition to the co-host partner nations –Jamaica and the U.S.– there are dozens of top military and security officials from a score of countries such as Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bahamas, Belize, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Cuba, and Trinidad and Tobago taking part at this year’s event. With them, members from regional organizations such as CARICOM and representatives from the Inter-American Defense Board, as well as from Canada, Colombia, France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom are attending as observers.
Specifically addressing the European countries present, Adm. Tidd said he’s learned that “we’ve had significant success — from efforts of the Technical Assistance Field Team, to our TRADEWINDS exercise, to coordinated, counterdrug operations with our European friends — and we’ve succeeded together by working together.”
In his closing remarks, Adm. Tidd made three commitments to the Caribbean countries: to being an equal and trusted partner; making the cause of human rights a top priority; and building on Gen. John Kelly’s (prior SOUTHCOM commander) strong friendship with this region to deepen U.S. ties with the partner nations.
“Let’s get to work to begin the next chapter in our Partnership for the Americas!” he said.