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Senators says US must boost Caribbean security

A pair of American senators released a new report Thursday detailing their recommendations to prevent a future security crisis in the Caribbean, where numerous unpoliced islets and barely monitored coasts remain near-perfect conduits for drug shipments.

California Democrat Dianne Feinstein and Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley argue that Washington must be prepared to counter an uptick in drug trafficking in the Caribbean when, not if, the pendulum swings back a bit from Central American countries and Mexico.

"Clearly, the countries of the Caribbean do not face the same security crisis as Mexico and Central America. Yet we must be prepared as the 'balloon effect' inevitably moves drug trafficking routes back to the Caribbean," said the report by the U.S. Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control.

The senators argue that Washington should have a "more integrated approach to security assistance in the Americas that does not overly support one sub-region at the expense of others." It also acknowledges that the U.S. must do "significantly more" to reduce demand for drugs within its borders.

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime has reported that Caribbean drug seizures diminished 71 percent between 1997 and 2009 as more contraband shifted to Central American routes. But homicide rates have nearly doubled in a number of Caribbean nations since 1995, partly due to frenzied competition between underworld groups fighting for turf.

The U.S. State Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration should assess where "sensitive investigative units" can be established in the region, the report advises, while recommending Jamaica as a top candidate due to its chronically high murder rate.

The senators' report also says the U.S. must both update and strengthen anti-money laundering laws while continuing extraditions of Caribbean drug barons, such as Christopher "Dudus" Coke, a powerful gang boss who was sentenced in June to 23 years behind bars in a U.S. drug trafficking case after a nine-month extradition battle with Jamaica.

More U.S. assistance to Caribbean nations is needed to draft asset forfeiture laws and strong support is needed to counter drug-smuggling networks in Haiti, which the U.S. politicians say is "extremely susceptible to drug trafficking in the near future."

The report also recommends that the U.S. should send detailed histories of all criminal deportees back to their native lands in the Caribbean. As it stands now, the countries are only told why the offender was deported due to rules preventing the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency from sharing more details without permission from federal or state entities that have the records.

The deportee issue has topped the Caribbean's diplomatic agenda for more than a decade.

The United States has deported thousands of convicted criminals to the Caribbean annually since 1996, when Congress mandated that every non-citizen sentenced to a year or more in prison be kicked out of the country upon release. In all, the U.S. has been responsible for roughly three-quarters of the region's returning criminal deportees.