Rosalea Hamilton | Border security: More questions than answers
On October 21, the news that a key suspect in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was found in Jamaica, coming only days after the news of cult murders in Montego Bay, sent chills down the spine of many of us in Jamaica.
It has heightened concerns about personal/family safety and security, and added another layer of mental stress and anxiety to the existing COVID-related stress levels. Given our constitutional right “to life, liberty and security of the person” under Section 3 of The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms (Constitutional Amendment) Act, 2011, many legitimate questions are being raised. A central question is: Are our borders adequately protected to keep citizens and residents in Jamaica safe and secure?
The key suspect, Mario Palacios, is accused of being one of 26 Colombian mercenaries involved in the murder of President Moïse. It has been reported that three Colombians were killed by Haitian armed forces and 20 more were detained. So did Palacios come to Jamaica with the other missing suspects? What is his mission in Jamaica? The Haitian National Police has warned that Palacios “is very dangerous”. This frightening warning raises the question: Did he (or they) bring high powered weapons with them capable of overpowering our armed forces?
GATEWAY FOR DRUGS AND AMMUNITION
But how did he (they), with possible weapons, enter Jamaica? One answer is through the 145 illegal ports of entry and 497 miles of unmonitored coastline which has been the gateway for drugs and ammunition for many years. To address this, Jamaica made a significant investment in the Jamaica Defence Force’s (JDF) aerial and maritime capabilities with the acquisition of the Beechcraft King Air 350 WR maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) and two Bell 429 helicopters which were commissioned into service on November 14, 2018. Prime Minister Holness noted that it represented “one of the single largest investments that any Government of Jamaica has made in the area of security.” Over the years, millions of dollars have also been invested in new technologies at our ports of entry, patrol boats, ships for the army and surveillance planes. But are these investments adequate or effective?
Last year, Anthony Clayton, a security expert and professor at the University of the West Indies (UWI), noted that each month, between 150 and 200 firearms are smuggled from Haiti into Jamaica, fuelling the high rate of gun-related crimes. Criminal gangs in Jamaica and Haiti are engaged in a deadly ‘guns-for-drugs trade’, exchanging marijuana for guns. Newer, higher-powered weapons also enter Jamaica from the United States. Prof Clayton is of the view that: “There is higher-level collusion … . The fishermen are not doing this on their own.” Is there a ‘higher-level collusion’ linked to the presence of Palacios in Jamaica?
Many questions about the adequacy of our border security and the effectiveness of our investments were also raised in January 2021 when a deregistered plane, bearing the Mexican flag, crash-landed in Rocky Point, a place notorious for being a hub in the guns-for-drugs trade. Eyewitnesses saw three men walking away from the crash site. Did they leave Jamaica undetected? If so, how? If not, are they still in Jamaica? Commenting on the mystery plane crash on January 22, 2021, Attorney-at-law Danielle Archer questioned the adequacy and effectiveness of our investments in “protecting the entire border regime of Jamaica”. In a press conference on February 1, Police Commissioner Anderson informed the public that the police knew who were flying the plane and that the incident was the subject of a transnational investigation. Were they eventually caught? The Gleaner reported that its archives revealed “at least four plane crashes and an interception since 2008 that were believed to be part of a drug trans-shipment network spanning the Caribbean, North America and Europe – with Jamaica at its hub.”
Transnational organised crimes (TOCs) have been part of Jamaica’s criminal landscape for a long time. TOCs include human trafficking. The 2021 US Trafficking in Persons Report on Jamaica, noted that Jamaica “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.” Jamaica remains on Tier 2. Recently, concerns about child trafficking were again raised when 2 girls went missing in Bath, St Thomas. Can more secure borders protect Jamaicans, especially our children, from being smuggled into the lucrative international human trafficking trade?
TOCs pose a significant and growing threat to national, regional and international security. International collaboration is therefore essential. Recognising this growing threat of TOCs and the cross-border movement of foreign terrorist fighters, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2396 in 2017. It calls on member states to take effective measures to address these threats, and imposes international legal obligations on member states in the areas related to border security and information exchange. Does Jamaica have a border control system based on biometrics and analytics? In response to this question, the National Security Minister Chang told Parliament in 2019 that the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency (PICA) was procuring such a system. Do we now have this border control system in place that fully complies with our international obligations and can keep Jamaicans safe?
There are more questions than answers. It is important to recognise that answers must balance the need for managing sensitive national security matters on a confidential basis while assuring the public that their constitutional right “to life, liberty and security of the person” is being protected. In light of recent events, I suggest that more answers to border control questions are necessary and will go a long way in alleviating growing tensions and anxiety about our personal and family safety and security in Jamaica, especially now during these trying times.
Rosalea Hamilton, PhD, is the CEO, LASCO Chin Foundation; founding director, Institute of Law & Economics; and chair of Caribbean Philanthropic Alliance. Send feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.