The Caribbean Narco-Triangle

Among the most fascinating documents to come out of the WikiLeaks revelations is a cable allegedly sent by the head of the US Interests Section in Havana, Jonathan Farrar, on August 11, 2009.

The document is a virtual diplomatic bombshell. It could prove a source of embarrassment to all three governments concerned?the U.S., the Cuban and the Jamaican.

The Americans are believed to have made determined efforts to keep the WikiLeaks cables out of the regional media, especially those originating in their Caribbean embassies. The content of the despatch, however, has been splashed all over the Jamaican media.

In Jamaica’s domestic politics, it will be another embarrassment for the Bruce Golding-led Administration, whose credibility in fighting narco-trafficking is already on the line. Earlier this year there was a huge uproar of the government’s reluctance to extradite to the U.S. an alleged drug lord entrenched in the Prime Minister’s own political constituency, with strong ties to the ruling Jamaica Labour Party. The Opposition People’s National Party has already weighed in on this point.

The cable details a number of instances where the Cuban anti-drug police and Ministry of Interior officials report a less than enthusiastic response from the Jamaican authorities to their appeals for cooperation in stemming the use of Cuban airspace and territorial waters for shipments of narcotics?notably marijuana?from Jamaica.

Jamaica’s Minister of National Security has angrily denounced the accusations of non-cooperation. According to the published report, however, he did not deny that the specific incidents mentioned in the leaked cable actually took place.

For the US authorities, the implications of the content of the cable are intriguing.
Cuba has been consistently demonised by US government officials and media, to the point where it has been officially designated as a state that sponsors terrorism.

Yet the U.S. Coast Guard Drug Interdiction Specialist assigned to the U.S. Interests Section in Havana is reported as having had multiple meetings and conversations with Cuban Ministry of Interior officials over a period up to August 2009.

The contact included a two-day trip to Camaguey, where the senior US official received a briefing on a Jamaican drug flight en route to the Bahamas which had to make an emergency landing. The crew of three were in detention by the Cubans.

U.S. officials held individual and collective conversations with up to 15 officials of Cuba’s Interior Ministry, including on provincial trips outside of Havana. US officials appear to have been granted generous official and physical access to Cuba.

A recurring complaint of the Cubans was lack of Jamaican cooperation in information sharing. On one occasion a meeting was arranged between Cuban and Jamaican anti-narcotics officials. The meeting was reportedly arranged by the UK Defence Attach? and held on a British naval vessel assigned to drug interdiction duties, which was then in the Port of Havana. The cable says that at the meeting, the Jamaican officials “just sat there and didn’t say anything”.

On another occasion in May 2009, the Cuban Border Guard, acting on real-time information supplied by the Americans, intercepted a Jamaican go-fast vessel and seized 700 kg of Jamaican marijuana. This operation is actually referred to as a “joint-interdiction”.

Joint interdiction? The US and Cuba? Is this the terrorist state that poses a threat to the national security of the United States? (A separately leaked memorandum recently published in the United States shows US military strategists expressing grave concern about US security should there be a ‘regime change’ in Cuba. One can now see why. To begin with, the kind of cooperation now taking place could not be counted on).
Cuba, with one of longest coastlines in the island Caribbean, has probably the best system of coastal border security in the region.

The reason is straightforward. The island has lived for the past 50 years under constant threat of invasion from the United States. The Cubans never let their guard down.

There is considerable irony that it is this very system that is now proving to be an asset in protecting the security of the US against narco-trafficking.

As far as the Cubans are concerned, the revelations in the cable are a double-edged sword.

The Cuban government has always maintained that it is utterly opposed to narco-trafficking; and does everything in its power to prevent the use of Cuba for the trade and to cooperate with the US authorities.

The US does not deny this. But the extent and intimacy of the cooperation may surprise many in both countries. To that degree, the revelations are unlikely to harm Cuba. There may be some, embarrassment, however, in its relations with the Jamaican government, which have in recent years been very cordial.

