US warns Caribbean security conference about states it sees as a threat

A senior US official has said that the Washington is placing a new focus on closer ties with the Caribbean “due to shared interests and the crisis in Venezuela, which require greater cooperation”.

Addressing the opening of the 8th Caribbean-US Security Cooperation Dialogue on 16 May in Washington, Kimberly Breier, the US Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, said that the Trump Administration sees the Western Hemisphere – Canada, Latin America, and the Caribbean – as a strategic priority for the United States.

That is why, she said, President Trump hosted leaders of a number of Caribbean nations at Mar-a-Lago in March, had launched a US-Caribbean Resilience Partnership, hosted an energy resilience workshop for the Caribbean, and in June will host a US-Caribbean Business Conference, coupled with a Trade and Investment Council Meeting with CARICOM, and a follow-on roundtable on correspondent banking.

“We recognise the importance of the Caribbean to the success of this hemisphere and believe that a region united in our shared values and shared interests will result in a more prosperous neighbourhood”, she told participants.

Speaking specifically about Venezuela, she said that the Caribbean and the US must work together “to manage the destabilising crisis”, noting that the Trump Administration wanted to support the region as it responded to increasing migration flows and their resulting impact.

Observing that the “Russians and Cubans continue propping up the illegitimate Maduro regime; and the narco-criminal groups continue funnelling drugs and crime north into the Caribbean” she warned that “this instability will spread further in the region while Maduro remains”.

In an implied criticism of the Caribbean’s desire for political dialogue between the opposing factions in Venezuela, she noted that “the only truly non-interventionist path is to join the critical mass of countries in the Hemisphere who have chosen to support the Venezuelan people and the leader they have chosen via their Constitution, Interim President Guaidó”.

“A truly non-interventionist view cries foul when foreign powers like Russia and Cuba stake their claim by overtly landing military forces on South American territory. The United States, and all freedom-loving countries, should be deeply concerned, to the point of action, closer cooperation, and support to our neighbours in need”, she added.

Breier was also critical of China’s role in the region.

Observing that the US and Caribbean “need to be prepared to expand cooperation to counter future threats”, she said that when it came to the transformational nature of 5G technology, there was a need to fully factor security into procurement decisions, and cybersecurity challenges. 

“I urge you all to look to best practices and incorporate security into these critical networks from the start”, she said without mentioning by name the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei which has expressed an interest in working with carriers and governments to deliver 5G in the Caribbean.

Noting that the region had aging infrastructure, ports, highways, and telecommunications systems requiring upgrades, she called on the Caribbean to look to the US for technical expertise, transparency and business acumen, and to US companies as resources and as partners.

Although recognising that Chinese equity capital could be of benefit, Brier noted that Bejing’s engagement in the Caribbean on a per capita basis was greater than in the rest of Latin America. “Far too often China has departed from international best practices; and when it does, its opaque methods have enabled corruption, eroded good governance, and stolen countries’ sovereignty and natural resources”, she said about such investment.

Elsewhere in her remarks she commended CARICOM on adopting its first-ever regional counterterrorism strategy. Breier observed that such successes have occurred “because leaders in government, in the private sector, and in civil society took ownership of problems and the willingness to jointly address challenges”.

She however warned that despite being able to achieve clear, measurable results under the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), the region continued to face increasing threats from terrorism, transnational criminal organisations, illicit trafficking, and illegal migration.

In the course of her remarks Breier also noted:

  • Violent extremists from the region have chosen to join ISIS, with Trinidad having the highest per capita recruitment of foreign terrorist fighters in the Western Hemisphere, numbering between 130 and 160.
  • Permissive Caribbean environments were enabling the illicit trafficking of drugs, firearms, or people. Better coordination of law enforcement efforts, stronger democratic institutions and judicial systems, and a vibrant civil society were essential to tackling such challenges.
  • All Caribbean nations should join the US in ratifying the 2003 San José Treaty, an international agreement which supports information exchange and interdiction in relation to the trafficking of narcotics land, sea and air in the Caribbean. Although the agreement has been signed by EU nations present in the region and some Central American states, only three Caribbean countries are signatories.

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