Drug trafficking is a global problem foist upon Caribbean countries

Bocchit
Edmond

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

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Violent crime is down in countries across the Caribbean. Jamaica's prime minister said that homicides fell by 22 per cent last year. Homicides in the Dominican Republic have been on a downward trend since 2011. In the Bahamas, statistics for 2018 highlight an overall drop in crime from the previous year and, according to police statistics, the number of murders decreased by 25 per cent. And in Haiti, where we have long had lower rates of violent crime than most of our neighbours, the UN recently decided to draw down its peacekeeping presence, after the UN peacekeeping chief declared that “the strategic development plan for the Haitian National Police for is on track”.

And yet, in an increasingly interconnected world, there has been a troubling rise in transnational crime, particularly related to drug trafficking. Caribbean nations must reckon with this problem now, but we must act together to develop a coordinated response to the challenge. In an increasingly unpredictable, borderless world, a collaborative approach in our neighbourhood is absolutely necessary — as is understanding the root causes.

Caribbean nations are located directly between the US — the country with the world's largest appetite for drugs — and South America, the region with the world's largest capacity for production. Our region's geography has made us to become a hub for trafficking, even though our populations have relatively low levels of drug use. As recorded by the 2018 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime World Drug Report, cannabis use in our region is at only a 2.2 per cent prevalence, roughly 50 per cent lower than the global average. Similarly, cocaine use in the Caribbean was roughly one-third of that recorded in North America in 2016.

As in most countries, the illegal drugs trade creates security and public safety risks for our countries. For many organised crime groups, drug profits remain the main source of income. Drug trafficking and related gang violence has a heartbreaking and destructive impact on communities. It robs many young people of their future and creates a poisonous environment in which residents are afraid to leave their homes.

In Haiti, we have taken significant steps to put an end to this growing problem. The brave men and women of our national drug enforcement unit, the Bureau for the Fight Against Narcotics, have been successful in several investigations against drug trafficking organisations over the past 18 months. We have also taken steps to strengthen the bureau with additional officers and have addressed uncontrolled border crossings with the formation of a new border police unit, POLIFRONT.

We're making very meaningful progress. But in this ever-more globalised world in which criminals ignore borders much as they do laws, none of this will be enough if we are not working together with all our partners – both our immediate neighbours and beyond. We cooperate effectively with the US on drug-related cases. A 1997 bilateral letter of agreement on Cooperation to Suppress Illicit Maritime Drug Traffic allows for closer coordination of Haitian and American law enforcement agencies in Haiti's territorial waters and airspace in pursuit of suspicious vessels or aircraft to board and search suspect vessels.

We are also committed to the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFTAFT) — a key organisation of states and territories of the Caribbean basin preventing the illegal flows of money which accompany drug trafficking by a series of common counter-measures. In 2017, Haiti's ongoing actions to address deficiencies previously identified by CFTAFT were deemed to have addressed all core recommendations by the other member states.

Underpinning these actions are national drug policies themselves, which can encourage or discourage drug trafficking in their substance and application. Changes in drug policies in Brazil, Ecuador, the Netherlands, Peru, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, and several states in the US, including Colorado and Washington, are evidence of a global shift towards decriminalisation.

It is crucial that all countries in the region continually review and analyse their drug policies in order to keep abreast of changes in the international context. Our first aim must forever be, first and foremost, to minimise harm to the victims of drug-related crime. In close coordination, with a multilateralist approach, open to new ideas, Caricom countries can and will one day end the war on drugs.

 

Bocchit Edmond is Haiti's minister of foreign affairs.


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