Just last week (December 8) Cuba-Caricom day was simultaneously celebrated in Havana and in several Caricom capitals with diplomatic receptions and speeches.
To be seen to be complaining to the US?presumably in the hope that US pressure on Jamaica would succeed where Cuban pressure had not?might not fit the image of friendship that Cuba has so carefully cultivated over the years.

Still, if the facts reported in the US cable are true, the Cuban frustration is understandable.

Why take the rap from the US for Jamaica’s inaction, especially when the stakes for Cuba are so high?

As for this coming to light, the Cubans have the perfect response. Don’t blame us, blame WikiLeaks. December 15, 2010.

This was on the front page of the Jamaica Gleaner 15.12.2010.

It makes interesting reading, to say the least.

Unless the document is a complete fabrication, which is doubtful, what does it suggest

1. for US-Cuba relations? (better than we might think)
2.for US-Jamaica relations? (even worse than we might think)
3. for Cuba-Jamaica relations? (not as good as we might think)
4. for the efficiency of the Cuban counter-narcotics trafficking system? (pretty damn good)
5. for the efficiency of the Jamaican counter-narcotics trafficking system? (nothing to write home about)

NORMAN GIRVAN can be reached through his website.

PS There is an angry denial from the Jamaican Security Minister, that follows.

The US-Cuba cable



Summary: The U.S. Coast Guard Drug Interdiction Specialist (DIS) assigned to the U.S. Interests Section (USINT) in Havana, Cuba has spoken with Cuban Ministry of Interior (MININT) officials on multiple occasions, as recently as 4 August 2009, regarding their perceived lack of Government of Jamaica (GOJ) cooperation in attempting to curtail the flow of illicit narcotics to the Bahamas and the United States. Cuban MININT officials contend that narcotics smugglers from Jamaica are utilizing both Cuban airspace and waters to transport narcotics ultimately destined for the United States, but their repeated attempts to engage Jamaica on the issue have been ignored. End Summary.

(C) On 4 August 2009, DIS wrapped-up a two-day trip to Camaguey, Cuba where he received a briefing on the 5 July emergency landing of an aircraft, enroute from Jamaica, that dropped 13 bales of marijuana over a barren field in Cuba located southwest of Playa Santa Lucia in Camaguey Province. According to Cuban officials, the aircraft was destined for a pre-determined location over Bahamian waters where the narcotics would be dropped to two waiting go-fast vessels for eventual shipment to the United States. The crew of three discarded the contraband prematurely when they experienced engine problems.

(C) On 4 August, the DIS visited Joaquin de Aguero airport in Playa Santa Lucia where the smugglers’ aircraft is located; DIS was provided with further insight from airport officials as to how the case played-out, and how Cuban authorities responded. According to the Cuban Anti-Drug police (DNA), all three traffickers onboard the aircraft are being detained in Cuba.

(C) The aforementioned case follows a 27 May 2009 case in which a joint-interdiction of a Jamaican go-fast vessel in the vicinity of Playa Guardalavaca, Cuba, that resulted in the Cuban Border Guard seizing 700 kg of Jamaican marijuana. This, after the Cuban Border Guard interdicted the vessel in its waters utilizing real-time information from OPBAT, USCG District 7, and the USCG DIS in Havana. The DIS attended a briefing on this case with Cuban officials, and boarded the subject narco-trafficking vessel.

(S) While the DIS is often briefed via formal means on the type of cases mentioned above, side-bar conversations during provincial trips outside of Havana with Cuban MININT officials often yield increased insight into Cuban counterdrug (CD) operations and mindset. A prevailing concern and significant frustration on the Cuban side is the reportedly complete lack of cooperation afforded them by the GOJ when it comes to CD information sharing. DIS has spoken to no fewer than 15 Cuban MININT officers whose primary missions/roles are drug interdiction or support to drug interdiction. Collectively and continually, they express frustration over the GOJ’s consistent ignoring of Cuban attempts to increase the flow of drug-related information between the two island nations to increase interdictions and avoid “being surprised by drugs.”

