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Face to Face: A Conversation with Ivelaw Griffith
Q. Let me start with a bottom-line question: Is the Caribbean a security threat to the United States? A. The region is not a security threat. However, because of a variety of factors, the Caribbean could be used as a staging area to attack the United States -- either the homeland itself or to attack the nation's interests. The first is the geographic proximity; the Caribbean is right next door. The region itself is another factor. It, in part because of tourism, has open borders, a relaxed approach and a welcoming attitude, which could lead people to exploit that.
Q. What are the U.S. interests in the Caribbean?
A. The U.S. gets a significant amount -- the last figures I've seen are 32 percent -- of its oil and liquified natural gas from the Caribbean. The oil coming from Venezuela, which is also part of the Caribbean Basin, is another important American interest. The U.S. is the single largest importer of liquified natural gas from Trinidad and Tobago. If you affect the production of that gas or the petroleum from the Caribbean, you're affecting this nation's interest. It may not be a dramatic impact, because the U.S. has other sources of imported oil. But it will cause a ripple effect on other people who produce and sell to the U.S.
The U.S. also has refining operations there. There are big refining operations in the U.S. Virgin Islands, in St. Lucia and Curaao. Actually, the second-largest, if not the largest, refinery in the Western Hemisphere is in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
If you go to Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Guyana or Suriname, and ask what is the critical manufactured product, they will tell you bauxite. Most of the bauxite produced in the Caribbean comes to the U.S. Each of us uses bauxite and not just the aluminum foil. You can't build F-16s without bauxite. You can't operate the electrical industry without bauxite. It's not like the Caribbean is the only source, but it's cheaper because the shipping costs are less expensive.
I can't forget offshore banking. Over the last decade and a half, offshore banking, insurance and finance have grown tremendously in Caribbean countries. Some countries that were not major players are now beginning to develop an interest in it, like Barbados, Belize and the Cayman Islands. The Bahamas is a key player.
Q. We have a problem providing security with the openness here, but we have the resources. Are the resources there in the Caribbean?
A. The resources are not there, which makes it important that Caribbean countries do partnerships at two levels. They better partner among themselves, and they also have to partner with the U.S. and other countries because those partnerships are in the other countries' interests. For example, a lot of people don't realize that Guadaloupe, Martinique and French Guyana are integral parts of France. Therefore the French have an interest in the Caribbean. The Dutch have an interest in the Caribbean. The British still have colonies in the Caribbean. So Caribbean countries need to partner with the United States, the French and the Dutch so that the resource limitations there can be overcome.
No Caribbean country has enough sea assets, coast guards and navies, to do the work. I was telling colleagues in St. Kitts about an incident that the head of a certain defense force in the Caribbean shared with me. This defense force's coast guard vessel was chasing a drug trafficker and the coast guard boat ran out of fuel. They had to get help from the French out of Martinque. They hadn't had a maintainence program for years, in part because they don't have the resources to maintain the vessels, and they didn't realize that the fuel gauge was broken. That may be a small thing, but it is symbolic of larger issues. If you look at the critical intelligence-gathering, most Caribbean countries have to rely on U.S. intelligence sources. There's no independent assessment. The resources aren't there.
Jamaica and the United States have undertaken a massive partnership on the port security issue, but come July 1, all Caribbean countries have to meet new international standards. You're talking about additional pressures on countries where the resources aren't there. If you know that and I know that, the bad guys know that. Some of the bad guys have a better intelligence system than many of the smaller Caribbean countries do.
Q. You've been concerned about the impact of the drug trade on the region. What's the impact on the region now and have we responded to it adequately?
A. I wrote a book called Drugs and Security in the Caribbean: Sovereignty Under Seige. Part of the research involved spending three nights aboard a U.S. Coast Guard cutter doing drug interdiction. It drove my wife crazy, but I wanted to do it. I remember asking the captain what was his biggest high in fighting the drug guys. He told me: "Professor, there isn't any! We aren't able to match their capacity to move the drugs." This Coast Guard cutter was 270 feet long and its maximum speed was 28 knots. Some of the drug guys have boats that go 65 knots. So, if the big United States has limitations in its ability to match the resources of drug traffickers, imagine the limitations of the smaller Caribbean countries.
The resources were not there before 9-11. Since then you have a clear and present danger which for most countries in the hemisphere requires adequate response. What does that mean? It means you have to divert resources from one area to another; and when you shift resources, you create space for the bad guys. They're going to look to see how to best exploit those vacuums of security engagements, and those vacuums are there.
It will become imperative that the Caribbean countries do a reality check. Where are we in terms of the threat? Where are we in terms of the resources we have and those we can acquire, and how can we best plan for contingencies, rather than be in a totally reactive mode?
Unfortunately, the reality for most Caribbean countries is that they're in a reactive mode.
