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U.S-Caribbean Relations Grow Tense Over Anti-Drug Treaty with Jamaica


February 1997

U.S. pressure to allow U.S. ships to operate in Jamaican waters to pursue drug traffickers threatens to undermine anti-drug efforts in the Caribbean. About a dozen other Caribbean nations have signed accords with the U.S. to allow the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy to penetrate the 12-mile territorial limits around each country. But Jamaica has been offended by what they regard as strong-arm tactics and intrusions on its sovereignty (Larry Rohter, "U.S.-Jamaica Spat Undermines Region's Anti-Drug Efforts," New York Times, February 9, 1997, p. A12).

Jamaica does not oppose such an accord, said Seymour Mullings, Jamaica's foreign minister, but the country was offended and puzzled when Patricia Hall, director of Latin American and Caribbean programs at the State Department's Bureau of Narcotics and Law Enforcement told a TV audience that the U.S. was aware of at least one elected representative in Jamaica who is tied to drug traffickers. Hall said that Jamaica's "lagging" anti-drug efforts were leading to "the danger of decertification."

Each year by March 1, the U.S. certifies other countries as making what the U.S. views as adequate efforts to stem the flow of illegal narcotics into the U.S. Failure to be certified leads to sanctions (See "U.S. Releases Annual Report Card on International Antinarcotics Progress, Decertifies Colombia, Gives Full Certification to Mexico," NewsBriefs, April 1996). Jamaica is a major producer of marijuana and an transit point for cocaine bound to the U.S. Jamaican Prime Minister Percival J. Patterson said his country is cooperating fully with the U.S., and wants an "unequivocal retraction" of Hall's statements. "We find it difficult to accept that negotiations should proceed with a threat of decertification hanging over our head," Patterson said, adding, "We intend to maintain our self respect."

The perceived threat by the U.S. has united Jamaicans behind their Prime Minister, according to Stephen Vasciannie, a lawyer and professor at the University of the West Indies in Kingston. The U.S approach has "enabled the Government to couch the debate in terms of the big, bad U.S. pressuring us," said Vasciannie. Jamaica's position has also won support of other Caribbean nations, including ones that have already signed agreements with the U.S. After an emergency meeting in Barbados, the Caribbean Community issued a statement in which 14 heads of state "rejected any suggestion or threat of coercive measures as a means of extracting compliance with predetermined policies." Antigua Prime Minister Lester Bird, chair of the Caribbean Community, wrote President Clinton and requested "a meeting at the highest possible level at the earliest opportunity in 1997."

Caribbean leaders have expressed frustration over three issues: (1) U.S. demands for increased anti-drug cooperation as the U.S. cuts economic aid to the region. (2) Refusal to grant their country's products the same access to American markets that Mexico has. (3) Blocking the Caribbean's preferred access to Europe for export of bananas, viewed as the region's only commercially viable crop (other than marijuana).

Jamaica has stressed what K.D. Knight, Jamaica's Minister of National Security calls "a comprehensive package approach" to anti-drug efforts, which includes more aid to Jamaica and increased U.S. firearms interdiction efforts. Jamaican officials contend that guns smuggled into their country rom the U.S., often by drug smugglers, are partly responsible for the country's high homicide rate. "The gun issue is integrally connected with the drug issue," said Knight. But American officials respond that its officials negotiating the ship agreement are unauthorized to discuss a broader accord.