Remarks by Ambassador Candace Bond
CBSI Firearms Technical Working Group Meeting
Thursday, April 27, 2023
Good morning. I want to take this opportunity to thank CARICOM IMPACS for hosting this CBSI Technical Working Group Meeting and collaborating closely with the United States and the Dominican Republic on the preparations for, and substantive outcomes of, this meeting.
The United States values being a part of this important collective effort, which is an essential component of our partnership with CARICOM and the Dominican Republic to reduce illicit firearms trafficking, increase public safety and security, and promote social justice. I thank all of you for your participation and commitment to working together.
It is only through international cooperation that we can effectively combat illicit firearms trafficking in the Caribbean. The United States is committed to promoting partnership, cooperation, and collaboration with your countries and institutions by providing technical assistance programs to help develop the capacity to effectively address this common threat.
Through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, or CBSI, the United States has invested over US$832 million in the Caribbean to reduce illicit firearms trafficking, increase public safety and security, and promote social justice. As part of this effort, we continue to coordinate law enforcement programs with each of your countries and we look forward to working with you to maximize U.S. investments in this area. The United States has undertaken significant actions to address illicit firearms trafficking in the region.
Our commitment to stemming the illicit trafficking of firearms from the United States can be seen in landmark legislation recently passed and enforced to prevent gun violence and strengthen border security.
• President Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act on June 25, 2022, which makes straw purchasing and trafficking in firearms a federal crime. This Act provided U.S. law enforcement agencies with new authorities to combat firearms trafficking along the U.S. border and elsewhere. Provisions under the “Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act” assign further penalties if firearms or ammunition are smuggled out of the United States with intent to engage in or promote transnational organized crime.
• And through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the U.S. Congress allocated US$3.4 billion to modernize ports of entry on U.S. northern and southern borders supporting increased border security efforts and enhancing information sharing on illicit firearms trafficking.
Together, this represents landmark legislation in the fight against illegal firearms trafficking. Several U.S. government departments and agencies have also engaged in significant efforts to stem the illicit trafficking of firearms in the region:
• The Department of Justice has created taskforces across the United States to disrupt criminal firearms-trafficking networks and is prioritizing prosecutions of those who are responsible for the greatest violence.
• The Department of State provided over US$8 million to Caribbean countries for capacity-building programs over the past five years, which included activities related to illicit firearms trafficking, such as training on firearms-trafficking investigations, ballistic forensic training, stockpile management and destruction, marking and tracing of firearms.
• The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, or ATF, has assisted partner governments in law enforcement investigations by tracing recovered firearms and providing leads so law enforcement agencies in partner countries can link disparate criminal acts.
• U.S. Customs and Border Protection also shares information on criminal activity, including firearms smuggling, with partner countries in the Americas.
Together our countries have also taken critical collaborative action in creating the Caribbean Crime Gun Intelligence Unit or CCGIU. In November 2022, the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security inaugurated the CCGIU to improve intelligence and information sharing among Caribbean and U.S. law enforcement agencies.
The CCGIU supports CARICOM Member States with seizing firearms, related parts, and components as well as in identifying, charging, and prosecuting co-conspirators for firearms crimes.
The CCGIU works closely with U.S. and international law enforcement partners including ATF, U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, the UK National Crime Agency, INTERPOL, and the Regional Security System.
This new mechanism—which I urge all CARICOM states to support and use—will dramatically impact our success in combatting illicit firearms trafficking in the Caribbean.
Over the past three days, you have contributed to enhancing citizen security by discussing seams and gaps and exchanging best practices to gain a better understanding of new trends and facilitate cooperation in combating illicit firearms trafficking in the Caribbean region. Moreover, you have identified additional recommendations on how to strengthen our collective efforts for consideration by your national and regional authorities.
As our region has grown more interconnected, so too have criminal organizations that seek to identify and exploit gaps. Faced with pressing transnational threats, it is now more essential than ever to develop integrated and interoperable response efforts to stay ahead of the criminals. These response efforts must become better coordinated through enhanced national, regional, and interagency cooperation.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so we must all examine and identify how we can work better together. Regional cooperation will ensure all links in this chain are strong and collaborating to address the shared threat.
It is my hope that you come away from this meeting with a strong, continuing commitment to engage in regional cooperation, share information, and further develop interoperability to combat illicit firearms trafficking and fight crime.
I would like to thank you for actively participating in the past three days in the CBSI sponsored Technical Working Group meeting, and to reiterate the commitment of the United States to work with you, both on a bilateral and regional basis, to seek innovative and integrated solutions to the Caribbean region’s most pressing challenges.
The citizens of our countries deserve a safe, secure, and prosperous Caribbean. I commend all of you for your commitment to working towards this goal. Now, the hard part begins as we return home to work diligently to safeguard our citizens and our countries.
In closing, allow me to highlight a recent development that demonstrates our resolve to collaboratively fight illicit firearms trafficking.
On April 13, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that three members of a Caribbean arms trafficking ring pleaded guilty to federal charges in Florida. According to the plea agreements, Oliver, Phillip, and King—two of whom are nationals of Trinidad and Tobago—were part of a ring that unlawfully exported firearms, firearms components, and related items from Florida to Trinidad and Tobago between 2019 and 2022. The firearms, which included pistols, long rifles, and related equipment, were concealed to avoid detection by law enforcement and customs authorities. The conspirators acquired firearms from different sellers through straw purchases, falsely representing the identities of the actual purchasers and recipients of the firearms, as well as their ultimate destination.
This case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations or HSI, including the U.S. Embassy’s HSI Attaché, and ATF, with assistance from the Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of National Security’s Transnational Organized Crime Unit, the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service’s Special Investigations Unit, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs.
The United States is the Caribbean’s best and most trusted security partner, and we will continue to work with nations of the region to tackle firearms trafficking and build law enforcement capacity to address violence and crime. We do this because we are neighbors, friends, and family and we have a responsibility to keep each other safe.
Once again, thank you for attending this CSBI sponsored technical working group meeting and more importantly, thank you for your tireless efforts to advance citizen security in the Caribbean.