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Patrol boats, other equipment for Caribbean-U.S.

BERT WILKINSON Special to the AmNews | 10/23/2011, 8:26 p.m.

Apparently listening to cries from the mostly small island nations of the Caribbean about the mounting costs to their budgets to fight the drug trade, Washington has decided to donate an unspecified number of fast interdiction boats and other equipment to the region to help them prevent cocaine shipments from reaching the American mainland.

The move follows two days of talks at Caribbean trade bloc headquarters in Guyana last weekend under what is called the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) Commission, which oversees security and related matters between Washington and its so-called "Third Border."

Julissa Reynoso, the deputy assistant secretary for Central America and the Caribbean, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, led the American delegation to the talks, which also included reps from the DEA, the FBI and other agencies.

She said that the money will come from $77 million Washington set aside to boost security in the 15-nation bloc of countries and the Dominican Republic.

First to receive fast interdiction boats and other equipment would be island nations in the nine-nation Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, said Reynoso, as part of a program the United States has dubbed its "Secure Seas Effort."

She also said that Guyana and Suriname will be given similar equipment next year to add to similar donations made to the Bahamas, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic in recent years.

"We are proud of the accomplishments of the past year under the CBSI," she said. "We have encountered many challenges, but we believe that the CBSI provides a useful and necessary framework for coordination and collaboration with our partners in the region," Caricom quoted her as saying.

The United States and the region have held several high-level meetings in recent years, including those involving Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Holder's relatives hail from Barbados and he used a "homecoming" visit to the island last year to meet with high-level Caribbean officials.

Reynoso said the United States was confident that collaboration between the two has worked fairly well in recent years, as there has been increased cooperation in intelligence sharing, data on fingerprints of potential troublemakers, reform in the justice sector in some countries and improved screening of passengers at airports and borders.

The region has been complaining bitterly about the lack of sustained cooperation and attention from the United States, contending that most, if not all, countries cannot afford to buy equipment and run programs to fight drug, weapons and human trafficking, among other ills.