Publication: The Military Balance 2017
14 February 2017
Caribbean security challenges
The Caribbean region has for some years grappled with a range of ongoing security crises, including organised crime and narcotics trafficking, but the convergence of a number of factors is now raising particular issues for Caribbean Basin states. Three key countries – Colombia, Cuba and Venezuela – are each facing complex political and strategic challenges that will influence regional stability. At the same time, there has been a significant increase in drug trafficking and other transnational criminal activities, including human trafficking and arms smuggling. Meanwhile, a number of long-standing border disputes have resurfaced. This combination of challenges will not only concern regional states; it will in all likelihood demand more attention from the United States.
The security situation in Colombia is facing fundamental change, marked by the challenge of implementing the peace agreement with FARC and the implications this has for the role of the armed forces. However, there was at the time of writing some uncertainty over the deal, after voters rejected it in a 2 October referendum. Undaunted, the government around the same time scheduled peace talks with the second-largest rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), for later that month. Other complications for Bogota include an expansion in cocaine production and a tough economic climate that led to budget cuts in 2016 and maintained downward pressure on defence spending (see pp. 429–30).
Meanwhile, Venezuela is facing three concurrent crises, with a spiral of criminal violence (Caracas’s 119 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants make it one of the world’s most violent cities), an economic debacle that has brought its population to the brink of famine, and a political deadlock between government and opposition. In these circumstances, President Nicolás Maduro has sought to bolster the armed forces’ support by appointing senior military officials to key government positions and making them responsible for food distribution. By increasing their political role, these military leaders now have a crucial role in determining the future of the regime.