JO - Why not a multilateral info-pact between USA and Caricom?
Why not a multilateral info-pact between USA and Caricom?
Sunday, March 18, 2007
The annual official lecturing that comes from the United States in reports to countries on human rights abuses and narco-trafficking is currently facing quick and widespread criticisms from some governments of the Caribbean Community.
It is a situation that underscores the need for new initiatives for cooperation between the USA and Caricom and less of the harsh talk, blame-shifting and name calling involving suspected regional supply centres and the biggest consumer country of illegal drugs.
While adopting a moral high ground in the face of its reckless disregard for global public opinion for gross violations of prisoners' rights at Guantanamo Bay and other US detention centres; the increasing erosion of civil liberties at home and a gluttonous appetite by its nationals for illegal drugs, the US State Department routinely gives failing grades to countries in this region on human rights issues and for claimed failures to deal with crimes of narco-trafficking and money laundering.
Even Barbados, which often ignores some of the claims contained in these reports, felt obliged to respond to allegations by the State Department's Human Rights Bureau of the use of "excessive force" and "degrading punishment" by the country's police force against crime suspects to secure confessions, as well as references to "poor" prison conditions.
Official reactions Attorney General Dale Marshall was dismissive of the report as being "far-fetched" and noted that no request had been received, under his stewardship, from any human rights group to investigate the allegations in the report.
The official rejection of the US Human Rights Bureau claims, including "degrading punishment" (read that to mean torture) of suspects to force confessions, was followed up with its cheeky social commentary photo column, "quote, unquote" imaginatively showing Prime Minister Owen Arthur sarcastically whispering into the ear of President George Bush: "Beatings in prison? You mix us up with Guantanamo?"
Nor was the Jamaican police and prison authorities amused by the State Department's claims of unlawful police killings, abuses of detainees, and also about atrocious prison conditions, though support came for the allegations from the parliamentary opposition Jamaica Labour Party and the human rights body, Jamaicans for Justice.
The strongest reaction came from Guyana's President Bharrat Jagdeo and his attorney general Doodnauth Singh in relation to the latest State Department's "International Narcotics Control Strategy Report" that whacked the Guyanese government for failures to take effective actions to control drug-trafficking and the related problem of money laundering.
First the president and later the attorney general rejected outright claims of official weakness, bordering on disinterest in dealing with such crimes, and with Guyana also being a transshipment centre for narcotics into the USA.
They separately accused the US authorities for regularly failing to share information the State Department claimed to have on suspected Guyanese drug dealers and money launderers to enable joint and effective investigative responses leading to curtailment and eventual elimination of such criminal activities.
Jagdeo and Noriega
They maintained that no such cooperation had been forthcoming. The president went further on March 9 when he accused the US of "hypocritical lectures" against not only Guyana but other Caricom states, for claimed failures on the narco-trafficking front and also human rights violations and/or corrupt practices by law enforcement agencies.
Jagdeo disclosed during his address to the annual army officers conference of the Guyana Defence Force that following a 2003 request from Roger Noriega as US Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere that US-Guyana deepens cooperation on narco-trafficking and money laundering,
"I wrote him back," said the president, "and told him we will support this (cooperation call) but I think it is time that the United States and Guyana have a bilateral agreement on sharing information on illegal account or accounts held in two countries by anyone, public or private officials, who have gained these proceeds by illegal means, either by money laundering, drug dealing or tax evasion...But until today (March 9) I have not had a response for that bilateral agreement."
Like Guyana, Jamaica and other Caricom countries, Trinidad and Tobago bear the burden of a US-carved image as a major transshipment source for cocaine and other illegal drugs. In its 2006 report the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) identified the twin-island state as a "heroin hotspot", according to local media reporting.
Manning and Chertoff
Question is whether any bilateral agreement of the kind being sought by Guyana exists between the USA and Trinidad and Tobago; Jamaica and the USA, or with any other Caricom state. If not, why not?
Information-sharing, considered to be critical to security arrangements for the current Cricket World Cup 2007 tournament has led to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on security cooperation in October last year between US Secretary for Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, and Prime Minister Patrick Manning, on behalf of Caricom.
Chertoff had travelled to Port-of-Spain for the occasion. But it is time that the US, whose own interest had influenced Caricom into signing that security arrangements memorandum, provides its response to calls for bilateral agreements with Community partner states that could help in the fight against drug dealers and money launderers.
Perhaps we should move collectively as a united Community for a multilateral agreement on information-sharing of the kind proposed by president Jagdeo, if not one with more clout to meet the mutual interests of the USA and Caricom. The coming Washington Conference on the Caribbean in June, that includes a summit meeting with President Bush, seems a good opportunity to further explore such a regional initiative.