No State is an Island

Address to the Ministerial Conference on Illicit Drug Trafficking, Transnational Organized Crime and Terrorism as Challenges for Security and Development in the Caribbean

Santo Domingo, 17 February 2009

Señor Presidente, Excelencias, Señoras y Señores,

Sobrevolando en los últimos días algunas de las paradisíacas islas del Caribe, pude observar la naturaleza y los preciosos recursos naturales de la región: mar turquesa, cielo azul, bosques verdes y playas blancas.

Lo único que no se puede contemplar desde ningún avión es precisamente la amenaza a los países del Caribe.

Hay que reconocerlo. El Caribe está siendo atacado por fuerzas naturales. Ahora está siendo atacado también por las fuerzas del hombre. El Caribe está atrapado en el fuego cruzado entre los mayores países productores de coca (en los Andes) y los mayores países consumidores (en Europa y Norteamérica). La mayoría de sus países, desde un punto de vista geográfico, son islas hermosas. Sin embargo, no están aislados del resto del mundo - de hecho, su destino está marcado precisamente por esta circunstancia.

Los criminales se sienten atraídos por esta bella región por las mismas razones que los turistas y los inversores - situación natural única, infraestructuras de mar eficientes y un sistema bancario extraterritorial. También se sienten atraídos por otros aspectos: a veces la falta de infraestructura jurídica, ausencia efectiva del control del territorio y, en algunos casos, una dudosa integridad del las autoridades de gobierno.

En conclusión, el Caribe posee un gran potencial para el desarrollo - y no solo en el sector del turismo; pero el desarrollo económico y social puede ser amenazado. Como aducía el estudio de UNODC y el Banco Mundial sobre Crimen, Violencia y Desarrollo, el Caribe es vulnerable a la delincuencia debido a su localización geográfica; pobreza; paro juvenil; desempleo; y disponibilidad des armas de fuego. Esto presenta una amenaza al crecimiento, las inversiones y a la prosperidad. De hecho, si unos países como Jamaica y Haití redujeran sus índices de homicidios al nivel de Costa Rica, su crecimiento anual se multiplicaría.

Por tanto, promover el desarrollo, y también el estado de derecho, la integridad y la seguridad en el Caribe es una prioridad primordial - para reducir la vulnerabilidad a las drogas y la delincuencia, y promover el desarrollo. En otras palabras, juntos tenemos que impedir que el crimen perpetúe el subdesarrollo.

Algunos de ustedes deben de estar pensando, si! Esto es verdad, ¿por qué la UNODC no tiene una presencia en la región? ¿Por qué se cerró la oficina en Barbados y no se volvió a abrir?

Esta es una pregunta justa que no quiero evitar. Hay que tomar en consideración la realidad de nuestro trabajo en el mundo. Déjenme que intente responderla en el idioma de Barbados.

In the Caribbean, like anywhere else on the planet, our work is project- driven. We don't run embassies, delegations or representations. We run programmes. Before it closed, the Barbados office had an empty portfolio and no money for projects - enough funds for the office manager so that he could live comfortably in one of the most exotic, and attractive places in the world. That was not a serious response to a serious problem: as a set of islands facing huge external threats, you need protection, technical assistance, and funds.

At that point in time, we decided to take a step back, take a deep breath and launch our analytical review of the crime and poverty links in the region. Our intuition was so good that the World Bank decided to join - hence the report that you have seen. And that was only a sort of an x-ray of the situation, a diagnostic. that we are now turning together with the Member States into an Action Plan.

I am confident that the political will generated at this meeting - manifested in your Declaration - and the Plan of Action will attract the attention and the resources needed to reduce the threat posed by drugs and crime to the Caribbean. That, quite logically, would lead to a scaling up of UNODC's engagement in the region, including an institutional presence. A complementary process will take place in Central America, starting with the Ministerial Conference in Costa Rica at the end of March. We mean business, we mean to defend this most extraordinary corner of the world from the presence of the world's most repulsive characters: organized crime and its cronies.

I suggest an approach based on three pillars: i) prevention; ii) criminal justice; and iii) regional cooperation.


First, prevention. Prevention requires a strong legal framework to control drugs, and to prevent crime and terrorism. I urge you all to ratify and implement the UN drug control treaties, the UN Conventions against organized crime and corruption, and the international instruments against terrorism.

What does this mean in practice? Prevent human trafficking and the smuggling of migrants by giving police and judges the skills they need to identify and disrupt criminal networks. One way is through computer-based training, as is done here in the Dominican Republic with support from UNODC. My compliments to our hosts for creating anti-trafficking units within the national police and Attorney General's office. I urge others to do the same.

