Remarks by Ambassador Odeen Ishmael, Head of the Guyana delegation, to the Seventh Conference of Ministers of Defence of the Americas - Managua, Nicaragua, 2-5 October 2006

Posted October 4th. 2006

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Minister of Defence of Nicaragua, Heads of Delegations, Ministers of Defence of the Americas, Secretary General of the Organisation of American States, Members of delegations, Ladies and Gentlemen.

First of all, I wish to thank the Government of Nicaragua for the warm hospitality accorded to the members of the Guyana delegation at this Seventh Conference of Ministers of Defence of the Americas being held here in Managua. It is indeed an honour for us to be here to participate in the discussions with our colleagues from across the Americas.

Mr. Chairman,

Guyana, at no time, intends to downplay the importance of defence from external threats, military or otherwise, and will utilise its defence mechanism to protect its territorial integrity and national sovereignty.

But what must be kept in mind is that my country and those of the entire Caricom region currently face 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, trans-national organized crime, environmental problems, (including the trans-shipment of nuclear waste through the Caribbean Sea), natural disasters, the influx of smuggled small and sophisticated arms, terrorism, frightening crime rates, human trafficking, and the dumping of criminal deportees from the developed countries.

Crime has now become a plague in many of our countries. The high incidence of violent crime places heavier burdens on our security forces which sometimes are outgunned by the sophisticated weaponry now in the hands of violent criminals, some of whom are the very deportees sent back to our countries. These criminals - who can be termed "local terrorists" - terrorise and frighten entire communities who live in dread and despair. The social and political fabric of these communities is seriously undermined, and surely the entire state feels the effect of the increasing violent crime rate.

Mr. Chairman,

I take this opportunity to specifically emphasise 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 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 trans-national in nature, utilise 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.

But keep in mind that there remains a very high demand for these illegal narcotics in developed countries of the North. There is a strong existing view that without this demand there will not be the supply coming from the producing countries.

All of these challenges to security are multi-dimensional and profoundly impact the social, economic, political and environmental existence of a state. All of these problems take a heavy socio-economic 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.

Since most of the criminal activities, as I have outlined earlier, involve cross-border security - and in the case of island states, general external maritime security - there is obvious need for security apparatus to be deployed in greater strength along land and maritime borders. Of course, cooperation between border security forces of neighbouring countries is also essential.

Poor countries like mine are handicapped because they do not have the resources - particularly the hardware such as patrol helicopters and other aircraft - to patrol long stretches of their borders which are in many cases heavily forested and sparsely populated and having no communication and transportation infrastructure. In this respect, countries like Guyana will certainly be happy to receive assistance from countries which have the ability to render help in providing such resources.

I have to also press the point that countries like ours in the Caricom region spend a good proportion of our national budgets to combat drug trafficking - to stop the flow of illegal narcotics to the countries of the developed North. In other words we act as the policemen for these countries as well. As such, we would like to receive more assistance in the form of on-going training of our security personnel and the provision of security equipment in order to help them more effectively police what has been described at the "third border" of the United States.

It must also be emphasised 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 destabilisation of democratic governments. And the destabilisation of democratic governments poses a threat to democracy and security in this entire hemisphere.

Here I must state that the security forces have the obligation to protect democracy and the democratic process. Just one month ago, my country held one of the most peaceful elections in its post-independence history. No doubt, this was in a large part due to the strong cooperation between the military and the police in ensuring this peaceful process, and also the cooperation they obtained from the political leaders in the country.

Mr. Chairman,

Perhaps one of the gravest challenges facing my country and, indeed the entire 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. This pandemic 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.

The AIDS pandemic is placing tremendous burdens on health care systems and on the labour 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.

Mr. Chairman,

Attacking poverty and underdevelopment, from which often emerge other human security threats, has been an integral aspect of the Organisation 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 and adopted by the UN General Assembly, is in keeping with the broad aims of the Charter of the Organisation 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.

Guyana faces numerous non-traditional challenges which impact on the quality of life of our citizens. Notwithstanding, even with our limited resources, both human and financial, we are trying our best to grapple with these challenges even though we are fully aware that these trans-national problems require concerted action at the hemispheric level.

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.

Mr. Chairman,

I wanted to speak about the security impact on the Caricom region by the upcoming Cricket World Cup 2007 when international matches will be played in nine of the member-states. But this has been already adequately dealt with by heads of a few Caricom delegations who have already spoken.

I have highlighted in a very broad manner some of the challenges Guyana faces. It is obvious that we need much financial and human resources and cooperation with other states to overcome them.

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.

I thank you very much.

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