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Statement on Caribbean Security

Jun 21, 2012 | Blog

June 21, 2012

The Honorable Michael McCaul 
Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, 
and Management 
House Committee on Homeland Security 
H2-176 Ford House Office Building 
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable William R. Keating 
Ranking Member 
Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, 
and Management 
House Committee on Homeland Security 
H2-176 Ford House Office Building 
Washington, DC 20515

Chairman McCaul and Ranking Member Keating,

Thank you for holding this hearing to bring greater attention to the poor security situation in our nation’s Caribbean borders.  I appreciate the opportunity to address the Subcommittee on this important issue.  I ask that this statement be included in the record.

Drug trafficking and associated violence affects many of our communities, and there might not be a better example of this situation than in Puerto Rico.  In Puerto Rico, the combination of increased transit and consumption of illicit narcotics and the negative effects of the ongoing economic recession is exposing millions of American citizens to levels of violence that are unheard of anywhere else in the United States.   According to press reports, 1,136 people were murdered in Puerto Rico in 2011.  That is more than 30 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, more than five times the national U.S. average.  I would note that, according to Puerto Rican officials more than 70 percent of those murders are directly related to drug trafficking.

As I pointed out at a Senate Western Hemisphere Subcommittee hearing earlier this year, if these levels of violence were taking place in any city in the continental U.S., Congress and the Administration would have been pressed into taking meaningful measures to end it.  Peace and security in Puerto Rico is not a foreign issue, but a domestic responsibility of this United States.

Our efforts to reduce illicit narcotics trafficking and its associated transnational criminal organizations have been aptly likened to squeezing a balloon – press too hard on one side and the balloon expands on another direction – with the implication that counternarcotics efforts simply pushes traffickers into ill equipped areas like Puerto Rico.  The solution is to get better at fully coordinating and resourcing our efforts to reduce and eliminate transnational criminal organizations.  And when it comes to a U.S. territory and American citizens, this coordination and resourcing needs to be a priority.

As American and Colombian counternarcotics cooperation started to show progress in Colombia, drug traffickers began to move their operations to Mexico and Central America.  The previous Administration and Congress responded to these challenges by developing unprecedentedly close coordinating mechanisms with Mexican and Central American authorities and designating about $1.9 billion over the last decade on security assistance.  The current Administration’s Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) and Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) added an additional $700 million and seek to build upon those efforts and include some of the lessons learned from previous experiences.

Yet, none of these initiatives appear to have taken into account the need to be equally creative in ensuring that the inter-agency process includes local and state governments from U.S. territories in the Caribbean.

Just a few weeks ago, on June 7th, federal agents arrested dozens of airline workers and baggage handlers at Puerto Rico’s busiest airport, targeting what authorities say are two drug smuggling rings working together to move cocaine into the United States aboard commercial aircraft.  A 2011 National Drug Intelligence Center report indicated that cocaine seizures in the Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands area increased 76 percent between 2009 and 2010.  And, at an October 2011 Senate Western Hemisphere Subcommittee hearing on CBSI, Rodney Benson, Intelligence Chief, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), confirmed that larger and larger loads of both cocaine and heroin were transiting, and now staying, in Puerto Rico.  

These and other disturbing trends should prompt this Congress and the Administration to explore ways to make the governments of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as full partners in the inter-agency process responsible for crafting and resourcing our nation’s counternarcotics strategy in the Caribbean.  This includes taking into account the territories’ capacity to address any threats that may stem from transnational criminal organizations seeking to evade international law enforcement efforts.  I commend Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi and Governor Luis Fortuño for their proposal to develop a Caribbean Border Initiative.  I urge the President to start working on this proposal at once, and I encourage Congress to provide any legislative mandate necessary to achieve it.

It is also imperative to provide any appropriate federal support to Puerto Rican efforts to reform and modernize their law enforcement forces.  Governor Fortuño has recognized the pressing need to address the growing challenge of illicit narcotics and has taken some promising steps, including several joint strike forces with federal authorities that have recently been credited with making 6,000 arrests, broken up 400 illicit drug markets, confiscated hundreds of fire arms, and helped dismantle major crime organizations.  The governor has also committed to 100 percent cargo inspections at the busy Port of San Juan in an effort to stem the traffic of illicit drugs and firearms.

It’s clear that Governor Fortuño faces an uphill struggle as he deals with the growing threat from drug trafficking organizations. We need to think more strategically about how our efforts in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean will affect U.S. territories, and build some measure of resiliency into those plans to ensure that the balloon doesn’t crush Puerto Rico. In that context we must look for ways to increase support to Puerto Rico’s beleaguered institutions.  Today, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has 26 vacant positions in Puerto Rico; the Bureau of Alcohol and Firearms has 17 such vacancies, and the DEA needs to fill 16 vacancies. The attorney general and secretary of homeland security must make a serious effort to find creative and flexible ways to fill these posts.  

Again, thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify before this Subcommittee. I trust this hearing will help find solutions to address the intolerable levels of violence and crime affecting the people of Puerto Rico.


        Marco Rubio

        United States Senator