By: Congressman Pelegrín Castillo Semán
I wish to express our great appreciation to the Ministry of the Armed Forces, Minister Lieutenant General, E.N. (DEM), Joaquín V. Pérez Félix, and Major General Luis Ramón Payán Areche, E.N. (DEM), chief of the J2, for the cordial invitation to participate in the inauguration of this important event. I feel very honored to speak before you, military intelligence officers of our sister Republic of Colombia and our Armed Forces at the opening of the Fourth Meeting of the Bilateral Border Commission.
At the start of our talk, we would like to express to the Colombian delegation the gratitude of the Dominican Republic for the valuable cooperation that we have been receiving from their government and Armed Forces, especially in matters of security, and to state the admiration and respect that many of us feel for the harsh battles that you wage against terrorism and drug trafficking to secure democracy for your citizens.
We have been asked to lecture about a topic of enormous importance and undeniable relevance: the Dominican border and its role in national, regional, and international security. To undertake this, we understand that it is indispensable to share with you some general considerations that will aid in better understanding our exposition.
First, it is necessary to call your attention to our unique geopolitics situation. The Dominican Republic is, in all due respects, a centrally located island nation at the center of the continents and the Caribbean, and it has six borders. It has a land and sea border with Haiti, an emblematic state immersed in a horrifying and prolonged crisis, and two world powers: the United States of America by means of Puerto Rico and the United Kingdom through Turks and Caicos, the latter two with pending border delimitation agreements. It shares borders by sea with two regional powers, the Republic of Colombia and the Republic of Venezuela, both with delimited borders by means of bilateral agreements dating from 1978 and 1979, respectively. Finally, there is a sea border with a very influential country, Holland, and a pending delimitation of the territories of Curacao, Bonaire, and Aruba.
This central positioning determines, to a great extent, that which occurs in the global, regional and insular context of the Dominican Republic is likely to affect, for better or for worse, the country’s internal order or its foreign relations. This applies to issues that span from the pressures of the tectonic plates to the passing of hurricanes, from the expansion of organized crime and drug to the conflicting politics and ideologies, and even to the flux of commerce and transposition.
When we speak about borders, we attribute this concept not only to the traditional dimension of physical spaces that can separate or delimit a nation from others and organize the flows of interchange but also those new dimensions that are so subtle and difficult to control, such as cyberspace and the volatility of the flow of capital.
Safe borders that are effective, delimiting, and regulatory are essential to the protection of the population of any state as well as for the implementation of its public policies. However, they are also important to all states, near and far, in any region of the world. Historical experience shows us that weak states collapsed and failed ones that cannot secure their borders, present very serious risks to the international order.
Although the idea that globalization implies the elimination of borders has been promoted for a certain time, reality proves the contrary: when the flows of interchange become more active, borders become more sensitive and necessary.
While it’s true that the global influences, as never before, the local and national, it is also factual that what is local and national is in a position to influence and impact on the global. When discussing security after Afghanistan, where the September 11th attacks were engendered, no state or international player is strong enough to renounce neither fear nor weak enough to be exempt from it.
Consequently, international cooperation becomes more necessary than ever before, above all because the capacity to act internationally by the non-state actors grows more worrisome and effective.
INSULAR AND REGIONAL SITUATION
In this context, the strategic intelligence of the states acquires enormous relevance: it is not possible to secure borders or national and international interests without a comprehensive focus on our immediate, midway, and distant surroundings.
Having presented the aforementioned reflections, we proceed to analyze the insular environments. The situation is particularly critical: Haiti was a collapsed state much before January 12, 2010. It is an ecological and sanitary disaster zone with greatly diminished government structures.
Facing this painful drama, the International Community, in general, does not yet assume a commitment that is serious, coherent, and strategic for reconstruction and a better destiny for Haiti. In the last twenty years, response has varied from proclaiming a solidarity that never materializes or is poorly carried out to backing out and disappointing evasiveness.