Q. So, who are the bad guys? We're talking drug traffickers but are there others?
A. I've long argued that in the Caribbean context and in the context of small countries, the issue of security cannot be seen in a military aspect. What's true of post-9-11 is also true of pre-9-11. There have been threats to Caribbean sovereignty and the quality of life from the drug traffickers, but there's a larger non-military threat that is emerging from HIV-AIDS. The issue of AIDS is a long-term threat to stability, integrity and security of the Caribbean countries.
In addition to that, the grinding poverty in the Caribbean is going to set the stage for a lot of political discontent, and Haiti is just one example. The Dominican Republican for the past three years is another. Guyana and Jamaica are evidence of that. The poverty is going to precipitate and spawn discontent where the enemy isn't on the outside but is within a country's borders.
Q. Has your research uncovered any al-Qaida or any of their sympathetic allies in the Caribbean?
A. No! There is the tendency to go looking for a bogeyman.There was talk last year that Jamaat-al-Muslimeen in Trinidad and Tobago may have had ties to al-Qaida. Why? Because some members of the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen had gone to Libya and to other parts of the Middle East and they've met people who were part of the larger cohort of al-Qaida.
The majority of the population in Guyana and a signficant part of the population in Trinidad and Tobago is of Oriental-Indian descent. Most are Muslim. Now since al-Qaida is Arabic and Muslim, there have been some tenuous assertions, inclinations, speculations -- and in some cases in Brazil and Venezula, proof -- of connections between indigenous Muslims in South America and people back in the Middle East. But, that in itself is a clarion call for Caribbean countries to find out whether or not there is the basis for concern over and above the anecdotes.
Q. Describe your Discreet Multi-Dimensional Framework outlined in your book. How is the concept different from what we have now?
A. It's different in two senses. First, it takes a broad, holistic approach to security, and in that respect, it says that you have to consider several things like military, political, economic and in many cases the environmental dimensions. What happened in Haiti and the Dominican Republic was not a military threat that led to recent flooding. That was an environmental issue that has so much of a capacity to undermine the economic and social fabric of those two countries.
But beyond that, you have to look at some of the actual and potential threats. Terrorism is there, whether we like it or not. Drugs are there. I list poverty there. I put crime there. I put hurricanes there. Not that hurricanes, crime and HIV-AIDS exist in the same way in every part of the region, but I talk about core threats and peripheral threats, and the responses and the arenas in which those responses occur.
Some of the responses, for example, have to come from the military. But, the military can't solve your economic or AIDS problem. So you have to find political, economic or emergency management responses, and those responses may be from within the country or a regional or hemispheric approach.
So, the framework constructs a holistic and integrated way of dealing with security and argues that the proof of the pudding is in the implementation.
Q. Is the Haiti crisis, and more importantly the way the U.S. deals with it, something Caribbean nations pay attention to in assessing our nation's emphasis on security in the post-9-11 era?
A. In 1994, there was a Caribbean Battalion through the CARICOM states. The Caribbean Battalion was in Haiti, but when you ask if the member countries who made up the battalion could have gotten to Haiti on their own, the answer would be "no." Countries like Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, the Domincan Republic or Belize don't have the logistical capacity to take their forces to a place like Haiti. Putting aside the political quagmire in Haiti or the controversy surrounding the exit of President Aristide, there are limitations to what the Caribbean countries can do on their own as a region. That is not to say that they aren't interested in making a difference in Haiti, or elsewhere. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Q. The Caribbean has been a stepchild of foreign policy. Why is that, and what do you think will have to happen to change it?
A. Big powers like the United States think in terms of strategic interests and priorities. Some of that is based on what they see as major threats. The Caribbean has never been a main threat. Even in the heyday of the '60s and the '70s, when Maurice Bishop, Fidel Castro and Michael Manley were on the left of the spectrum, the Caribbean was never a big enough threat for the United States to exercise too much investment of resources in it. The U.S. has been able to exercise big brotherhood in the region, partly because of those economic linkages, partly because of aid and partly because of the migration.
There were spikes. When Fidel was being more vocal, during the '60s and '70s, there was more attention paid to the region. When drug trafficking increased significantly, there was more attention. It didn't last.
Resources tend to go where the significant threats are perceived to be. Is that the optimal conditon in which to operate? No, but that's the reality of the region.
BACKGROUND Ivelaw L. Griffith, Ph.D., is professor and dean of the Honors College at Florida International University. He is a specialist on Caribbean and Inter-American security and narcotics issues. His research has taken him to covert drug interdictions and to meetings with various heads of states in the Caribbean Basin. He has been a consultant to several governmental and security organizations. A native of Guyana, Griffith has written six books on security matters in the region. He has also edited Caribbean Security in the Age of Terror, which is a compilation of articles on Caribbean security in the post-9-11 era.