It is an honor to welcome you back to Washington. I want to thank all of you -- our Caribbean partners and international donors -- for your commitment to an initiative of great importance not only for the Caribbean, but indeed for the entire Western Hemisphere.
Last month, in a speech at the Organization of American States, Secretary Kerry declared that “the era of the Monroe Doctrine is over.” He explained that in this new era, the United States seeks a relationship of equals adhering “not to a doctrine, but to the decisions that we make as partners to advance the values and interests we share.”
The Caribbean Basin Security Initiative offers a vivid example of what that kind of partnership can yield. It is a partnership based on shared responsibility and mutual respect. It is a partnership based on shared approaches to shared challenges. And it is a partnership that is achieving results -- reducing illicit trafficking, increasing public safety, and promoting social justice. But as all of you know, our task is far from complete. There is still much that we can do to build an even more effective partnership. Let me say a few words about the progress we’ve made and how we might build on that progress in the coming year.
First, we are accelerating our efforts to prevent the trafficking of narcotics, weapons, and persons. In part due to progress in other parts of the Hemisphere, the Caribbean is seeing an increase in drug trafficking… an increase in the number of criminal gangs… an increase in the number of weapons… and an increase in violence that is undermining regional stability and economic growth.
In response, we are deepening regional law enforcement cooperation so that Caribbean nations can share fingerprint and other data about suspected criminals that lead to arrests and prosecutions. We are increasing our efforts to stop arms trafficking – destroying nearly 2,000 weapons and three tons of ammunition over the past three years. We are improving maritime security through expanded training exercises with a specific focus on counternarcotics missions. And we are increasing train and equip efforts to build the capacity of law enforcement agencies and security forces throughout the Caribbean. Indeed, thanks in part to the Initiative, drug seizures are up 40-percent in the Dominican Republic and almost 300-percent in Guyana.
But we can do more. The Regional Integrated Ballistic Information Network is operational, but is not fully integrated. We can accomplish that this upcoming year. We can also do a better job of detecting and interdicting threats before they make it to our shores by improving information sharing and our maritime domain awareness.
And with multiyear plans for the maintenance and sustainment of our maritime assets, we can be sure that we will have the means to address this threat not just today or tomorrow, but for many years to come.
Second, we are making strides in our effort to prevent and reduce crime and violence, disrupt and dismantle organized gangs, and improve border security. By pooling our resources and our knowledge, we are helping Caribbean states develop a stronger and more effective justice sector. For example, this past year, Jamaica’s Organized Crime and Anti-Corruption Task Force dismantled a major criminal syndicate, arrested more than 100 suspects, and seized hundreds of vehicles and computers and tens of millions of dollars. We are also making progress in implementing civil asset forfeiture legislation to make sure law enforcement and rule of law agencies have the resources they need to do their job. Indeed, this past September, under its newly passed law, Dominica had its first successful cash seizure.
But here too we can take decisive steps forward this year. We can do a better job of sharing biometric law enforcement data regionally, through efforts like the Advanced Fingerprinting Information System. And by making sure that all Initiative members have the proper legislative authorities for the seizure of assets by all states and investing them in a dedicated security fund, we can support law enforcement efforts in the years to come.
Finally, and most importantly, we are paying special attention to the safety and security of our citizens, especially the young people who represent our hopes and dreams for the future of the Caribbean. Our main approach is prevention – making sure that we offer opportunities and services to youth so they avoid entering the juvenile justice system. To date, more than 52,000 young people have participated in Initiative programs in education and workforce development across the Caribbean. They are learning critical life and job skills, contributing positively to their communities, and working together with law enforcement to help resolve local conflicts and reduce violence.
To succeed, we need to work more closely with the private sector and our community leaders to develop the employment skills of at-risk youth and to provide them with sufficient opportunities to apply those skills. And we can work together to make sure alternative sentencing for youth is a routine practice of courts throughout the Caribbean region. This too will require building stronger connections among law enforcement, civil society, and business leaders.
We came together this year committed to building a more effective partnership. I am confident that with continued political will, and sustained focus on implementation, our partnership will only grow stronger. And as it does, we can all be certain that we will be building a more peaceful and prosperous Caribbean Basin and contributing to a more peaceful and prosperous Western Hemisphere.
Thank you all very much.