Once upon a time in the West Indies, almost forty years ago on 6th October 1976, eleven Guyanese were among the 73 passengers who were blasted out of the sky off the west coast of Barbados. The Anglophone Caribbean became the theatre for the deadliest terrorist attack in the Western hemisphere up to that time.
The Cubana de Aviación flight CU 455 in which they were travelling had originated in Guyana. It went to Trinidad and then to Barbados with the intention of heading to Jamaica before terminating in Cuba.
It was no coincidence that the Prime Ministers of the same four Anglophone Caribbean states – Barbados’s Errol Barrow, Guyana’s Forbes Burnham, Jamaica’s Michael Manley and Trinidad and Tobago’s Eric Williams – had made the courageous decision to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba in December 1972. Their diplomatic demarche might have made their citizens targets for terrorist attacks.
The Caribbean is a complex region. Set astride major sea lanes of commerce and communication between North and South America, it is one of the most Balkanised regions on earth. The Caribbean used to be called ‘the cockpit of Europe’ and the evidence of ‘cockfights’ is visible everywhere in the names of admirals, buccaneers, conquistadores, privateers and pirates.
It comprises a variety of distinct jurisdictions with asymmetrical relationships among the big powers — France, the Netherlands, UK and USA – which still hold territorial possessions; the Circum-Caribbean ‘middle’ powers — Colombia, Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela — which have the ability to influence regional relations moderately and, at the next level, the small states which exert little or no influence on international affairs.
The security concerns of the big states – France, The Netherlands, the UK and the USA – in the Region and the fact that some seem to think that the sovereignty of the small states is only “conditional” raise questions about the Caribbean Community’s capacity to preserve peace or restore stability even among its member state. Heed should be paid to the advice of former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan: “You can do a lot with diplomacy but, of course, you can do a lot more with diplomacy backed up by firmness and force”.
The small states of the Anglophone Caribbean, economically challenged and geographically scattered over 2,640,000 km² of sea space, are not only vulnerable to threats to their security but are also incapable of responding to them decisively on their own. Collective action is desirable given the scarcity of human, financial and technical resources required to address the multiplicity of security issues.
‘Old’ threats including invasion, insurrection, intervention, international and domestic terrorism, mutiny, maritime disputes, secession, territorial claims and coups d’état still persist.
‘New’ threats emerged in the forms of transnational crimes: narcotics-trafficking, gun-running, money-laundering and illegal migration. These threats have been aggravated by other social aspects of crime such as the deportation from metropolitan countries of criminals who might have no cultural or familial links with, or in, the small states. The region has also witnessed the emergence of organised crime and violent ‘posses’ and gangs.
The variety of threats faced by the countries of the Caribbean are best illustrated by some country studies of security threats faced by small states in the Region over the past fifty years.
Anguilla, 1967: Anguilla voted in a referendum in 1967 to secede from the colony St. Kitts- Nevis- Anguilla. There was a unsuccessful attempt at diplomacy by the the then four independent states of the Commonwealth Caribbean – Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. It was agreed amongst these countries that they would establish a peacekeeping force to resolve the problem but the plan was abandoned. Britain eventually intervened with paratroopers and policemen without any participation of countries of the Caribbean. The separation of Anguilla from St Kitts- Nevis was formalized as a ‘fait accompli.’
Grenada, 1979 and 1983: Grenada witnessed an armed insurrection which resulted in the removal from office of an elected Prime Minister in 1979. Internal problems led to the collapse of the ‘People’s Revolutionary Government.’ The United States of America, the world’s most powerful state, in one of the most egregious examples of asymmetrical warfare in modern times, invaded Grenada, one of the world’s weakest mini-states, on Tuesday 25th October 1983.
The US objective might have been to terminate that country’s ‘Revolutionary Government’ four-year flirtation with socialism. The results, however, were to discredit the regional security cooperation and to damage the consensual principle which guided decision-making in the Caribbean Community. What followed was a lamentable tale of ‘coulda’, shoulda’ and ‘woulda’.
