A prominent Washington-based think tank says the Caribbean is a “blueprint” for illicit drug trafficking at a time when it is being “heavily influenced” by organized Latin American criminal groups.
The Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) said in an analysis that drug trafficking and related violence is on the rise throughout the Caribbean, noting that U.S./Mexico border controls have been “profoundly tightened, resulting in a growing spillover of drugs into the wider Caribbean.
“The Caribbean’s natural landscapes and diffuse geographical locations make it appealing for drug traffickers who take advantage of such terrain that features long often uncontrolled coastlines and mountainous interiors for the growth and transportation of narcotics,” COHA said.
It said while the role of the U.S. has increased with the creation of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), targeted on helping to combat the growing menace of the drug trafficking phenomenon, drug traffickers “target vulnerable CARICOM (Caribbean Community) islands, such as Haiti, to earn big profits by corrupting high officials.”
COHA said the 1970s marked the dawning of the drug trafficking phenomenon in the Caribbean, stating that, since then, the “tentacles of this multibillion-dollar illegal industry has plagued the West Indian islands with expanding drug cartel ramifications from Central and South America, which continue to make use of the islands as a channel to deliver supplies to high-demand markets in the United States and Europe.”
The think tank said drug cartels use the Caribbean as a “mode of transit,” mainly because of its geographic layout.
“The cartographic projection of the Caribbean islands provides an advantage to drug cartels, which make good use of its long coastlines to transport narcotics by means of fishing boats, speedboats, freighter shipments, yachts, and other modes of small commercial, as well as private sea transportation conveyances, along with light aircraft,” it said.
For instance, COHA said the Bahamas is a “favored transit point” for Jamaican marijuana and South American cocaine cultivated and processed specifically for sale in the United States.
With the current tightening of the Mexican/U.S. borders, COHA said drug traffickers once again have returned to the Caribbean to transport their narcotics.
“Due to this increased trafficking in the region, alliances and hostilities also have developed between Central and South American criminal groups and their Caribbean counterparts,” it said.
“As a result, drug and gang violence has been exacerbated along with other associated malignant socio-economic indicators throughout the Caribbean Community, as part of the spill-over from the rest of Latin America,” it added.
COHA urged that Latin America be invited to talks with the Caribbean and the U.S., “as most Caribbean drug trafficking is a result of Latin American gangs using the region as a means of convergence of narcotics and marketed into the U.S. and Europe.”
With the tightening of U.S./Mexico borders, COHA said “vulnerable islands within the Caribbean have become even more susceptible to the lure of drug trafficking.”
It said Haiti is of “particular interest to drug traffickers, as the island’s population has become more prone to participate in this illegal narcotic trade for a number of reasons, such as poverty and corruption, economic and political instability, as well as an unsafe environment and a profaned ceiling on the availability of jobs –all of which has been worsened by the aftermath of the devastating January 2010 earthquake.”
Since the earthquake, COHA said poverty has been exacerbated, resulting in many Haitians turning towards drug dealing and trafficking “in order to gain a fast injection of income.”
In addition, COHA said the earthquake has “amplified the breath of corruption on the island, which amply was already present even before the disaster,” pointing out that in 2009 and 2010, a number of Haitian National Police (HNP) officers were arrested for conspiring with drug traffickers and other criminal organizations in gang-related activities.
“Despite Herculean efforts, Haiti still struggles with drug traffickers whose presence has increased significantly after the earthquake,” COHA said.
The think tank said many drug traffickers have become “both respected as well as feared figures within Jamaican society.”
COHA, therefore, urged Caribbean governments to focus on the “felt needs” of the population in order to allocate adequate funds to social and economic development efforts “so that locals do not turn to drug traffickers for such support.”
But, it stated that the limited development funding available within these “chronically under-financed islands remains an important challenge,” stating that many of them, such as Barbados, rely on tourism for their survival.
COHA said, with the current relatively unfavorable status of the current world economy, tourists are less likely to be engaging in discretionary traveling around the globe.
“This has had a spiraling effect on the economic and social stability of islands, where, for instance, many agriculturalists who own small parcels of land or local businesses in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, now are found turning to growing marijuana for much-needed supplementing income,” it said.
Furthermore, COHA said numerous Caribbean governments lack the necessary funds to properly address security issues involved in combating drug trafficking, as some islands are still without a designated police force or coastguard service to properly monitor and ward off the danger posed by it.
“The Caribbean drug dilemma exposes the severity of the danger that illicit drug trafficking presents to these small islands, as well as to the rest of the Western Hemisphere,” it said.
“This will continue to be a problem for local CARICOM governments unless they team up with much wealthier, as well as much more developed countries such as the U.S., which can help provide the much-needed funds and other resources, such as training of local police officers and coast guard official, in order to professionally rebut this phenomenon,” it added.