By: Tony Best
Call it the curse of the worldwide illegal drug trade and its impact on the Caribbean and the United States.
Every day, somewhere in New York, Washington, Mexico, California or Chicago there is at least a homicide linked to sale, use or abuse of illegal narcotics. A somewhat similar tragedy occurs in the Caribbean where eight out of 10 victims, killed or injured suffered because of illegal narcotics. As a matter of fact, eight times out of 10 victims suffered because of drug trade.
It’s a nightmare that is expected to worsen before it improves. For as the United States and Mexican authorities continue their push against the cartels in South and Central America, especially the major traffickers next door to the United States, they are looking for alternative routes to get their products in the hands of addicts.
That’s why Washington policy towards the Caribbean is so crucial and why it must change. The worsening drug problem and its associated troubles – a flood of guns and bullets into the region, murders and a general weakening of the social and economic fabric of almost every country – have come at a time of considerable financial weaknesses in almost island-nation and coastal state. With their economies in decline, a hostile external environment a fact of life and no clear end in sight to their financial and social woes, the countries need a friend in Washington. They are also crying out for a more sympathetic ear from Britain, especially when it comes to the imposition of an unreasonable travel tax on British tourists traveling to Caribbean tourist destinations – the tax is higher for those visiting the Caribbean than tourists flying across the pond, the Atlantic Ocean. That unfair situation encourages English visitors to opt for the United States instead of the attractive destinations in the Caribbean.
The U.S. has introduced its security initiative that is designed to help the islands and territories reduce the trans-shipment of illegal narcotics through the Caribbean Sea and into the countries. The introduction of drones to anti-drug measures is one such development but it will provide only marginal relief, if past experience proves to be a guide. The provision of more financial and technological help would boost the region’s capability to prevent the current mess from deteriorating even more. The United States must see the region as an important ally whose economic and social crisis would have a negative impact on the North American colossus. An unrestrained drug trade with the U.S., the final destination for the drugs that pass through the Caribbean would mean that Washington and Mexico would be running fast to remain in the same place in the battle to reduce the illicit trade. Unfortunately, the Mexican and South American cartels have the resources to overwhelm the Caribbean whose Coast Guards, aircraft and other aerial assets are no match for those of the traffickers.
In an election year when the major political parties are spending more time undermining each other in the eyes of the American people than on extending a helping hand to countries in need, there is little chance of any special initiatives being undertaken this year with the approval of the House of Representatives and the Senate in Washington. What a tragedy. The Caribbean can’t afford to wait. Just yesterday Standard & Poor’s the major Wall Street credit rating agency, downgraded Barbados’ investment grade rating to “junk bond status,” a tremendous fall from grace for a Caribbean country that five years ago had an A-minus rating, one of the highest in the developing world. Barbados must now deal with a BB+ sovereign rating. The consequences are serious for the country should it be forced to enter the international capital markets. Loans would be tougher to negotiate and the cost of money would rise substantially, adding to the country’s precarious financial track.
But Barbados isn’t alone. The Bahamas and Belize have their ratings fall, mainly because of the impact of the international financial situation on their economies, especially the anemic economic growth in the United States, the Euro crisis and the prospects of an economic double dip.
The Obama Administration must give serious consideration to supporting a special international initiative to spur economic growth in America’s neighbors. It must also do more to reduce the shipment and sale of small arms and ammunition to the region. Granted, the Republicans in Congress are determined to derail any measure that would help small states, but the White House can’t sit with its arms folded as its Third border collapses.
Drones alone can’t get the job done. Trade, investment and a strengthening of the region’s economic system are good places to start.