By: Tony Best
Barbados’ Attorney-General, Adriel Brathwaite, has given the green light to the introduction of U.S. unmanned surveillance drones to track movement of illegal drugs through the Caribbean.
With the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s setting aside almost $ 6 million to acquire a new sophisticated “unmanned aerial vehicle” to help spot fast-moving boats and semi-submersible submarines loaded with South American cocaine and heroin and with Caribbean marijuana bound for the U.S., Brathwaite said that anything to aid the region’s efforts to limit the illegal trade in narcotics would be welcomed by Barbados.
“Once the drones are being used to gather information about drug trafficking that would be alright with us,” was the way Brathwaite put it to the Carib News in New York. “We cannot fight the drug trade on our own. It’s my understanding that the drones are being earmarked for the Caribbean and would be used primarily in the Western Caribbean, the area between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Any use in the Eastern Caribbean to provide us with information about the movement of illegal drugs in our part of the world would be useful for us. I would have no problem with the drones for that purpose.”
Washington’s decision to introduce drone flights across the Caribbean has come after 18 months of tests over the Bahamas and it will amount to a dramatic increase in the use of surveillance aircraft over the Caribbean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. They are being put into use as evidence mounts that both the Eastern and Western regions of the Caribbean are being used to ferry more drugs to the U.S. and Mexico.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has already mapped a flight path for the drones so the highly sophisticated equipment on board can keep a closer watch on vessels moving drugs through the Caribbean. The delivery of the first new drone to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency in Florida means the operation there will have an unmanned aircraft specifically directed at the Caribbean.
Like the Barbados Attorney-General, Luis Fortuno, Puerto Rico’s Governor, sees the drones as a valuable ally in the battle against drugs.
“We need help fighting this battle along the Caribbean border to protect U.S. citizens there from being buffeted by violence,” Fortuno said recently.
With the addition of a new drone, the Department of Homeland Security can use its fleet of nine unmanned aerial vehicles to get the job done, say U.S. authorities and they will be in a position to double the area patro9lled by the aircraft which can remain aloft longer than conventional equipment.
However, a question mark remains over the effectiveness of the drones.
According to U.S. officials, especially Coast Guard officers, Drug Enforcement Agency veterans, military personnel and some civilian experts, the drones don’t have a stellar record in detecting drugs.
“We have no systematic evidence on how effective they are,” said Bruce Bagley, a University of Miami counter narcotics expert in Coral Cables Florida.
U.S. Air Force General Douglas M. Frazer was quoted by the Los Angeles Times newspaper as saying he wasn’t sure about the UAV’s effectiveness, adding “because it’s a UAV” it didn’t mean “it will solve and fit into our problem set.”
For his part, Brathwaite, who is also Barbados’ Minister of Home Affairs, said that the Barbados Coast Guard, the Police and the Regional Security System which involves the Eastern Caribbean island-nations were doing an “excellent job” in containing the flow of illegal drugs into Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean.
“Once they are being used for information-sharing purpose then they would be acceptable,” the Attorney General said.
He was in New York to attend a Bajan fun day at Canarsie Park in Brooklyn on Saturday that was attended by at least 5,000 people and a town hall meeting at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church on Sunday evening.
Both events were sponsored by the Friends of Barbados DLP Association, the ruling Democratic Labor Party’s arm in the United States.