Borders beyond the sand

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Antigua & Barbuda’s Chief Immigration Officer Annette Mark has appealed for help to protect our porous borders. The call comes in the wake of the discovery of 411 pounds of marijuana, worth $1.6 million, buried in the sand at Long Bay, along with two guns and 94 rounds of ammunition. Prior that discovery, three Venezuelan men and another man from the Dominican Republic were caught at Long Bay shortly after they allegedly entered the country illegally on a boat.

For as long as we have known ourselves, border control has been an issue for Antigua & Barbuda. The beautiful beaches and laid-back way of life that makes our bit of paradise so great is also what makes our borders so porous. The issue goes beyond just the narrow scope of what people presume border control to be, and extends into the sea. Many do not understand that our borders do not stop at the sandy coastline but extend to an economic zone miles beyond our shores.

While the scope of Ms Mark’s responsibility and authority is, in practical terms, restricted to our land masses, it is clear that she understands the problem and knows that the solution is better tackled from the sea (as a first line of defense). She said, “One of the things we boast about is having 365 beaches, a beach for every day of the year, but unfortunately for us, monitoring those 365 beaches is also a task. A proper radar system might help; more equipment for the Coast Guard might help. The problems that we face are not easy fixes … that is why we seem to be transit points in respect to drugs and ammunition.”  (Oh boy!  We hope that last bit does not make into the next INCSR report!)

In the chief immigration officer’s assessment, the country is in need of intervention from international crime-fighting partners to address the lack of resources to police the situation. An assessment that we do not disagree with because we are eternally challenged for resources in almost all aspects of our lives. What we would like to see, however, is a new way of looking at things. For many years, we have asked why our law enforcement and military are not re-prioritised. Why hasn’t the Coast Guard been given greater resources to act as a prevention rather than waiting for the police to provide a cure?  We have also wondered why our Defense Force’s priorities are not realigned towards being a seafaring patrol first and a land based force second. 

We will concede that there may be some very good reasons why it is the way it is, but from the outside, it would appear that we need a stronger sea presence than we do a land-based one. A stronger Coast Guard would help to not only guard our porous land border but will be able to patrol our waters and protect our ocean resources from poachers. 

An axiom, attributed to Benjamin Franklin, states: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” We see that as being particularly applicable in this situation. If we are able to stop persons getting to our shores then we will require less resources to stop (ie, cure) the badness that they import with them. Our reputation as being a transshipment point will be mostly eliminated and we will all feel safer. As well, our ocean resources will be better protected and the economic benefits will be better preserved for our fisher-folk and our economy.

This just seems like an opportunity for us to take a common sense approach to solving a problem, at least in part, rather than waiting and hoping that we will get outside assistance from “international crime-fighting partners”. Let’s face facts, the country most interested in arresting the transshipment issues in the Caribbean is the United States of America, and we doubt that we will be seeming much aid coming our way in the near future. We need to come up with the best homemade remedy that we can because our big brother to the north will be doling out less and less aid as time goes on.

Ironically, their troubles are really nothing more than a larger incarnation of our problems. They shy away from investing the proper resources to prevent or limit the drug and other problems beyond their shores but they will spend gobs of money attempting to cure the problems once they reach their home. And as the world moves away for a global perspective on issues, and countries retreat into the new political orientation of protectionism and isolation, the problems will magnify. 

We all can agree that the United States’ success at drug interdiction in the Caribbean has been spotty but that can be attributed to many things, not the least of which is the desire of the US to do it themselves rather than supporting Caribbean islands to take responsibility for their borders with their help. Simply put, they didn’t (and don’t) trust us. 

One needs only look at the Letter Report dated 04/17/96 and entitled Drug Control: US Interdiction Efforts in the Caribbean Decline and you would quickly see that as much as things have changed over the last 20 years, much has stayed the same.

Want something more up to date? In 2012, the Director of the Narcotics Affairs section at the US Embassy in Barbados, Kurt Van de Walde said: “There is certainly one piece of the puzzle and the regional security system tells us that, in the last two years, 50 per cent of the contacts they have made with suspected trafficking vessels leaving South America there has been no one in the water in the eastern Caribbean able to respond because they didn’t have vessels to go out and inspect the suspecting trafficking boats.”  No one!

It is time that we fend for ourselves and use our limited resources more efficiently. We need to think smarter and if help comes along in the future, we can only make the solution better.

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