Remarks at a UN Security Council Arria-Formula Meeting on Transnational Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking in the Caribbean

Ambassador Jonathan Cohen
Acting Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
June 7, 2019


Thank you and thanks to all the panelists for your insights on how to better prevent and counter transnational organized crime. The United States remains committed to combating transnational organized crime, the organizations behind it and drug trafficking.

Transnational criminal networks span not only our region, the Western Hemisphere, but the entire globe, and they continually seek ways to stay ahead of law enforcement. Increased narcotrafficking, financial crime, piracy, and arms trafficking pose a threat to us all and we can only address this transnational challenge through international coordination and cooperation.

On the margins of the UN General Assembly last September, President Trump issued a global call to action on the world drug problem – a statement signed by 130 countries, to convey the need for global unity to combat illicit drugs. Now, we need to fully implement that call to action and today’s meeting is an important step in that direction.

Despite our collective resolve, transnational criminal organizations continue to actively look for new ways to exploit the region for their gain. According to recent reports, the volume of cocaine moving through the Caribbean has nearly tripled over the last few years, largely due to increased coca cultivation in Colombia.

We are also seeking to address emerging challenges, such as the fentanyl production. In April 2017, the Dominican Republic’s counternarcotics police took down the first-ever fentanyl labs discovered there, which had ties to Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel.

To address such challenges, the United States works closely with our Caribbean and international partners to confront transnational criminal organizations and combat illicit trafficking. The U.S.-Caribbean 2020 strategy and the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) are good examples of this. Since 2010, the United States has provided close to $600 million in security sector assistance through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative. We are keen to strengthen maritime cooperation to deny transnational criminal groups the ability to operate in the Caribbean. We have done so through our discussions in the U.S.-Caribbean Security Cooperation Dialogue. As a result, we are working to develop a maritime strategy and action plan by this time next year.

We are also observing how transnational criminal organizations exploit volatile security and political environments for their gain. Venezuela is now the principal departure point for cocaine transiting the region. As a result, we are seeing an increase in cocaine movements into the Caribbean and an increase in out-migration and human trafficking. Our Intelligence Community estimates that Venezuela departures now account for nearly twice the cocaine flow departing from Colombia.

Because transnational criminal organizations operate across our borders, the United States is committed to building regional cooperation and capacity to combat transnational organized crime. We will continue to prioritize robust interdiction against trafficking organizations and criminal networks at sea and on land, to build justice sector capacity to dismantle transnational criminal organizations, and to work to bankrupt the business model of such organizations. We have seen successes from multilateral interdictions, such as Operation Bahamas, Turks & Caicos (OPBAT), through which U.S. and local law enforcement have successfully worked together to increase interdictions over the last six months.

Regional cooperation is paramount to successfully addressing transnational organized crime in the Caribbean. If one partner does not have the capability to interdict, drug traffickers will utilize their maritime space to transit illicit narcotics. If one partner does not have the capacity to prosecute, criminals will operate in their country without fear of answering for their crimes. If one partner does not have the ability to incarcerate, criminals will know arrest does not mean punishment.

Through regional cooperation, more integrated efforts, and increased information sharing, we can, and we will, successfully face and address this shared challenge.

I thank you for your attention and I thank the other cohosts and the Dominican Republic for convening this meeting today.