In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart Tuesday warned that Barbados and its Caribbean neighbours were not immune to such threats.
He was addressing the opening of Exercise Tradewinds 2017 at the St Ann’s Fort headquarters of the Barbados Defence Force (BDF) Tuesday morning against the backdrop of “a tense and uncertain global security environment”, highlighted by Saturday night’s London Bridge incident in which seven people were killed and dozens injured when a white rental van was driven into pedestrians. Three attackers later carried out multiple stabbings in pubs and restaurants in the nearby Borough Market.
The incident followed an attack in Manchester last month after a concert by pop singer Ariana Grande. Dozens of children were the victims of that incident.
Stuart acknowledged that the Caribbean had enjoyed a relatively stable security environment, interrupted only by the attempted coup in Trinidad in 1990 and political unrest in Haiti.
However, he warned that much has changed since the inception of Exercise Tradewinds, which was last hosted by Barbados back in 2012 and that many more flashpoints now exist.
“The tensions to which I advert are caused mainly by the activity and designs of criminal organizations which, in pursuit of their revolting agenda, prosecute nefarious acts against vulnerable and innocent law-abiding citizens,” Stuart said.
He also warned that given the emerging security threats, including the return of radicalized individuals to the region, it was important for the region to design a coordinated response.
“Dialogue from a defence and security standpoint is usually expressed in foreign military engagements such as Exercise Tradewinds. Over the 33-year life span of Exercise Tradewinds, we in the Caribbean Community have developed regional and international partnerships, which have remained strong.
“They have ensured that as a region we can provide a united response, whether against transnational organized crime, against violent attack, or in the aftermath of a natural or man-made disaster,” he said.
Stuart also acknowledged that June 6-12 exercise also comes against the backdrop of concerns about illegal drug trafficking, arms and human trafficking, gun-related crime and other criminal activities.
“These are well-known threats which are becoming more and more prevalent in our societies, and which must be confronted in order to safeguard our citizens and visitors alike,” he said, adding that if the threats to security were left unaddressed, the Caribbean could lose its attraction as a prime tourist destination.
He also spoke of the threat posed to the region by natural disasters.
“Against the background of climate change, our unique geographical configuration, as idyllic as it is, unfortunately also makes us susceptible to natural hazards such as severe weather systems, tsunamis and earthquakes. Consequently our security, defence, and disaster management organizations must continue to be vigilant and linked together to be able to respond as a coalition, whenever the need arises,” he said.
Chief of Staff of the BDF Colonel Glyne Grannum told the gathering that during this week’s exercise, security forces and disaster management personnel will be able to boost their skills to ensure they are well equipped to tackle the security threats to the region, both natural and man-made.
“Exercise Tradewinds 2017 will therefore see military units, law enforcement agencies and civilian response organizations exposed to practical activities which are designed to enhance awareness and response capabilities to various types of man-made transnational and trans regional threats. Similarly the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief component of the exercise is designed to prepare all of us for any environmental catastrophe which could befall our region,” Grannum said.
An estimated 800 troops from the RSS, CARICOM, Canada, France, Mexico, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States will participate in the annual multi-nation military and disaster preparedness exercise.
This year’s Exercise Tradewinds is being co-hosted by Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, in partnership with the United States Southern Command, under the theme Seamless States Partnership for a Secure Region.