A pacific solution that ‘could’ have been wholly, regional in nature. It ‘should’ have excluded extra-regional military intervention. It ‘would’ have been in accord with international law and the UN Charter and, less bloodily, restored normalcy. Four states − The Bahamas, Belize, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago − opposed military intervention.
CARICOM stood divided on the most important issue of the security of a small state. Guyana, on the day of the invasion, introduced a resolution in the UN Security Council condemning the invasion and calling for the immediate withdrawal of foreign forces. Eleven members supported, three abstained and only the USA vetoed, the resolution. For a similar resolution in the UN General Assembly, 108 voted in favour, 27 abstained and nine voted against.
Trinidad and Tobago, 1970 and 1990: Trinidad and Tobago witnessed a mutiny in its Defence Force in 1970. No one knows whether military assistance was sought. None seems to have been provided.
The unprecedented arrest and near assassination of Mr Arthur Robinson, then Prime Minister during the insurrection of the Jamaat al Muslimeen in July 1990 in Port of Spain was one of the most egregious examples of the threat to that state’s stability. Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community who were meeting in Kingston, Jamaica at that fateful time issued the Kingston Declaration which, among other things, committed Caricom “to the establishment of a regional security mechanism”. Little was done then to give effect to their decision.
Haiti, 1994, 2004: CARICOM troops had been part of UNMIH – the United Nations Mission in Haiti – in 1995 on a Security Council mandate to facilitate the return of the legitimate Haitian authorities. Brazil and other South American states did not participate. It was UNMIH, nevertheless, that set the stage for the restoration of a commendable measure of democracy and stability to that state.
The incapacity of the Caribbean Community to respond realistically to a serious security threat to a member state was highlighted on the night of Sunday 29 February 2004. Then, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1529, authorising the immediate deployment of a Multinational Interim Force to Haiti. That Resolution, passed within hours of the unexpected termination of the Presidency of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, brought several months of painstaking diplomatic effort by CARICOM to a halt.
The military intervention of Canada, Chile, France and the United States of America in Haiti, authorised by Resolution 1529 is another ‘fait accompli.’ The Mission des Nations Unies pour le Stabilisation en Haiti – better known by its acronym, MINUSTAH, mandated by the UN Security Council is still there. The fact is that thousands of foreign soldiers from an amazing array of mainly non-Caribbean states assembled to conduct a major military operation in a CARICOM state.
That not a single Caribbean Community state stepped forward must be one of the strangest anomalies of regional security. The absence of CARICOM troops is explained by the Heads of Governments’ principled response to the unprincipled removal of the elected Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004. The Caribbean Community suspended Haiti’s membership and called for a UN investigation into the United States-backed regime change.
The securitization of regional integration:
The world and the hemisphere are well aware of the vulnerability of small states of the world, especially of the Caribbean. The special characteristics of the security threats they face have long been recognized by the international community. The United Nations General Assembly approved a Resolution in 1994 which inter alia:
• Recognizes that small states may be particularly vulnerable to external threats and acts of interference in their internal affairs;
• Stresses the vital importance for all States of the unconditional respect by all States of all the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, including the principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, non- interference in the internal affairs of other countries and the peaceful settlement of disputes and their consistent application;
• Stresses also the importance of strengthening the regional security arrangements by increasing interaction, cooperation and consultation;
• Appeals to the relevant regional and international organizations to provide assistance when requested by small states for the strengthening of their security in accordance with the principles of the Charter;
• Requests the Secretary-General to continue to pay special attention to monitoring the security situation of small States and to consider making use of Article 99 of the Charter;
• Calls upon the Security Council and other relevant organs of the United Nations to pay special attention to the protection and security of small States.
