The recent economic growth in Latin America is quickly turning the Carribbean into one of the world’s largest hubs for international cargo transportation. As global trade increases with economic growth, countries from all over the world are showing notice– Australia and China in particular are non-regional players that have recently expressed interest in the Carribbean region. As this happens, the usual suspects such as the United States, Canada, the Netherlands and Brazil are proportionally increasing their attention on the region.
But how secure is this vital yet difficult to police body of water? Cartel-related violence has plagued much of Central and South America for past decades, and is only increasing in many places. While some areas on land remain almost entirely governed by brutal gangs, other governments are having success that has caused much organizational movement and restructuring. Both of these factors has resulted in a particularly fluid and volatile situation which has caused many to worry that the violence on land will spill into the water, endangering the security of these vital shipping lanes. Additionally, demand for narcotics in North America and Europe, as well as heightened US border security has lead to an increased amount of drug trafficking over seas.
The Caribbean poses a unique problem for policing the waters, because of the many small and poor island nations throughout the east and west. Nations such as Jamaica, Puerto Rico and Curacao are not interested in policing waters beyond those in their territory. Even if they were, their defense resources are so limited that they would not be able to thwart the ever-increasingly capable cartels.
This leaves the job to the large regional players, yet also highlights the main challenge for them. Although there has been talk, there has been little solid action as far as shoring up a regional maritime agreement that would make policing non-international waters feasible for the countries like the United States, France, and even Canada.
While these larger countries are more than capable of securing international waters, their inability to enforce law once enemies move into territorial waters makes enforcement very difficult. Additionally, when opposing such a decentralized, shadowy operation, intelligence sharing is key for those with extensive capabilities.
Although difficult, stopping drug trafficking before the drugs enter one’s home country is by far the most effective countermeasures to a booming narcotics trade. For this reason, we can expect further efforts at regional cooperation. Joint-cooperative intelligence operations and drug enforcement action will make progress. Ultimately, it may be in the interest of the increasingly large number of global players interested in the region to establish permanent joint-security institutions to permanently secure this burgeoning region. Until that time, though, it may fall to the shipping industries themselves to defend their vessels against collateral damage or intentional assault.