Nevertheless, due to a conjunction of factors, the Dominican Republic has, in fact, been assuming the role of pivot state with Haiti. This process does not contribute to improving the situation of this hapless state, victim since its independence of a process of isolation and exclusion. However, this issue is capable of destabilizing the Dominican Republic, its neighbor state, with effects that could perturb and affect the whole region.
The insular Caribbean region, Central America, and Mexico are deemed crucial to security, peace, and continental stability. This applies not only to the nations of the north but also to those of the south.
We are dealing with a diverse community of great contrasts; 180 million people with multiple cultural influences have undergone an ample amalgamating process. It is a region with weak states and evident levels of poverty, unemployment, and marginalization as well as high dependency and extreme vulnerability.
RELEVANT HISTORICAL EVENTS
History, as Herodotus said, is the great teacher, and it has great deal to teach us about the strategic value of this region, involved in the major scenarios of international conflict. Let us point out a few examples.
When Napoleon I made an agreement with the King of Spain and Talleyrand, it was a secret plan to build a French empire in North America. They conceived sending troops commanded by General Leclerc, Napoleon’s brother-in-law, to the island of Santo Domingo. Once the slave rebellion had been suffocated, the soldiers would sail to the immense Louisiana territory. The surprising triumph of the Haitians influenced the course of history, which turned out very differently.
In the fight for the independence of the Great Colombia, both Haiti and Jamaica served the Liberator, at critical moments, to carry out useful tactical retreats. Let us remember that the reformulation of the project to liberate the southern part of the continent was realized in Jamaica; in Haiti, the decisive expedition was armed and prepared after the Petión-Bolívar pact.
North Americans soon perceived this reality and, for this reason, at the same time they were proclaiming the Monroe Doctrine: “America for the Americans,” they clearly stated that the islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico were to be left out of the processes towards South American independence; furthermore, they required that the Republic of Haiti be isolated and not recognized, as was clearly formulated by Secretary of State Henry Clay, due to the worry about the instigating effect that a successful slave rebellion could have upon the southern slave states.
But this importance increased considerably in the twentieth century, when the United States formulated the unfortunate Roosevelt Corollary after an incident provoked by the blockade on Venezuela perpetrated by European warships in 1903. This issue would set the stage for a long period of interference and military occupations.
This stage would come to its climax at the beginning of World War I: Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua were occupied not only for economic gain, as is usually affirmed, but also because it was perceived that, together with Guantanamo Base in Cuba, also submitted under the Platt Amendment, and Puerto Rico under North American occupation since 1898, they were considered important to assure navigation through the Panama Canal, potentially threatened by submarine warfare.
At this point, we should not omit mentioning the effects of the celebrated Zimmerman telegram, by which the German Minister of Foreign Relations during World War I instructed his ambassador in Mexico to propose to President Carranza a war alliance against the United States in exchange for recuperating the territories of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. This transcendental episode, revealed by the British secret service, together with the sinking of the Lusitania, became decisive towards the intervention of the United States in favor of the Allies.
Some decades later, the Cuban revolution, which was strongly permeated by anti-North American sentiment, turned towards the Soviet Bloc. The decision to allow the installation of nuclear missiles after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion generated the most dangerous escalation in the entire Cold War. It is proper to emphasize that the only time humanity has been on the verge of nuclear extinction was due to a conflict in the Caribbean.
Although the Kennedy-Khrushchev pact protected the island from any North American military intervention, it did not impede processes that seriously impacted both the United States and the entire continent.
After the 1975 Reykjavik conference and the end of the Vietnam War, there was a significant reduction of tension between the two blocs; however, this tendency would cease due to a series of conflicts and revolutions. Although these occurred in distant scenarios like Central Asia and Central America, they would interlink in surprising ways: the war of the Afghan people against the Soviet invasion, the Shiite revolution in Iran, and the counter revolution in Nicaragua to overthrow the Sandinista regime.