Prevention means reducing the number of homicides and gun-related crime - your region has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Some people ask me not to publicize this as it may scare away tourists. Please! Tourists do not read UN reports or my statements: they read newspapers and watch television: every serious crime is heavily documented and reported. I therefore urge you all to tighten gun control in line with the UN Firearms Protocol.

Prevention means keeping young people away from drugs and crime. Youth violence and youth homicide rates in some of your countries are well above the world average. Young people are also usually the victims of crime. In too many of your jails, child offenders serve their time alongside adults. Do not forget that jails are the best university for crime in the world.

I urge you to promote school, family and community programmes that steer young people away from drugs and crime. Use sport as a way of building self-esteem and a healthy lifestyle. Consider alternatives to imprisonment, like drug treatment courts to send people with drug problems to rehab rather than to jail. Use community based programs, so that the individual weaknesses are compensated by the collective strengths. Given the resource constraint faced by some of your countries, off-premise alternatives to minor offences (whether drug related or not) would give you a chance to de-crowd prisons and return the detention centres to conditions or normality - without the obvious violation of human rights I have recently witnessed.

Improve your drug prevention and treatment programmes by joining the UNODC/World Health Organization programme that will scale-up evidence-based services (particularly in the developing world).

Prevent some of your urban neighbourhoods from being lost to drugs and crime by developing safer cities. To strengthen national and regional capacity to cope with urban crime, UNODC is reviewing the possibility to establish a Centre of Excellence in Central America to provide data analysis, threat assessments, and training on how to reintegrate youth gang members. There is plenty of experience to draw on, not least through countries in the region sharing of good practices. I encourage you to look at what the Dominican Republic has done in combining modern methods of policing with prevention initiatives taken by governmental and non-governmental organizations.  

Criminal justice

The second pillar is criminal justice - enforcing the rule of law.

UNODC assists countries of the Caribbean to implement laws to counter terrorism, fight organized crime, and control drugs. There is good progress.

But, lack of evidence often hinders investigations and prosecutions. UNODC will therefore establish Centres of Excellence in the region to enhance forensic capability.

UNODC can also provide technical assistance in other relevant areas, like witness protection, counter-kidnapping, and special measures to prevent violence against women and girls.

We can also help with prison reform. Some of your countries have the highest prisoner to population ratios in the world. In Haiti (where I was yesterday), more than 80% of inmates are still awaiting trial: so many countries in the region and beyond face a similar situation. Generally, there are too many children in your jails, and HIV in some prisons is at alarming levels.

As a priority, I urge you to protect the Caribbean from becoming a safe haven for dirty money. The time is over when financial schemes could be hidden in the accounting books. Look, for example, the publicity given to the Stanford financial scheme. Under the UN Convention against Corruption, bank secrecy should no longer be an impediment to criminal investigations. I urge you to close loopholes in your legislation to prevent corruption, money laundering, and the theft of assets. We can provide assistance to bolster your anti-corruption agencies and financial intelligence units.

Regional Cooperation

The third pillar is regional cooperation. This is essential because most of the threats that you face are trans-national. CARICOM already has a number of important initiatives like:

- the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force;
- the Coordinating Mechanism for Drug Control;
- the Regional Task Force and Management Framework on Crime and Security, otherwise called the Santo Domingo Pact;
- and the CARICOM Treaty on Mutual Cooperation on Fighting Crime.

So the building blocks for regional cooperation are in place.

But more could be done to improve intelligence-sharing, within the region and with other partners. There is also a need for greater international cooperation in prosecuting criminal matters, including extradition, mutual legal assistance, and confiscating the proceeds of crime. UNODC will be stepping up its regional assistance to train investigators and prosecutors to use special investigative techniques. And we are establishing a regional network to strengthen contacts among anti-organized crime agencies, together with a Centre of Excellence on Maritime Security.

As you will have noticed, most of the Centres are based in the region under threat. The idea is to strengthen cooperation between two regions that share many of the same neighbours and challenges. This involves building closer relations among states, and strengthening triangular cooperation between UNODC, CARICOM, and SICA (El Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana).

Señoras y Señores,

Como pueden ver, hay muchos retos, así como numerosas iniciativas. También hay una muy buena voluntad e interés en ayudar al Caribe - manifestados por el número de donantes presentes aquí hoy. Hay un verdadero sentimiento de responsabilidad compartida.

Conservemos y apoyemos esta buena voluntad a través del Mecanismo de Partenariado de Santo Domingo. Hagamos uso igualmente del Mecanismo para poner en práctica el Plan de Acción reduciendo así la vulnerabilidad del Caribe a las drogas y la delincuencia.

Muchas gracias por su atención y presencia.