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February 22, 2012

Caribbean Security Wake–Up Call
Posted by The Editors

BreyerThis guest post by Johanna Mendelson Forman, an expert in international security issues who serves on the board of RESDAL, the Latin American Security Network, and Michele Manatt, a former official of the Clinton administration’s Office of National Drug Control Policy and now serves as Chair of the Council on Women’s Leadership at Meridian International Center.

When Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and his wife became crime victims while on vacation on the Caribbean island of Nevis, news spread rapidly of this home intrusion.  Fortunately, the Justice, his wife and guests were only relieved of their money by a machete-wielding robber who fled the scene.  As of this writing the police in St. Kitts and Nevis have not caught a suspect.  But the events underscore the ongoing need to address citizen security in the Caribbean.

California’s Dianne Feinstein, Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, held a hearing on this very subject in the Senate Drug Caucus on February 1st.   Her opening statement noted that the Obama Administration continues to provide assistance to the Caribbean, through an initiative started in April 2009. The Caribbean Basin Security Initiative continues to receive funding to help address the ongoing crime wave, and especially the increased violence associated with drug-related attacks that have become the norm in the region. The high homicide rates in Jamaica (52 homicides per 100,000), the Bahamas (28 per 100,000), the Dominican Republic (up from 14 to 25 per 100,000 in one year) all signal the urgent need to support training and professionalization of the police.  The Breyers were just plain lucky.

Crime reduction is essential in a region that is so dependent on tourism, both mass market and high-end.   Many Caribbean countries earn 25 percent of their foreign exchange earnings from tourism. 20 percent of all jobs are connected to it.   Keeping the islands safe not only in the best interest of business, but is also akin to their credit rating. When it takes a hit, everyone suffers.

The Obama administration gets precious little credit for its work in the Americas.  Not fair, given the sharp focus put on Caribbean citizen security through many programs and partnerships.  “Citizen Security” is the Lingua Franca throughout official circles these days, and will be the “IT” issue of the next gathering of democracies at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia in April.  Coming to common cause on addressing the realities of youth unemployment, the swelling number of youths in gangs and better preparing citizens to vigilantly report drug-related crime are unifying governments and NGO players across the Caribbean.

While Republicans continue to spend most time either micromanaging US policy towards Cuba or neutering the OAS, there has been a strong, whole-of-government effort to ensure that our third border gets the attention it needs in response to onslaughts from illegal drug syndicates and related activities like human trafficking and counterfeiting.

In the run-up to the Colombia-hosted Summit in April, look for more progress as President Obama and Secretary Clinton emphasize their diplomacy and programs that address the core issues underlying criminality – professionalization of police, strengthening rule of law, and empowering citizens to be more involved in community vigilance.   Through fiscal year 2012, $212 million have been committed to this objective.

Justice Breyer ‘s unfortunate vacation intrusion in what seems an idyllic place is just what complacent Americans may need to wake up and take notice of what their government does to assist Caribbean friends and neighbors join closer to confront the joint threat of insecurity.

Photo: ABC News

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