While the United States was determined to convert Afghanistan into the “Russian Vietnam,” the soviets, especially by means of Cuba, stimulated revolutions in Nicaragua, El Savador, and Guatemala, largely due to the dour situation characteristic of the region. It is in this context that the United States authorizes the sale of arms to Iran in order to favor the counter insurgency in Nicaragua, and some of its agencies assume an attitude of tolerance and permissiveness with international drug trafficking for similar purposes. The details of these dark, covert operations were described by Bob Woodward in Veil, The Secret CIA Wars and also in the celebrated historical novel, Black Eagles, by Larry Collins.
In 1980, Alexandre Des Maranches, who was an outstanding figure in French strategic intelligence and in the free world, recommended that Ronald Reagan pay close attention and give high priority to the conflict in Central America, especially because of its potential to spread to Mexico and, by means of said country, constitute a dangerous threat to the national security of the United States.
Presently, the Greater Caribbean region is convulsing in many ways:
1) The interaction between the Colombia and Merida plans to confront organized crime and drug trafficking has had important achievements but has also provoked an intense shift of venue of criminal activities, which have moved to other countries and regions. Furthermore, currently just in Mexico, the violence generated by this conflict has generated more victims than those verified in the last Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.
2) The focus of the fight against drugs is being questioned by the states in the region from different perspectives: some lean towards legalization while others support a more coherent and energetic battle. Maybe the episode that best represents the absurd slant of the prevailing situation is the case known as “Operation Fast and Furious” in the United States.
3) The political and ideological confrontation between the United States and the ALBA nations, an issue also associated with the way energy sources are managed. These differences are at the heart of the Honduran crisis; in a recent formal denunciation by the ALBA nations, The International Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, which was also denounced by Mexico in September of 2002, when this nation alleged that it did not represent the security interests of any of the parts; and in the debates, ever more inflammatory, about the need to reintegrate Cuba into hemispheric organisms like the OAS and the Summit of the Americas. Nevertheless, about this last issue, it is important to highlight that, beyond real and rhetorical contradictions, the United States seems not to be in a major hurry to change the status quo in Cuba because, in matters of security, it has guaranteed objectives which would be difficult to achieve in the framework of an open society.
When we pay attention to the global environment, it is necessary to evaluate current risks of possible links between conflicts beyond our hemisphere and those that presently plague the region.
UNITED STATES AND THE WORLD
To deal with this matter, I cannot but evoke Arnold Toynbel, the great British historian, and his visionary lectures about Western Civilization and the world. He described how, after several centuries of expansion toward the domination of the entire planet, the subjugated civilizations and peoples reacted against the power and influence of the West.
Consequently, after the process of decolonization and the disappearance of the bipolar world, under the aegis of the United States and the Soviet Union, starting from the first Gulf War, we have lived a brief interval dominated by the illusion of a unipolar global order. But September 11th and its worldwide repercussions indicated the surge of a multipolar international order, perhaps of a more uncertain, unstable, and conflictive nature.
At the center of these processes, we find our neighbor, the United States, the most powerful nation and the one with the highest capacity to exert its hegemony or influence at a global scale. This is so not only in the economic and military domains but also in culture, science, and technology; thus, the entire world has an affective perception, sometimes with mixed feelings, of this great nation: admiration and respect versus hate and resentment.
However, without a doubt, one of the keys to this nation’s enormous success in the history of humanity also constitutes a risk factor and a vulnerability, especially in the realm of foreign policy and security: the Imperial Republic, as defined by Raymond Arom, is governed by a political elite, whereby there are multiple centers of power and influence which frequently rival and block each other by means of a complex decision-making process.
Furthermore, the country’s historic failures have not been sufficient to cure them of a feeling of manifest destiny fomented by its brilliant successes or of the great weakness inherent in its liberal elite of “wanting to be loved by the world,” a peculiar feature that is of a national nature. The historian Paul Johnson describes this splendidly when he affirms: “The United States is a nation that creates problems and solves problems,” pointing out that the latter are more than the former. Its best ally of all time, Sir Winston Churchill declared “The United States always does what is right, but very frequently only after attempting all other options.”
