US Applauds Engagement with CARICOM To Counter Firearms Trafficking

The Joe Biden administration in the United States has applauded the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) for its collaboration in countering firearms trafficking.

The US Department of State noted that United States Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield led a US delegation to Guyana to participate in the US-Caribbean Community Dialogue held recently.

The department said Thomas-Greenfield’s engagement built on US Vice President Kamala Harris’ April 2022 meeting with Caribbean leaders, the Vice President’s June 2023 engagement of Caribbean leaders in The Bahamas, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s participation in the 50th Anniversary of CARICOM in July 2023 in Trinidad and Tobago.

The State Department said activities stemming from recent US efforts in the region include the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA), signed into US law in July 2022, which “dramatically increased criminal penalties for straw purchasers and US-sourced firearms trafficking”.

Provisions under the “Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act” assign further penalties for smuggled firearms or ammunition out of the United States, with the intent to promote transnational organized crime, the State Department said.

It said that, on February 1, Haiti’s 400 Mawozo gang leader Joly Germine pleaded guilty to his role in a gunrunning conspiracy that smuggled firearms to Haiti in violation of US export laws, and the laundering of ransoms paid for US hostages to the gang in 2021.

The State Department said his former girlfriend, Eliande Tunis, pleaded guilty to the same 48-count indictment.

It said Jocelyn Dor, a Haitian citizen also affiliated with 400 Mawozo, was sentenced to 60 months in prison on February 28 for her role in a firearm smuggling scheme between the United States and Haiti.

On February 26, Elieser Sori-Rodriguez was sentenced to 57 months in prison for smuggling firearms from the United States to the Dominican Republic.

In July 2023, the State Department said the US Department of Justice named a Coordinator for Caribbean Firearms Prosecutions to elevate firearms trafficking and prosecutions and help implement the provisions of the BPSA.

The State Department said the coordinator has since attended an Association of Caribbean Chiefs of Police meeting, travelled to Jamaica and met with Jamaica’s Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, and met with the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security Leadership.

The department said the coordinator will travel to Trinidad and Tobago this spring to meet with host nation counterparts, Caribbean officials at the CARICOM Crime Gun Intelligence Unit, and US law enforcement partners at the Embassy Port-of-Spain.

Partnering with the CARICOM Crime Gun Intelligence Unit (CGIU), the State Department said US Homeland Security Investigations initiated an interagency, multijurisdictional surge operation to target illicit firearms being trafficked from the United States to the Caribbean.

Through collaboration with Caribbean partners, the State Department said Operation Hammerhead has, to date, resulted in seizures of 339 firearms, 26,495 rounds of ammunition and over 400 magazines.

In 2023, the State Department said the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) supported training for 270 Caribbean police officers on firearms investigations, including familiarisation training on Privately Made Firearms (Ghost Guns) and 3D-printed firearms.

To advance firearms trafficking prosecutions in the United States, the State Department said ATF “conducted extensive domestic training on applying anti-trafficking provisions in the 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) to disrupt and dismantle international trafficking schemes.”

On February 13, 2024, the State Department said Homeland Security Investigations and the Government of Haiti signed a Memorandum of Cooperation to formally establish the Haiti Transnational Criminal Investigative Unit (TCIU), “which will facilitate the exchange of information between law enforcement partners in the United States and Haiti, and enhance cross-border investigative capabilities to prosecute those involved in transnational criminal activities.”

TCIUs are multi-discipline units comprising vetted foreign law enforcement, prosecutors, and customs, immigration and intelligence officials that share information and operational activities, the State Department said.

It said this complements the work of existing TCIUs in the Caribbean, located in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.

In advance of the 2023 holiday season, the State Department said US agencies “surged resources” to screen outbound cargo from the United States to the Caribbean via freight forwarders at the Miami River.

“Caribbean partners advised US law enforcement counterparts that firearms traffickers take advantage of the annual surge in US-Caribbean shipping to hide firearms and firearms components in ‘blue barrel’ shipments bound for the Caribbean,” the State Department said.

It said it is “proud to have partnered with St Lucia to make its forensics lab a Regional Centre of Excellence, working toward laboratory accreditation under the International Organisation for Standardisation.”

The State Department said this project is part of a US$2.2 million United States investment in strengthening Caribbean forensics capabilities.

“The Regional Centre of Excellence will enable St. Lucian law enforcement and regional counterparts to collect and analyse crime scene evidence in the region, ensuring that criminals can be arrested, tried and convicted more quickly, with scientific evidence,” it said.

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