Above: US Attorney General Eric Holder and Haiti President Michel Martelly (CJ Photo)
By Alexander Britell
PORT-AU-PRINCE – The United States will continue its “best efforts” to ensure regional security in the Caribbean, Attorney General Eric Holder said at a press conference Monday in Port-au-Prince.
Holder was speaking following high-level security talks with Caribbean Heads of Government at the CARICOM summit in Port-au-Prince’s Petion-Ville neighbourhood.
“We had a very frank and candid discussion — the kind of conversation that’s possible when partners and friends sit down around a table and speak to one another,” said Holder, both of whose parents were of Barbadian heritage.
The Attorney General said that US-Caribbean efforts have seen a “great deal of success” in recent years.
Much of that cooperation has taken place as part of the the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, a regional plan launched by the US, CARICOM and the Dominican Republic in 2009.
“I think think we all agree there’s still much work that needs to be done, further conversation needs to be had,” he said. “The United States has to understand the unique obligation it has in dealing with the issues that CARICOM nations face.”
According to Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who joined Holder and Haiti President Michel Martelly at the press conference, a major issue at the talks was that of the problems created in the Caribbean by criminals deported from the United States back to their home countries.
On that front, Holder said the US would look to give the Caribbean “as much notice as we possibly can before people are about to be released and deported back into the US.”
The aim would be that “meaningful steps can be taken by those nations, who will be receiving these people, to prepare for their receipt and to deal with any issues that they bring with them.”
Small arms were also a topic of the discussions, Persad-Bissessar said, with CARICOM making its position clear regarding the proposed UN Arms Trade Treaty.
While that treaty deals largely with weapons of mass destruction and the like, CARICOM wants a provision in the treaty regarding small arms trafficking, she said.
“We do not produce the guns here, in any of our nations, the guns flow into our nations,” Persad-Bissessar said. “[Weapons of mass destruction] are not the ones murdering our citizens.”
Trinidad, like much of the region, has faced a serious crime problem, leading Persad-Bissessar’s government to impose a temporary state of the emergency at the end of 2011.
On the Arms Trade Treaty, Holder said the US was “in the process of reviewing the treaty to determine the position we will take.”
But he said that the administration was working to deal with the problem of gun violence, which has moved to the political forefront in the US following the Newtown school shooting in December.
“If one looks at the proposals President Obama has made with regard to firearms and guns safety in the US, we are doing all that we can to decrease trafficking of weapons by those who do so illegally,” he said.
While Holder didn’t mention the US territories of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, which have been dubbed the US’ “Caribbean border,” regional crime has spread there as well — with the territory of Puerto Rico’s murder rate higher than any US state.
That will continue to present a major issue for the US as it seeks to strengthen security in the region.
“As a representative of the Obama Administration and of the United States, I have pledged to make sure that we continue our best efforts here in the region, that we be good partners, that we do all that we can to ensure the security of the people in these nations as well as the security of the people in the US,” he said.
This was Holder’s second official visit to the Caribbean, following a trip to Trinidad and Tobago in late 2011, also for security talks.