Expectations were high but explanations were scant after President Barack Obama announced the launch of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative at the 5th Summit of the Americas in April last year. United States Secretary of Defence Dr Robert Gates visited Barbados in April this year and dispelled any lingering illusions about the intentions behind the Initiative.
The Caribbean Basin Security Initiative has been described officially as a “multi-year, multi-faceted effort by the US Government and Caribbean partners to develop a joint regional citizen safety strategy to tackle the full range of security and criminal threats to the Caribbean Basin.”
It was assumed, at the outset, that all fifteen Caribbean Community states – including the Dominican Republic and Haiti – would have been involved. That assumption now seems to have been incorrect and, at best, the Initiative will be only partial in both scale and scope.
Dr Gates, during his mid-April visit, met only with the Prime Ministers of Barbados and the six member states of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean states which adhere to the Regional Security System. He apparently envisaged linking those seven states in a hemispheric security subset that is separate from their traditional anglophone partners.
Dr Gates remarked “I think that one of the things we need to think about going forward is how we connect the Regional Security System with the efforts of the French and the Dutch… how Colombia and Peru are doing it. They are all tied together in many respects.” Such a direction would surely constitute a significant departure from current security cooperation arrangements among Caricom countries.
The evolving ‘Caribbean Initiative’ follows the pattern of the ‘Mérida Initiative’ – the USA’s security cooperation agreement with Mexico and Central American states. The Mérida Initiative, however, has had the unintended consequence of diverting narco-trafficking away from Central America and into the Caribbean. As Dr Gates acknowledged, “I think narco-trafficking is a problem for the hemisphere as a whole and, wherever you put pressure, the traffickers will go where there is less resistance [and] where there is less capability.”
This is exactly what has happened. But if the US government has recognised that narco-trafficking has intensified in all other Caricom states, why now divide the community in the face of this common threat? For all intents and purposes, the Caribbean Initiative, in its present form, will place relatively less emphasis on the security needs of the larger states that do not belong to the Regional Security System.
Julissa Reynoso, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, announced that the security Initiative has been built on three strategic objectives – to reduce illicit narco-trafficking, advance public safety and security and promote social justice. As a result, funding will come from several US government sources such as the Development Assistance, Economic Support Fund, International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement and Foreign Military Financing accounts.
This means that the money, similarly, will be spread thinly over various areas – equipment and training to combat narco-trafficking and related violence and organized crime; judicial reform; institution-building; education; anti-corruption; rule-of-law activities and maritime security. The US Congress has specified also that at least $21.1 million should be used for social justice and education programmes.
In its present form as proposed by the US Department of Defence, the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative will be of limited usefulness, especially to the larger states. Instead of building on the sound institutional foundation of the Single Domestic Space that was created among Caribbean states for the Cricket World Cup Competition in 2007, the Initiative runs the risk of reviving old insular rivalries, re-dividing the region and regressing into clientelism.