I will quote some examples of those erratic episodes or contradictions full of enormous implication for international security:
1) It is sufficiently accredited that the idealist Carter administration was the decisive factor in both the fall of its major ally in the region, the Shah of Iran, and the rise to power of the Shah’s nemesis, Ayatollah Khomeini, who headed the Chiite revolution.
2) The United States abandoned Afghanistan after converting it into a “Russian Vietnam,” thus allowing for the birth and operation of the al-Qaeda group, its most daring enemy.
3) The country stimulated the conflict between Iraq and Iran, an event that generated the occupation of Kuwait and the first Gulf War, which was led by the United States and “would take the Crusaders to the holy land.” There are major doubts as to whether the United States sent the appropriate signs to Saddam Hussein.
In another order, it is worthwhile highlighting that the overwhelming military superiority and technology demonstrated by the United States in those scenarios has impacted the nature of conflicts, thus promoting terrorist warfare, irregular and asymmetrical, which allowed the conflict to be taken to its territory in 1994 and 2001.
The intention of these terrible attacks against a defenseless population and the symbols of North American power was to destroy the image of invulnerability and, above all, to drag the country into a war of attrition in remote and hostile places such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
With these actions, the United States was forced to carry out an enormous military effort which, as Paul Kennedy well explains in The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, tends to provoke great fiscal deficits and severe economic crises. The economic crisis that befell the North American economy in 2008 was also caused by excessive war spending.
WILL HISTORY REPEAT ITSELF?
Currently, a process with unforeseeable consequences is in progress: the so-called Arab spring, which was ingenuously pondered and stimulated by the West because of the tendency to associate popular uprisings at squares with democracy and liberty.
Although there are differences between the policies of the United States and the European Union, their joint action regarding these turbulent processes contributed to the rise of worrisome security situations:
1) The electoral triumph – something which was predictable – of Wahabite and Salafist fundamentalism, as well as the disintegration of states with tribal power structures.
2) The decrease of valuable intelligence sharing among the states affected by this phenomenon. MI5 recently reported that terrorist groups were operating more and more openly and with greater freedom in Libya and Egypt, and that British terrorists were training in these countries with the intention of carrying out new attacks on the United Kingdom and Europe.
3) The risk of attacks with weapons of mass destruction are increasing in the measure that a state like Syria might lose control of important arsenals of chemical and biological weapons.
4) The ever higher risks of a conflict between Shiite and Suni Muslims does not exclude the possibility of attacks to Western interests, which are perceived, within the Umma Arabiya and the Umma Islamiya, as the great instigators of this conflict: better said, unreliable allies.
5) It should not be forgotten that all this is occurring in the context of an escalade in tension between Israel and Iran, whose leadership does not hide its interest in destroying the main military power in the Middle East.
DRUG TRAFFICKING AND ISLAMIC TERRORISM
Considering these circumstances, the occurrence of certain events in our region and our country merit special reflection:
1) The denunciation by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and District Attorney Erick Holder concerning a plot by Iranian agents and Mexican Zeta Cartel members in Mexico to execute a major plan against Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Washington.
2) The detection and interception of an operation to ship 1,067 kilos of cocaine from La Romana Airport, in the Dominican Republic, to Belgium; the objective was to use the proceeds to finance Hezbollah activities in the Middle East.
3) The closing of the Lebanese-Canadian Bank due to accusations of laundering money stemming from drug trafficking by Colombian and Mexican cartels and Hezbollah, all under the supervision of Ayman Joumaa.
4) The illegal trafficking of suspicious people from the Middle East to North America, especially to Canada, passing them via South America and the Caribbean.
