Certain important changes took place in the Caribbean after the end of the Cold War. By the 1990s, the regional literature reflected a change in national concerns and began to show a greater interest in threats and situations of an economic nature, displacing the focus on political concerns (communism). The region suffered from threats to democracy and national security. Criminal practices such as drug trafficking, arms sales, money laundering and banking corruption were the order of the day in Caribbean countries such as Colombia, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Antigua. The threat was such that countries such as the Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago set aside the idea of the centralized state (an absolute precept that each nation is capable of handling its governmental, political and legal situations within its own territory without foreign interference) and sought help from beyond their borders.
Under the government of Hubert Ingraham, the Bahamas established a committee to investigate corrupt practices during the government of the Progressive Liberal Party. This committee had help from a judge from Bermuda who was born in Jamaica and direct cooperation from Scotland Yard in Great Britain, the FBI in the United States and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In the case of Trinidad and Tobago, the corruption was so great that in March of 1992, the assistant to the police commissioner, Rodwell Murray, publicly alleged that he was fired because he refused to cooperate with an internal drug trafficking network. In April of that year, the government named a Court of Appeals judge and a pastor from the Adventist Church to establish an investigative committee, but in May Prime Minister Manning declared his country unable to manage the corruption crisis and sought help from Scotland Yard and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). As a result, a drug cartel that had been in operation since 1984 was uncovered.
By 1992, corruption was out of control throughout the region, leading to violence and a lack of confidence in the ability of the authorities to manage the problem effectively by bringing in foreign assistance to solve or reduce part of the problems. Criminal organizations, gradually becoming more established, extended their tentacles throughout the Caribbean Basin. They established connections with important, key figures in organized crime such as Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar and his Medellín Cartel.
There has always been and always will be a state in the Caribbean Basin that is disposed to shelter a criminal of such stature, granting him asylum because of the significant flow of illegal income. For example, 75% of the criminals sought by international agencies have entered or lived in Panama at some time. Then and now, globalized and international corruption is a serious problem, with transactions and negotiations taking place in various jurisdictions. It is a big problem because the criminal organizations are very difficult to track due to their hierarchical nature and the breadth of territories covered, which go beyond the control of any single state, resulting in what could be defined as a new form of corruption that threatens the Caribbean Basin. It is the internationalization of corruption with the sea as the principal actor and ally. The sea facilitates international trade, and with the help of technology and communications it makes financial transactions, among other things, very easy. The Caribbean has become a bridge for some and a barrier for others: a bridge for the corrupt and a barrier for the institutions that tried to track them and capture them.
It is important to recognize that drug trafficking contributed to corruption and ran so deep that it was able to penetrate key elements and figures in the public and private sectors. By the end of the 1970s, the Cold War and communist rebels were no longer seen as the main threats, but instead the threat was the huge problem of national security that was so widespread across various sectors and factors that it could make the concerns about communist subversion seem banal or trivial. The 1970s and the 1990s were crucial times in preparing the way for traditional and bureaucratic corruption. Little by little, the corruption and the violence grew more deeply rooted in key sectors of society and the government. Many Caribbean Basin governments succumbed to questionable practices under the pressure of the economy and the underclass. Governments were involved in numerous contractual negotiations that increased the likelihood of illegal practices. By the end of the 1970s, the English-speaking Antilles had experienced a series of alarming events that was more varied than those previously produced by revolutionary threats: urban riots, mercenaries, a coup in Suriname, etc. Even still, some governments did not seem to grasp the seriousness of the problem.
In 1976, Tom Adams of Barbados did not recognize the danger, but by 1979 he had established the Barbados Defense Forces. In the case of St. Vincent, it eventually became apparent that the money laundered from American bank accounts in the branches of its own institutions was greater than its annual budget. Meanwhile, in Jamaica, after the election of a new government in 1989, Carl Stone admitted the huge threat to his country from drug trafficking. In January of 1989, a shipment of German weapons worth $8 million was discovered in the port of Kingston, a case that showed the magnitude and size of the criminal problem in the Caribbean. These guns were shipped from Portugal on a Panamanian-flagged vessel to a destination in Colombia. Another unprecedented case that revealed the huge problem of national security was the trial of Cuban General Arnaldo Ochoa along with thirteen other defendants in 1989. The main accusation was drug trafficking and they were sentenced to death. It was the strongest challenge any Caribbean Basin country could have faced. The most disagreeable surprise of all was the great likelihood of ties between organized crime and state institutions. All evidence suggests that possibility as real, which further reduces the hope that the authorities could ensure national security.
The world has long recognized the great threat that drug trafficking and terrorism present, and their devastating consequences and their ability to corrupt society and the state have also become clear. In 1987, the United Nations began working on the Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, designed to increase the effectiveness of authorities against illegal drug traffic in seven working areas. Despite these efforts, the problem has not been solved because, among other reasons, some countries refuse foreign interference in their internal policies.
Crime and corruption have always existed in the world but they have intensified over time. In places where the crime rate and corruption were once nearly imperceptible, both traditional corruption such as organized crime and white-collar crime have taken over society and the system, threatening national security. The issue of crime is now a part of the political campaigns in small Caribbean nations. In their campaigns, leaders promise to fight to lower the crime rate. Not all achieve it and not all continue to carry on the fight once they are elected. The goal should be to fight corruption and those who believe it is beneficial and necessary for development. Achieving this will require support from the international community and the United States, due to the magnitude and reach of these criminal networks.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: July 23, 2012.
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