ON SECURITY IN THE CARIBBEAN REGION
Statement by Ambassador Odeen Ishmael of Guyana at the Meeting of the Committee on Hemispheric Security of the OAS Washington DC, 29 October 2002
Posted October 30th, 2002
Mr. Chairman, Ambassadors, Members of Delegations. . . .
I want to discuss with you how the CARICOM region views the issue of regional security, the approaches the region is taking in respect to its application, and the problems which impact it at this current historical period.
Let me, first of all, give a historical perspective of some aspects regarding the evolution of the traditional form of military security for the protection of sovereignty in the CARICOM region.
Over the past 40 years, some states of the Caribbean have faced threats to their security in the form of direct invasion, mercenary attack, incursion and intervention.
Then there has always been the threat of secession, especially in multi-island states. In 1967 Anguilla successfully seceded from the colony of St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla. The Anguilla secession was one of the earliest and most serious threats to the territorial integrity of a Caribbean state.
Separatist sentiments have been expressed in the islands of Nevis, Barbuda and Tobago, and these resulted in special constitutional measures for the devolution of power in those islands. In 1969, an unsuccessful violent secessionist rebellion broke out in the Rupununi region of Guyana.
Another threat faced by Caribbean states is that of infiltration or penetration, initially with a criminal purpose, which can lead to the destablization. This comes in the form of narco-trafficking, smuggling of other commercial contraband commodities and illegal fishing in a country's territorial waters.
Yet another threat is that of insurrection carried out by local bands of dissidents and organized criminal gangs with the aim of replacing the government; such threatened actions include coups d'état, military mutinies and revolts.
Efforts have been made since the early 1970s for the establishment of a collective security mechanism in the region. One such effort was in October 1981 when The Bahamas, Barbados, Britain, Canada, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago agreed to consult on appropriate action to be taken in the event of a threat to the independence of Belize. However, the defense aspect of the pact was never has put into force.
The most successful step in forming a regional security system came about in July 1981 when the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) was formed. The islands of Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St.Kitts-Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent all wanted to promote a common defense, and the treaty establishing the OECS called for the setting up of a collective defense system.
A major step in the development of the Regional Security System came on 29 October 1982 20 years ago today when a Memorandum of Understanding was signed among Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The signatories agreed to prepare contingency plans and assist one another, on request, in national emergencies, prevention of smuggling, search and rescue, immigration control, fishery protection, customs and excise control, maritime policing duties, protection of off-shore installations, pollution control, national and other disasters and threats to national security.
Significantly, the Memorandum included Barbados which was not even a member of that Organization. Barbados, moreover, was assigned a central, dominant role in the new regime. It did not include St.Kitts-Nevis and Grenada, but these two territories joined within the next three years.
Although there was some opposition to upgrading the status of the Memorandum, the training, equipping and financing of the constituent units of the RSS proceeded. Under the auspices of the US, UK and Canada, Special Service Units (SSU) were formed in all the independent states which did not have defense forces.
The issue of regional military security became a matter of grave concern when a small insurrectionist group held the Government of Trinidad and Tobago hostage in July 1990. Immediately after the rebels surrendered, Prime Minister Erskine Sandiford of Barbados, immediately made a strong demand for the establishment of a system of collective security to prevent the recurrence of what transpired in Trinidad. He called for the expansion and consolidation of the existing Regional Security System (RSS) in the Eastern Caribbean to include as many CARICOM states as possible. He suggested that the RSS be given the authority and resources to deal with all aspects of regional security including the interdiction of drug trafficking, surveillance of the coastal zones, mutual assistance in the event of national disasters, as well as threats to constitutional democracy from criminals, terrorists, mercenaries and other enemies of democracy.
Despite his plea, the RSS has not expanded, even though Guyana has expressed interest in joining.
By the start of the 1990s, the defense forces of seven CARICOM states began working closely with SOUTHCOM, the US military headquarters for the region. In the military exercises, the US has placed greater priority on issues of illegal migration and narco-trafficking. In recent years, some CARICOM states have signed "shiprider" agreements with the United States by which US Navy vessels are given full freedom of action in their territorial waters. Under these agreements, Caribbean officers are placed on board US vessels to authorize immediate access into territorial waters.
Having given you this historical outline, I emphasize that CARICOM states at no time intend to downplay the importance of defense from external threats, military or otherwise, and will utilize their defense mechanism to protect their territorial integrity and national sovereignty.
But what must be kept in mind is that the region currently faces serious security threats from other existing or newly introduced conditions and challenges. These include drug trafficking and money laundering, HIV/AIDS, economic disenfranchisement, poverty and social exclusion, transnational organized crime, environmental problems, (including the transshipment of nuclear waste through the Caribbean Sea), natural disasters, the influx of smuggled small and sophisticated arms, terrorism, frightening crime rates, and the dumping of criminal deportees from the developed countries.
