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US eyes on Ja's drugs links - New deputy American Navy officer for the region to aim at more than seizures

Published:Friday | August 4, 2017 | 12:00 AMRyon Jones
Chief of Defence Staff, Major General Rocky Meade (left) and Rear Admiral Stephanie Keck of the United States Navy.

Stephanie Keck, rear admiral of the United States Navy, has warned that Jamaica remains on the Americans radar as a transit point for narcotics in the Western Hemisphere.

In its latest International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, the US State Department named Jamaica among 22 countries worldwide considered major drug-producing or major drug-transit countries.

According to the report released in March: "Drugs flow from and through Jamaica by maritime conveyance, air freight, human couriers, and private aircraft. Marijuana and cocaine are trafficked from and through Jamaica into other Caribbean nations, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

"Jamaica is a transit point for cocaine moving from Central America to the United States, and some drug trafficking organisations exchange Jamaican marijuana for cocaine."

Now Keck, who will be the deputy commander of the American Navy team that deals with illicit trafficking operations, intelligence coordination, security corporation for the US Southern Command, which includes Jamaica, says narcotics remains a serious problem on this side of the world.

She told The Sunday Gleaner that when she takes up her post in October she intends to focus on the networks that are moving the illegal drugs, as she intends to have the task force doing more than interdiction.




"Yes, I have seen that Jamaica is considered one of the transit points, and so yes, it is on the radar," said Keck. "But what [we will do] specifically, I don't know yet."

Keck was one of 15 newly promoted US military general officers who made a two-day visit to the island last week, during which they attended a reception with the Jamaica Defence Force and met with the ministries of national security and foreign affairs.

In addition to Jamaica, the US general officers visited Colombia, CuraÁao and Mexico as part of the CAPSTONE curriculum, which helps newly appointed army officers prepare for high-level joint inter-agency, inter-governmental, and multinational responsibilities.

"The main thing that they try to understand is how the different pieces work together between, for example, the Ministry of National Security, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the US Embassy; so how we all combine these different elements to try and say disrupt international narcotics trafficking as one example," US Embassy counsellor for public affairs to Jamaica, Sri Kulkarni, told The Sunday Gleaner.

"So having that understanding from where they sit, for example, in Miami, will give them better perspective to plan deployment of resources and how we can cooperate and collaborate in order to fight these problems together," added Kulkarni.




He argued that Jamaica has a very important role to play due to its geographic proximity as well as the regional issues and, therefore, the US will continue to support the nation as a leader in the Caribbean.

"The problem definitely is a serious one here, and it is one of our top priorities to disrupt all of these criminal networks; narcotics trafficking, lotto scammers, and other transnational crimes," said Kulkarni.

"If we can do that successfully here it is going to be better for Jamaica and better for the United States."

During the general officers' meeting with Security Minister Robert Montague last Thursday, he shared with them a historical perspective of how crime and violence came to be such a serious issue in Jamaica before underlining some of the weaknesses hampering efforts to tackle the issue.

"The minister highlighted the weaknesses that we are trying to fill, such as increasing the capacity of the police force by increasing the training capabilities to balance the attrition rate, which would be a message being sent that we need support," said Dianne McIntosh, permanent secretary in the Ministry of National Security.

"There was also reference to technology because we are building out our technology capacity as we are moving into a much more digital transformed security environment. So I hope they would have taken that message away and continue the support that they have been giving Jamaica."