Canada ready to aid in Caribbean drug war

A return to the days of “Cocaine Cowboys” may be imminent in the Caribbean, an expert warns.
By Gerald V. Paul

Canada is poised to assist Caribbean security forces if the threat of a new drug war materializes in the region.

“You are not seeing battalions and fleets and aircraft. What we are doing there is a persistent engagement, co-operation and collaboration with our partners in the hemisphere, to help raise their capacities, improve network in the region so we can respond to contingencies there,” Lt. Gen. Stuart Beare was quoted as saying recently. Beare is commander of the joint Operations Command for Canada.

Drug War
Drug War

He was commenting after a warning from Francis Forbes, executive director of Caricom’s Implementation Agency for Crime and Security, who said the region, including Trinidad and Tobago, must brace for a likely return to the “Cocaine Cowboys” days, in which drug traffickers waged war with each other.

Forbes said region-wide security measures must be taken to prevent the spread of drug, gun and ammunition trafficking as well as money-laundering.

In an e-mail to The Camera Forbes noted, “Unless effective control measures are vigorously implemented by all (Caribbean authorities), things will only get worse.”

He referenced the success story by the U.S. via the Merida Initiative with Colombia and Mexico in bringing about a decline in arms crimes, including homicides. But those same criminals are possibly fleeing to the Caribbean, looking for shelter.

Forbes sees it as a return of the “dreaded Cocaine Cowboys days”, with the trafficking of drugs, guns and ammunition accompanied by money laundering inseparable commodities for organized crime.

Finance Minister Joe Oliver recently said Ottawa has earmarked $15 million for the region. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has identified the Caribbean and the Americas since 2007 as a policy priority for “re-engagement.”

Beare said for years Canada has participated in naval operations in the Caribbean Sea designed to thwart narcotics smuggling.

“We are partnered with our U.S. partners in the counter-narcotic effort on the southern flank, in Caribbean Central and South America, as the flow goes north,” Beare said.

According to Beare Canada is staying connected in the hemisphere, in particular, in capacity-building with partners in the Caribbean Basin, particularly with Jamaica.

Jamaica in turn has allowed Canada to construct a staff forward-deployed operational staging centre, to help Canadian troops leap more quickly into action in the event of natural disasters or security threats in the region.

He said troops from Petawawa-based Canadian Special Operations Regiment assisted in the training of a special Jamaica, force, the Counter Terrorism Operations Group.

“Those Jamaican troops put their Canadian-taught skills to bear in 2009 when six Canadian crew aboard Can Jet 737 were hijacked at Montego Bay.”

The Camera has previously interviewed Cameron Ross, executive fellow, School of Public Policy University of Calgary, on the potential of a drug war in the Caribbean, who said: “It’s in the best interest to accelerate its (Canada’s) aid to Caribbean countries.”

Ross, president of Ross Security International, has spent time in the Caribbean and produced a paper reviewing Caribbean crime and its trends and impacts on Canada , money-laundering trends and highlights policies that could be reinforced to better curb these trends.