The General Assembly of the Organisation of American States in Resolution 1567 of 2nd June 1998 noted:
That the small island states have concluded that their security is multidimensional in scope and application and encompasses, inter alia, the military-political aspects traditionally associated with the security of states; the protection and preservation of the state’s sovereignty and territorial integrity; freedom from external military attack and coercion; freedom from external interference by states or by non-state agents in its internal political affairs; protection from environmental conditions and ecological disasters which could imperil its viability; the link between trade, economic development, and security; and the ability to maintain and protect democratic institutions which ensure domestic tranquillity…
The OAS General Assembly, again, in a Resolution adopted at the fourth plenary session held on 4th June 2002 observed:
That the security of small island states has peculiar characteristics which render these states specially vulnerable and susceptible to risks and threats of a multidimensional and trans-national nature, involving political, economic, social, health, environmental, and geographic factors;
That these security threats assume great significance in the security agenda of small island states because of the size of these states, their openness, and their limited capacity to manage these threats;
That there is a pressing need for a more effective management mechanism to assist the small island states in dealing with such multidimensional and trans-national threats to their security in a co-ordinated and co-operative manner; …
The Conference of the Caribbean Community Heads of Government at its 27th Inter-sessional Meeting held in Belize in February 2016 was concerned about the security situation in the Caribbean. The Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago is the Region’s lead on security matters. He highlighted, at that meeting, the serious security threats and challenges facing the Region. He impressed upon regional leaders the need for urgent and timely action to improve security across the Region.
The Prime Minister was not the first advocate of regional security. The former Prime Minister of Barbados, Mr Erskine Sandiford had lamented the fragility and vulnerability of the small states of the Caribbean. Speaking at the time of the Jamaat al Muslimeem insurrection in 1990, he had called for:
… the expansion and consolidation of the Regional Security System (RSS) in the Eastern Caribbean to include as many CARICOM states as possible. I would urge that the RSS be invested with the authority and resources to deal with all aspects of regional security including the interdiction of drug trafficking, surveillance of our coastal zones, mutual assistance in the event of natural disasters as well as threats to constitutional democracy from criminals, terrorists, mercenaries and other enemies of democracy… The Preservation of law and order and national security contribute to growth and development through the promotion of stability. We must therefore expand our integration efforts to include the area of regional security.
The Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), at its Twenty-Second Meeting held in Nassau, The Bahamas in July 2001, expressed concern over the new forms of crime and violence that continue to pose threats to the Region’s security. These new forms of crime have implications for individual safety and the social and economic well-being of the Region as a whole.
The decision to recognise ‘security’ as the fourth pillar of the Caribbean Community, taken by CARICOM Heads of Government at their inter-sessional meeting in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 2007 was significant. The Heads, considering the fundamental nature and scale of transnational crime, had also agreed to formalise their decision by incorporating this provision in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas which, in essence, is the Community’s constitution.
Security, therefore, has now been established on an equal footing with economic integration, foreign policy coordination and functional cooperation as one of the bases for the consolidation of the Caribbean Community.
The Heads agreed to establish a Regional Task Force on Crime and Security to examine the major causes of crime and to recommend approaches to deal with the inter-related problems of crime, illicit drugs and firearms, as well as terrorism.
This change in approach occurred at the Special ‘crime summit’ meeting in Port-of-Spain which agreed on a Strategy and Plan of Action to stem the rising tide of violent criminality by building on the legacy of the successful security co-operation arrangements put in place for the Cricket World Cup 2007.
The Caribbean actually has a Regional Crime and Security Strategy. It was adopted at the Twenty-Fourth Inter-sessional Meeting of the Conference of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community held in Port- Au- Prince, Haiti from 18-19 February 2013.
There is a long list of the occasions on which the defence and security forces of sister CARICOM states were used in limited ways to assist other states in time of security crises or natural catastrophes. The persistence of security threats, however, as exemplified by the Grenadian crises of 1979 and 1983 and the Haitian crises of 1994 and 2004, suggests that even current arrangements may be insufficient to meet the needs of member states. Their form and functions should be evaluated and, if necessary, supplemented by additional systems and mechanisms in order to achieve the wider strategic objectives of the states.
