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Colombia to help battle crime, drugs

Published:Sunday | November 21, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Prime Minister Bruce Golding (left) and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón at a signing ceremony at the Office of the Prime Minister on Friday, November 19. - Ricardo Makyn/Staff Photographer

Arthur Hall, Senior Staff Reporter

AFTER A day crammed with activities, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón ended his 12-hour visit to Jamaica on Friday confident that the political will now exists for increased cooperation between the two countries.

With Jamaica and Colombia facing similar problems of organised crime and the international drug trade, Calderón came with concrete measures to deal with these issues while looking to Kingston for help to improve his country's sporting performance.

The recently inaugurated president is adamant that the agreements between the two countries must result in action, and he is convinced that in Prime Minister Bruce Golding, he has an ally ready to ensure that there is active and mutually beneficially cooperation.

"So far, there has been no real political will to go ahead. Now we have the political will," Calderón told The Sunday Gleaner as he responded to questions about the delay in dealing with issues such as the go-fast boats which move cocaine from Bogotá to Jamaican ports.

"The prime minister and I have already agreed, and we are going full steam ahead," added Calderón.

Jamaica and Colombia established diplomatic relations in 1965, but in many respects, the co-operation between the two states has been more in word than deed.

A Jamaica-Colombia binational neighbour-hood commission with mechanisms to facilitate cooperation has been in place since 1994, but problems faced by both countries such as security, exploration of a joint maritime area, cooperation in anti-terrorism financing, and money laundering have largely been tackled individually.

Calderón noted that during his visit, the two countries signed agreements for greater co-operation in the fight against money laundering, and for the exploration of the Joint Regime Area, which is located south of the Pedro Banks.

Looking for oil and gas

"This is an area that we are going to explore together - looking for oil and gas. We are quite confident that there is oil and gas in this area. We are going to finance the feasibility studies, the environmental studies, and the seismic studies, and once we have those studies ready, we will start exploring."

According to Calderón, Colombia is also ready to give Jamaica tangible assistance in policing.

"I came here with the two police chiefs, the present and the former, and we are offering specialised help in intelligence, counter-intelligence, and in specific areas where Jamaica needs to improve its capabilities," said Calderón.

In August, eight high-level members of the Colombian police force conducted a comprehensive diagnostic study of the Jamaican police force and submitted a report to the Ministry of National Security which is now being considered.

This is the type of assistance that Calderón wants to provide to Jamaica to deal with organised crime and major drug dealers.

Negative impact

Calderón told The Sunday Gleaner that Colombia accepts that its success in cracking down on the cocaine trade in its territory is impacting negatively on Jamaica as increased activity in the illegal trade has shifted to the Caribbean island.

"But not only you, Central America and most of the Caribbean islands, and that is why we are telling the US that they will have to put their share because this is a joint battle. No one country, however powerful it is, can fight by itself organised multinational crime."

Calderón argued that Colombia has managed to crack down on the cocaine trade because it approached the matter as an issue of national security.

"Our democracy was in danger and we had to confront this organised crime with everything we had in our hands, and at a very high cost. We lost our best journalists, we lost our best judges, our best policemen, and our best political leaders, but finally we won," said Calderón.

He said even while Colombia was tackling and winning the fight against the illegal drug trade, it was also working on its domestic economy which, like Jamaica, faced the ravages of the global economic meltdown.

The Colombian president said his country was ready to assist Jamaica on the economic front and was taking steps to increase the number of Colombians who holidayed in the island.

The South American nation is also prepared to assist the Golding administration in its efforts to diversify the country's energy source.

Calderón told The Sunday Gleaner that as much as Colombia is willing and ready to assist Jamaica, it wants help from Jamaica to improve its sporting performance.

"I have always admired the Jamaican spirit in sports, and your performance in all the Olympics is way above others compared to the population that you have," said Calderón, who makes no secret of his admiration for Reggae superstar Bob Marley and his fond memories of rafting in Ocho Rios in the 1980s.