SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (Jan. 28, 2014) – U.S. Marine Gen. John Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command, right, speaks to reporters during a press conference hosted by Adm. Sigfrido Pared Pérez, Dominican Republic Minister of Defense, Jan. 28 in Santo Domingo to announce the start of the 2014 Caribbean Nations Security Conference (CANSEC). Defense, law enforcement and civilian leaders from 20 countries participated in CANSEC from Jan. 28-30 to discuss Caribbean security and ongoing efforts to bolster sustainment and information sharing in the region. (Photo by Jose Ruiz)
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (Jan. 30, 2014) -- Maritime interceptor fleets, information-sharing mechanisms, regional strategies and human rights were among topics covered by defense, law enforcement and civilian leaders from 20 nations who met in Santo Domingo Jan. 28-30 to examine security efforts in the Caribbean.
Hosted by the Dominican Republic just a short distance from the sea that bears the region’s name, this year’s gathering of the annual Caribbean Nations Security Conference (CANSEC) included the participation of delegations and regional representatives from Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, the Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Colombia, France, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, the Netherlands, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, as well as Trinidad and Tobago, and the United Kingdom.
“The Caribbean divides north and south, east and west,” Adm. Sigfrido Pared Perez, Dominican Republic Minister of Defense, told participants during his opening remarks Jan. 28. “Just as the Caribbean attracts (visitors) who want to learn more about it, (the region) also attracts international crime.”
The theme for the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM)-sponsored conference was “Caribbean security support to CBSI: Sustaining the capacity to counter transnational organized crime.” CBSI, short for Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, was developed by U.S. and Caribbean leaders to substantially reduce illicit trafficking, increase public safety and security, and promote social justice by integrating approaches that address those priority areas.
During the event, Francisco Palmieri, the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central America and Caribbean Affairs, updated participants on the progress and importance of the CBSI initiative.
“As the regional security initiatives in Colombia, Mexico and Central America produce successes, we know transnational crime and violence will inherently become a greater challenge in the Caribbean,” he said. “CBSI is providing a useful and necessary framework for regional coordination and collaboration to effectively prevent the impact and combat the presence of these transnational criminal organizations.”
Palmieri said the U.S. has committed more than $263 million to support the initiative since 2010, including more than $60 million in 2013.
As part of its assistance to the region under a CBSI-funded program called Secure Seas, SOUTHCOM donated intercept boats, communication packages, spare parts and tools, as well as provided training to Caribbean coast guard, naval and other maritime patrol forces.
Speaking to CANSEC attendees, Marine Gen. John Kelly, commander of SOUTHCOM, underscored the need for fiscally-minded approaches to supporting regional security as economic challenges force nations to judiciously use their security budgets and funds.
“We’re going to have to make every defense dollar we receive collectively work in exactly the right way and the most efficient way,” Kelly said. “Above all, any investment in maritime security made by USSOUTHCOM or CARICOM (Caribbean must be sustainable.”
To that end, one ongoing program under CBSI is funding and staffing a Technical Assistance Field Team (TAFT) to assist Caribbean nations with developing maintenance, logistics and procurement systems essential to sustaining the long-term readiness of maritime patrol forces and service life of critical maritime patrol resources.
U.S. Coast Guard Cdr. John Dettleff described the progress of the team’s efforts during a briefing on the program.
“With the assistance of the TAFT, we’re trying to help Caribbean partner nations better track the completion of preventative maintenance on maritime assets and maintain a sustainable parts inventory and stock, so that their interceptor fleets remain operational,” Dettleff said. “They rely on those fleets to interdict illicit traffic in their sovereign waters.”
According to Dettleff, the SOUTHCOM-based joint team will be fully manned in the spring, and its 15 members will focus on helping partner nations conduct boat assessments, implement a 10-year sustainment plan for their vessels, and develop and deploy a supportive maintenance/supply tracking system.
If successful, “ultimately, TAFT puts itself out of business,” he predicted, as regional maritime forces assume full oversight of their sustainment programs and systems.
A new mechanism for information sharing -- another key area of interest for participating nations -- was the focus of a briefing by SOUTHCOM’s Col. Scott Zamzow, who updated attendees on the Cooperative Situational Information Integration (CSII) system, an internet-based system that allows nations to securely share air, maritime and land tracks in near real time.
“We are nearly four months away from full operational implementation,” the colonel told participants, as he described the training tools and activities that will help users transition to the new system. Zamzow said CSII is easier to use than its predecessor system, is expandable and can support other missions, such as disaster relief operations.
CSII is one of several information-sharing mechanisms the U.S. is helping the region incorporate and utilize under CBSI to improve the flow of information among government agencies and nations working together to counter complex and sophisticated transnational criminal networks.
“In my mind, this is a no brainer, because it’s a low-cost way to improve both regional security and operational effectiveness,” Kelly said of the technologies that facilitate collaborative information exchanges among regional partners. “Maritime and air domain capabilities, for example, would be enhanced by better utilization of information-sharing technologies. Improved communication between our partners would also go a long way to addressing regional concerns over increased trafficking in illegal firearms and drugs.”
Maj. Murphy Pryce, representing the Caribbean Community Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (CARICOM IMPACS), updated attendees on the region’s Crime and Security Strategy and unveiled the Caribbean Counter Illicit Trafficking Strategy (CCITS), developed last year by CARICOM’s member states.
During their discussions, the delegations worked to identify exercises, as well as training activities and plans that will help the region “operationalize” its strategies and achieve shared goals.
SOUTHCOM’s Human Rights Office was a first-time participant in the conference. Office chief Leana Bresnahan provided an overview of the command’s Human Rights Program and extensive work with regional military and security institutions in support of human rights goals.
As she addressed the increasing role of regional militaries in support of law enforcement operations that target transnational organized crime, Bresnahan stressed the need for a strong human rights component for those missions to succeed.
“Countering transnational organized crime will be impossible if security and military forces don’t have the trust of the public,” she said, echoing a State Department official’s perspective expressed during a 2012 Human Rights Conference in Guatemala.
She commended the Dominican Republic for establishing the first armed forces Human Rights School in Latin America, where more than 20,000 military and civilian students have received human rights training and instruction since it first opened 14 years ago.
The conference concluded with an executive discussion among senior leaders centered on the implementation of CCITS, enhancement of information and intelligence exchange methods and procedures, participation in regional agreements, strengthening of current capabilities, and expansion of Joint Intelligence Operations Centers (JIOCs).
This year marks the twelfth CANSEC meeting sponsored by SOUTHCOM. The command hosted the previous conference at its Miami headquarters in 2012. Coverage of previous CANSEC in December, 2012