Port security

State Department, PortMiami to cooperate on Caribbean security issues



As enforcement pressures increase against drug traffickers in Mexico and Central America, a top U.S. State Department official said Wednesday that it is logical criminals will try to resurrect old drug routes through the Caribbean and regional governments should begin to prepare.

As part of that effort, the U.S. State Department signed a partnership agreement with PortMiami on Wednesday designed to help enhance port security in the Caribbean and improve future cooperation with other ports in the region.

Although State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) has signed more than 60 such partnerships with state, county and local entities in the past few years, the Miami agreement is the first inked with a port authority.

In an interview with the Miami Herald, William R. Brownfield, assistant Secretary of State for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, said his goal is to build such partnerships and relationships now, so that as “the inevitable laws of market economics” come into play in 2014 to 2016 with traffickers seeking the paths of least resistance, “we’re not caught with our pants down.’’

The Caribbean drug trafficking routes of the 1970s and 1980s are “gray-haired in some respects’’ but “they are still around and will begin to look more attractive’’ to traffickers as law enforcement puts more of a squeeze on Central American routes, he said.

Under the arrangement, PortMiami, a hub for Latin and Caribbean travel and trade, would provide training and mentoring on anti-crime and port security matters to its counterparts in the Caribbean.

The specifics of the assistance are still subject to negotiation and costs for the program will be covered by the INL. But in broad brush strokes, the partnership would give ports in the Caribbean access to the technology, experience and personnel at PortMiami.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Miami was at the center of the Caribbean drug trade. “We have been there before and we did learn some lessons,’’ said Brownfield.

Among the things Brownfield said Miami can share with its counterparts is its expertise in cargo container inspection and control programs.

When such programs work, he said, “they work for everyone,’’ eliminating long port delays that can tie up shipments for two to three days as inspectors search for drugs and other contraband.

If ports around the Caribbean have better procedures and better inspection techniques, Brownfield said that will help PortMiami function more efficiently. Brownfield said he wants to communicate to officials at Caribbean ports that “if you want your port, tourism and cargo to flourish and grow, it’s in your interest to have a port that’s compatible’’ with one of the largest ports in the southeast United States.

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