6 (C) MININT officers, specifically the MININT’s international relations division and anti-drug directorate, with whom the DIS communicates extensively, consistently allude to the lengths the GOC has gone to in order to enhance the relationship. Without fail, MININT officials allude to the fact that narco-related information (i.e. information on go-fasts and aircraft transiting to/from Jamaica in the vicinity of Cuba) passed to the GOJ is always translated to English because in the past GOJ officials stated to the GOC that they did not understand Spanish; MININT officers report that despite their efforts, GOJ officials still do not respond.

(S) In October 2008, DIS attended a counternarcotics meeting onboard the RFA WAVE RULER in the Port of Havana. The meeting was arranged by the UK Defense Attache to encourage greater cooperation between GOC and GOJ over CD efforts; during conversations with the Attache, the DIS learned that the impetus behind the meeting was to bring GOC and GOJ authorities together to encourage greater dialogue, and to quash growing frustration between the two. In comments to the DIS after the meeting, Cuban officials stated that the two Jamaican officers “just sat there and didn’t say anything.” MININT officers mention that Jamaican officials commonly agree to greater information sharing in person; however, that is the extent of their efforts.

(C) Currently, Cuban officials appear resigned to the idea that they will not see greater GOJ cooperation in the near future. On 3 August, the DIS asked the chief of the MININT’s international relations department if he thought Cuban officials would sit down at a table with USCG, DEA, Jamaican officials, and Cuban DNA officers to discuss CD issues; he said it would be a possibility, but that the GOC does not have a suitable liaison officer at its embassy in Jamaica. DIS responded by asking if an officer or group of officers from the DNA would be able to travel to Jamaica for such talks; he once again stated that it is a possibility.

Jamaica soft on drugs–Cuba

Minister of National Security, Senator Dwight Nelson, has come out in sharp defence of Jamaica’s reputation after a leaked United States Embassy cable painted the Government as enablers of drug traffickers.

The cable, which is among more than 200,000 obtained by whistle-blower website WikiLeaks, stated that Cuban anti-drug officials were frustrated with Jamaica’s efforts to battle drug trafficking in the region.

The cable, which was written on August 11, 2009 by Jonathan Farrar, the US chief of mission in Havana, stated: “A prevailing concern and significant frustration on the Cuban side is the reportedly complete lack of cooperation afforded them by the GOJ when it comes to CD (Counter-Drug) information sharing.”

In hitting back, however, an incensed Nelson declared yesterday that the claims within the document were “absolute rubbish”.

“For the last three years, the efforts of the army in seeking to combat drug trafficking have been immense, and prior to that. That is absolute rubbish and nonsense,” he told The Gleaner.

The document lists Cuba’s frustration over Jamaica’s lack of effort to stop the flow of illicit drugs to the US and The Bahamas.
Using in cuban airspace

The cable stated that Cuban Ministry of Interior officials contend that smugglers from Jamaica are using Cuban airspace and water to transport drugs destined for the US.

The cable went on to detail an incident where 13 bales of marijuana from Jamaica, destined for The Bahamas, were dropped off in a field in Cuba because the plane the smugglers were using developed engine problems.

Nelson, who initially did not want to comment on the document because he had not read it, said he was surprised at its content because of the work that the US and Jamaica have done to fight drug and gun smuggling. He admitted that even if officials linked to the Government or security forces are involved in the illegal drug trade, it is not indicative of the overall crime effort.

“We have been fighting it like hell, pouring resources into it. We even have sat down with the US to work this out,” he said.

Jamaicans did nothing.

The document, which stressed the frustration of Cuban officials with their Jamaican counterparts, described a meeting on-board a ship in the Port of Havana, which was organised to “quash” tensions between the two. The cable stated that after the meeting, Cuban officials complained that the two Jamaican officers “just sat there and didn’t say anything”.

It also went on to say that “MININT (Ministry Interior) officers mention that Jamaican officials commonly agree to greater information sharing in person; however, that is the extent of their efforts.”

The report also said that Cuban officials appeared resigned that they would not see greater cooperation from Jamaican officials. The report also said that Cuban officials ultimately blamed high demand for illegal drugs from US consumers for the problems they were facing.