I take this opportunity to specifically emphasize the trafficking of illegal drugs and its linkage to the trafficking in small arms and light weapons and their impact on peace and security. Indeed, it is well known that some of our countries in South America serve as producers while others such as my own and others of the Caribbean serve as transit points in the global trafficking of illegal drugs. These types of illegal activities which are transnational in nature, utilize state-of- the-art technology, and their proceeds are used to finance corruption, intimidation and violence in many of our societies, and undermine law and order.
All of these challenges are multi-dimensional and profoundly impact the social, economic, political and environmental existence of a state. All of these problems take a heavy socioeconomic toll on our small countries, and addressing them with the aim of finding solutions is a critical element in allaying security fears and solidifying the culture of democracy and in our states.
We must therefore place emphasis on the need for the dialogue on peace and security to move beyond the traditional discourse of military threats. It must be expanded to include these challenges faced by developing countries and Small Island Developing States.
It must be emphasized that all of these threats to national security also pose serious threats to democracy in these countries. Crime undermines society by establishing a state of instability which can lead to the destabilization of democratic governments. And the destabilizing of democratic governments poses a threat to democracy and security in this entire hemisphere.
Perhaps one of the gravest challenges facing the CARICOM region today is that of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. It poses an immense threat to social and economic development and has the potential of undermining the fabric of the entire society.
HIV/AIDS infection rates in the Caribbean are among the highest in the world, second only to Sub-Saharan Africa. Nine of the 12 countries with the highest infection rates in the Americas are in the Caribbean basin, and AIDS has become a major cause of death among the 15-49 age group in several countries.
Currently, more than half a million people are living with HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean region, and the prevalence among adults aged 15-49 has reached 2 percent. In Haiti, where the situation is most dramatic, estimates reach as high as 12 percent for the urban population and 5 percent for rural populations. In Haiti, the Bahamas, Barbados, the Dominican Republic, and Guyana, the epidemic has spread beyond the high-risk population to the general population.
AIDS will have a very significant impact on mortality in the coming two decades, and up to 5 percent of the gross national product could be spent on AIDS. This is as much as some countries spend currently on health overall.
Dominica's Minister of Planning Artherton Martin recently described AIDS in the Caribbean as a "hurricane" disaster. He stated: "We must deploy against HIV/AIDS as we would any other disasters. In fact, it is worse than hurricanes because it destroys people, our most important resource."
Over the past two decades, some 6,600 AIDS deaths were reported in the Caribbean, though the actual number is probably higher due to underreporting or misdiagnosis of cause of death. By the end of 2001, about 100,000 children under the age of 14 had been orphaned by AIDS.
The AIDS epidemic is placing tremendous burdens on health care systems and on the labor force. Today, 83 percent of AIDS cases in the Caribbean are in the age group 15 to 54 years which forms the bulk of the working population. This has the potential to cause a devastating negative impact in various key sectors, from agriculture, tourism, and mining, to trade, and the pressure it will place on national budgets is considerable. And when these areas come under pressure, society becomes undermined and resulting social disruptions can easily threaten national security and democratic governments.
Attacking poverty and underdevelopment, from which often emerge other human security threats, has been an integral aspect of the Organization of American States. It is in this respect that we believe that there must be a New Global Human Order aimed at reversing the growing disparities between rich and poor, both among and within countries, since it offers a viable solution to many of the global social and economic ills.
The proposal for a New Global Human Order, proposed by Guyana and backed by CARICOM, is in keeping with the broad aims of the Charter of the Organization of American States. It seeks to promote a strong political consensus and a broad-based global partnership to combat poverty and promote human development throughout the world through a long-term and integrated approach to development. To do this, the involvement of all actors, including international organizations and civil society, is crucial.
CARICOM member states face numerous non-traditional challenges and these impact on the quality of life of their citizens and in some instances even the very existence of our states. Notwithstanding, even with their limited resources, both human and financial, they are trying their best to grapple with these challenges even though they are fully aware that these transnational problems require concerted action at the hemispheric level. It is for this very reason that all CARICOM sates solidly supported the Declaration of Bridgetown on the "Multi-dimensional Approach to Hemispheric Security" at the recent OAS General Assembly in Barbados. They also support the convening of the Second High Level Meeting on the Special Security Concerns of Small Island States and the Special Conference on Security as articulated during the Third Summit of the Americas.
Indeed, peace and security in many of the nations of this hemisphere stand in a very delicate balance. Confidence building, in this regard, can only be achieved through concerted action and the fullest commitment to reviewing security from its varied perspectives. To ensure this, they must develop and/or strengthen the institutions to deal effectively with this reality.
I have highlighted in a very broad manner some of the challenges Guyana and other CARICOM states face. To combat these problems, these states need much financial and human resources and cooperation with other states to stem this scourge.
All nations of this hemisphere must now recommit themselves to addressing peace and security from its multidimensional perspective. They must also work towards the establishment or strengthening of the institutions in the Inter-American system to, not only build confidence, but truly ensure peace and security in the hemisphere.