USA — Gates: ‘United States is Reengaging’ With Caribbean

BRIDGETOWN, Bar­ba­dos, April 16, 2010 — Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said he hopes today’s region­al secu­ri­ty sum­mit here and Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s Caribbean Basin Secu­ri­ty Ini­tia­tive send a strong sig­nal that “the Unit­ed States is reen­gag­ing with this region” after draw­ing down its pres­ence fol­low­ing the 9/11 ter­ror attacks.

Speak­ing at a joint news con­fer­ence today with sev­en Caribbean gov­ern­ment and defense lead­ers, Gates said he’s impressed by the inno­v­a­tive approach­es being tak­en to pro­mote col­lec­tive secu­ri­ty through the ini­tia­tive.

Fol­low­ing what he called a “very pro­duc­tive” meet­ing to dis­cuss fur­ther­ing those efforts, Gates laud­ed the Caribbean nations’ work toward mar­shalling lim­it­ed resources to address com­mon threats such as nar­co-traf­fick­ing and vio­lent crime.

These chal­lenges touch U.S. shores as well, and demand that region­al nations mount a unit­ed front to con­front them, Gates said dur­ing a joint news con­fer­ence with Bar­ba­di­an Prime Min­is­ter David Thomp­son.

Gates con­ced­ed that the drug traf­fick­ing prob­lem has wors­ened here due to the suc­cess of the Meri­da Ini­tia­tive and Mexico’s crack­down on drug car­tels there.

“Nar­co-traf­fick­ing is a prob­lem for the hemi­sphere as a whole,” he said, “and wher­ev­er you put pres­sure, the traf­fick­ers will go where there is less resis­tance and where there is less capa­bil­i­ty.”

Going for­ward, Gates said he would like to see broad­er efforts to con­nect the region­al secu­ri­ty sys­tem here with efforts under way out­side the East­ern Caribbean. This includes efforts by the French, Dutch, Colom­bians, Peru­vians and U.S. South­ern Command’s Joint Inter­a­gency Task Force.

The sec­re­tary praised Bar­ba­dos as a strong U.S. secu­ri­ty part­ner and a leader in pro­mot­ing secu­ri­ty coop­er­a­tion in the East­ern Caribbean.

“The Unit­ed States stands stead­fast­ly with you as you pur­sue long-term solu­tions to these prob­lems,” Gates said after meet­ing with the defense min­is­ters.

Much of that sup­port is pro­vid­ed through the Caribbean Basin Secu­ri­ty Ini­tia­tive that Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma pro­posed last April dur­ing the Sum­mit of the Amer­i­cans in Trinidad and Toba­go.

The ini­tia­tive has been built with exten­sive input from Caribbean nations with a cen­tral role for the region­al secu­ri­ty sys­tem, Gates not­ed today, all aimed at help­ing region­al gov­ern­ments face up to transna­tion­al threats.

The $45 mil­lion the Unit­ed States has com­mit­ted to the effort this year will help improve region­al mar­itime patrol and inter­dic­tion capa­bil­i­ties and domain aware­ness and pro­vide for addi­tion­al joint train­ing and exer­cis­es, he said.

Gates said details about how these funds will be allo­cat­ed are being ham­mered out by tech­ni­cal work­ing groups, with one con­vened today in Wash­ing­ton.

He empha­sized that region­al nations will be the ones to help deter­mine how the fund­ing can be most effec­tive. The Unit­ed States already has com­mit­ted three inter­cep­tor boats and com­mu­ni­ca­tions equip­ment, but Gates said he heard sug­ges­tions today about the need for more law enforce­ment train­ing and the stand-up of major crimes units.

How­ev­er, Gates empha­sized that the Caribbean ini­tia­tive rep­re­sents more as it pro­vides a com­pre­hen­sive approach to region­al secu­ri­ty. Its scope extends beyond mil­i­tary and secu­ri­ty assis­tance to address equal­ly crit­i­cal com­po­nents of the region’s eco­nom­ic and social sta­bil­i­ty.

The ini­tia­tive aims to pro­vide, “not just improved secu­ri­ty capa­bil­i­ties to con­front imme­di­ate threats, but also devel­op­ment assis­tance in hopes of address­ing the root caus­es of region­al prob­lems, such as the lack of edu­ca­tion­al and employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties, par­tic­u­lar­ly for youth,” Gates said. “That is a strat­e­gy we strong­ly sup­port.”

Fif­teen Caribbean Basin nations are includ­ed in the secu­ri­ty ini­tia­tive: Antigua and Bar­bu­da, The Bahamas, Bar­ba­dos, Belize, Domini­ca, Domini­can Repub­lic, Grena­da, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, St. Vin­cent and the Grenadines, Suri­name, and Trinidad and Toba­go.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)