Kamla and the future of Caribbean regional security

All eyes were on Trinidad and Tobago’s new Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bisessar at the annual meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community earlier this month in Jamaica. All ears were pricked to listen for clues about likely shifts in policy.

Mrs Persad-Bissessar has inherited responsibility as the Lead CARICOM Prime Minister for matters relating to Crime and Security. Her predecessor Mr Patrick Manning had made a truly monumental contribution to enhancing the framework for regional crime and security. The legacies of Cricket World Cup 2007 – such as the operations of the single domestic space and the introduction of the advanced passenger information system – have proven their value and viability to regional security cooperation and the integration movement. The Framework for the Management of Crime and Security erected on Mr Manning’s watch three years ago exemplified the finest features of functional cooperation.

These legacies facilitated a common visa policy and free movement of persons and demonstrated the benefits of regional security cooperation which, prior to 2007, had a spotty record. CARICOM’s decision to accord an important role to crime and security as the “fourth pillar” of the Community was an act of faith. CARICOM’s choice of Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister to be lead head on Crime and Security was an act of wisdom.

In her maiden address to the Conference, Mrs Persad-Bissessar reasserted Trinidad and Tobago’s commitment to bolstering security. She called it “one of the cornerstones which must be strengthened to ensure that the foundation for the collective prosperity of our Region remains solid.” She also acknowledged the threat of criminal activity associated with human-trafficking, money-laundering, repatriation of deportees, the trade of illicit drugs and firearms and other forms of organised crime and terrorism.

What she did not say was whether Trinidad and Tobago’s disproportionate share of the work of coordinating, financing and implementation agencies such as the Implementation Agency for Crime and Security will continue uninterrupted. It is early days yet but one welcome move was her appointment of Brigadier (ret) John Sandy – a former Chief of Defence Staff of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force – as Minister of National Security. They both have much work to prevent the process from stalling and to guarantee a safe and secure regional environment in the Region.

CARICOM Secretary-General Edwin Carrington in late June had reason to remind regional security ministers attending the meeting of the Council for National Security and Law Enforcement in Antigua and Barbuda of the unfinished regional security agenda. The meeting was meant to advance discussions towards the establishment and implementation of a Regional Resource Mobilisation Framework for crime and security. Trinidad and Tobago’s generous contribution will be critical to the completion of that agenda.

Mrs Persad-Bissessar’s election and Brigadier Sandy’s appointment have come in the wake of a spate of three high-level meetings between United States administration officials – those of US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates; US Attorney General Eric Holder and US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton – with Caribbean Community officials earlier this year. All three US officials had the singular task to promote the ‘Caribbean Basin Security Initiative.’ CARICOM’s officials must have a similarly singular security focus.

Mrs Persad-Bissessar and Brigadier Sandy need to hit the ground running. Significant items on the crime and security agenda – especially the proposed establishment and implementation of a Regional Resource Mobilisation Framework for crime and security – still need to be addressed to continue the work of creating a safer Community. It is not an exaggeration to say that the future of regional security will depend on what Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar does next.

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