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Region’s security apparatus tackling firearms trafficking, cybercrimes

Region’s security apparatus tackling firearms trafficking, cybercrimes
CARICOM Assistant Secretary-General, Human and Social Development, Ms. Alison Drayton and Chair of CONSLE, the Hon. Dr. Horace Chang, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Security of Jamaica listen to an intervention at the 24th CONSLE Meeting

The CARICOM Council for National Security and Law Enforcement (CONSLE) has ushered in a new era of cooperation over the past year to confront the emerging trends in criminal activity that represent a common threat to the Region. 

In an interview last October, the Hon. Dr. Horace Chang, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Security of Jamaica, said 2022 was a “good year” for CONSLE.  

Dr. Chang chaired the 24th Meeting of CONSLE and other security-related meetings in Trelawny, Jamaica 4-7 October, the first in-person meeting of the Council since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and the Council’s penultimate meeting of 2022.

The meetings included a maritime security engagement with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) which is providing support and technical assistance to develop a Caribbean Maritime Strategy. CONSLE had identified maritime security as one of the areas of common security interest to Member States of CARICOM. The other areas were firearms trafficking, cyber security and trafficking in persons. 

Under his tenure as Chair of the Council in 2022, a repositioned CONSLE has helped reawaken interest in the security arena given what is occurring in terms of firearms trafficking and cyber security, which provide another common purpose for cooperation within the regional security apparatus, according to the Jamaica National Security Minister.  

Providing a broad view of the security concerns during the year, he said, security experts were able to get a “good look at the challenges coming after COVID”. While COVID may have contributed to exacerbating those challenges, especially petty crimes and acquisitive crimes, the emergence of organised gangs was coming, and matured under COVID. Firearms trafficking – a major focus of the CONSLE Meeting – and homicides using firearms as the primary instruments, are Caribbean problems and “we need to get on top of that,” he said. 

He drew the connection between the illegal firearms trade and drug trafficking and “coming right behind, or almost simultaneously, the expanding cybercrime activity which … needs cooperation to deal with”. 

He said the Region became more sensitive to the need for deeper collaboration in the area of transnational crime. He referred to the involvement of the United States “in a significant way” in the efforts to secure the Region.  

“They have indicated a bigger footprint in the Caribbean than they had before. It is a good signal…,” he said, as he thanked the US for its support which is essential to change the security landscape. 

Several arms of the US Security architecture were represented at the security meeting where the discussions focused on transnational organised crime, particularly trafficking in firearms which Dr. Chang said was “maybe the greatest threat risk to the Caribbean countries.”  

The Deputy Prime Minister pointed out that while no CARICOM Member State manufactures firearms, the ill effects of their proliferation and contribution to gang violence and transnational criminal activities “permeates our respective territories and are responsible for more than 70% of homicides in CARICOM. It is within this context that it is important to disrupt and prevent illegal firearms and ammunition passing through our borders”. 

A week after the CONSLE meeting, INTERPOL reported that a joint operation in the Caribbean mounted with the Caribbean Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (CARICOM IMPACS) netted a large cache of firearms and drugs. The operation – Operation Trigger VII, from 24 – 30 September saw officers from 19 countries coordinating controls at airports, seaports, land border and inland hotspots, acting on intelligence pointing to organized crime groups and individuals involved in firearms trafficking. They made 510 arrests.  

A press release from INTERPOL said the operation also led to the impressive seizure of 10.1 tonnes of cocaine and 2.5 tonnes of cannabis, highlighting the convergence of trafficking routes, the use of firearms to control the illegal drug trade and the way firearms are used as “clear enablers” of most types of crime. CARICOM IMPACS hosted an operation’s hub in Barbados. Officers from INTERPOL, the Joint Regional Communications Center (JRCC), the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and US Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), worked side-by-side to provide real-time assistance to officers in the field, the press release noted. 

Speaking on the operation, Lt. Col. Michael Jones, Executive Director of CARICOM IMPACS, said: “Without this cohesive action among agencies, our region will not be able to effectively tackle illicit trafficking and by extension, transnational organized crime.” 

He added: “Operation Trigger VII allowed authorities to gain a better understanding of existing threats, patterns, trends and smuggling channels within the region, hence ultimately saving lives. I am indeed proud of the role CARICOM IMPACS played in the exercise and more so of its role as a coordination hub.” 

It is the kind of cooperation Dr. Chang envisions for strengthening coordination among Member States and institutions, and building critical partnerships to share information and intelligence data to disrupt organised criminal networks. 

“Plant the seeds that could give us the fruit trees in the Caribbean – that’s the best way to describe this year in CONSLE,” he said, as he pointed out that what occurs in 2023 will determine the sustainability of those efforts.