The preparatory work being done by the CARICOM Regional Task Force on Crime and Security, and existing systems such as the RSS, for example, could provide the models, for multi-functional organs, where possible.
The RSS was established with a clear mandate which is likely to be compatible, at least in part, with the objectives of most states, even those which are not members. According to the Treaty Establishing the Regional Security System:
The purposes and functions of the System are to promote co-operation among the Member States in the prevention and interdiction of traffic in illegal narcotic drugs, in national emergencies, search and rescue, immigration control, fisheries protection, customs and excise control, maritime policing duties, natural and other disasters, pollution control, combating threats to national security, the prevention of smuggling, and in the protection of off-shore installations and exclusive economic zones.
CARICOM, in spite of the existence of the Treaty and the establishment of an organisation, “… has not been an effective instrument in dealing with regional peace and security issues”. Not only is the RSS heavily dependent on foreign assistance but most CARICOM states are not signatories to the Treaty.
CARICOM may find that it is no longer optional, but obligatory to establish a system of common or collective security to preserve peace and ensure stability and economic prosperity in the Caribbean.
Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister who, fortuitously, is lead head of government with responsibility for regional crime and security issues in Caricom, has become the bell-wether of security cooperation in the Eastern Caribbean.
The Trinidad economy bore the expense for hosting several security agencies, including the Implementing Agency on Crime and Security, during Cricket World Cup (CWC) competition. Security arrangements for that event worked well and provided a matrix for an emergent security regime.
The inauguration of the Single Domestic Space, for example, albeit among only nine Caribbean Community member states, was a unique invention that accorded Caribbean citizens of any nationality freedom of movement − an unintended consequence of a fundamental feature of the Caricom Single Market and Economy.
The legal infrastructure provided for a raft of facilitation measures for immigration and cooperation in policing. The institutional architecture erected for the CWC, comprising agencies for operational planning, communications, and information-sharing, was also effective. Some of the elements of the security plan should now be adopted, upgraded, expanded and established on a permanent basis.
The lessons of the arduous preparation and subsequent successful execution of the security operations for the cricket competition should not be wasted. They did produce a template for regional security cooperation for major international events in the region. That experience contributed in no small measure to the security operations for the 5th Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.
Regional security cooperation, however, must move beyond mere events management. The sun has set on the new stadiums and the applause has subsided. Member-states should not exhaust their enthusiasm for security cooperation. There needs to be fresh thinking and new resolve to move away from chronic ‘adhocery’, and place these splendid short-term security expedients on a permanent organisational footing.
Tonight, my concern is about the future of the community; of our citizens; our children. Will we bequeath then a safe life in secure states?
The security situation in the Caribbean will not improve of its own accord. On the contrary, given events in other parts of the world, transnational terrorists, as in 1976, seem able to strike wherever they choose. A Security System to needed to respond to the new security problems. The lessons of the past should us to prepare for the future.
A Security System, in turn, is the vehicle to pursue collective security. Individual countries of this Community cannot, on their own, overcome threats posed by territorial claims, transnational criminal networks, epidemics and environmental jeopardy. A new security architecture is needed to make our region safe, deter aggressors, combat illicit trafficking and create a zone of peace in the Caribbean.
The Caribbean must be preserved as zone of peace. It must become a zone in which the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Caribbean states are respected; where the new security threats are extinguished, where our children can play in parks without fear of innocent victims of gangland violence and where our young people are not seduced into drug trafficking and gun-running.
The Caribbean can realize its postcard image as a region of tranquillity and peace, one in which human security is preserved and uplifted.
I end as I began, invoking Kofi Anan’s adage: “You can do a lot with diplomacy but, of course, you can do a lot more with diplomacy backed by firmness and force.” The Caribbean needs a combined force to ensure human safety and to safeguard the sovereignty of its members. It could be said, to paraphrase the well-worn quotation, “If you think that security is expensive, try disorder”.
I thank you.