5) Diverse but significant events also call our attention: a Central American citizen accused of shooting at the White House; the arrest of Carlos Eduardo Almonte and José Pimentel, both Dominicans, together with José Padilla, Puerto Rican, for planning al-Qaeda inspired terrorist attacks in the United States. By 2006, several Haitians and North Americans of Haitian descent had been accused of similar activities in South Florida.
Intelligence information indicates that, beginning with its penetration by means of the Triple border, Hezbollah is expanding its range of action and generates illicit income of between 300 and 500 million dollars per year; furthermore, it runs two important distribution networks and operates with Iran’s sanction and, to a lesser extent, Syria’s. The terrorist attacks in Buenos Aires should not be forgotten.
What should constitute a true point of inflection when tackling the regional security situation is the link between the drug cartel activities and Islamic terrorism?
There are those who doubt that this issue could be true. Maybe they even make jokes and say that these are future episodes of the series called 24 Hours. Others believe that it is about the manifestations of a political and psychological war that puts on stage supposed conspiracies in order to exert pressure, manipulate, or interfere.
Personally, due to all I have analyzed, it is perfectly feasible that, in a war scenario, the Strait of Hormuz is an example; our region could become the theatre for unconventional warfare.
SECURE BORDER PLAN
What Dominicans should be convinced of, as well as the majority of the nations in the region, is that we have a great deal to lose in any scenario, a good reason why we should constantly and energetically improve our security.
In this sense, a national effort should be oriented towards strengthening the National Dominican Project and, within the same; it becomes a priority to promote a policy of security for all our borders.
The Dominican state has been developing a program of strengthening the borders; nevertheless, we must admit that the damages and vulnerabilities provoked by a conjunction of external and internal factors are appreciable and not easily overcome.
Let us see, in general terms, the implemented program and the one under development:
• The founding of the Specialized Land Border Security Corps (CESFRONT), a unit of great importance for the control of the land border, which extends for 388 kms and has many mountainous zones. However, it is necessary to increase the soldiers’ competence, assign them more resources and permanent training, and improve their internal structure until they have been converted into the most efficient corps in the Armed Forces. We must never forget that security efforts not complemented by development programs for the border populations are destined to fail.
• We must recover our maritime and air spaces, which for many years were under the defiant control of the drug trafficking cartels. The operational viability of the Super Tucano airplanes that were recently purchased has had a significant dissuasive effect. The increase in the fleet of speedboats to carry out interceptions is achieving similar effects. The purchase of Israeli long-range tridimensional radars as well as marine radars completes the infrastructure and instruments of defense for these spaces.
• However, we favor that, in the normative domain, legislation for air and maritime interception that proclaims the right to legitimate defense by the state when confronting operations in its sovereign territory by organized crime be approved and that the protocol for interception, including the eventual downing or sinking as a last option, be ratified.
• Although specialized air and navy corps have been created to protect ports and airports, it is urgent that we improve the technological infrastructure for the detection of diverse illicit trafficking: arms, drugs, persons, radioactive material, etc.
• The immigration policy, complementary to the previous one, has entered its most dynamic phase of the last three decades due to the implementation of the new Immigration Law and its regulations and a Regularization Plan for foreigners with an illegal migratory status. We are also working actively to improve the technological infrastructure that must support this effort to confront one of the more arduous national problems. It is enough to say, to illustrate our point for our distinguished visitors, that there are more Haitians per square mile in the Dominican Republic than Argentineans in Argentina, Chileans in Chile, Venezuelans in Venezuela, and North Americans in the United States.
• The border and money. We are very conscious that the Dominican economy is being permeated by money that proceeds from illicit activities; in this aspect, we will find the most sensitive challenges that will imply significant reforms in the anti-money laundering legislation as well as the approval of the Domain Extinction Law, which is already endowed with a constitutional basis, recuperating membership in the Egmont group, financial intelligence units, should constitute a high national priority.
• To strengthen the border with information and strategic knowledge requires the establishment of a National Intelligence System, which is being worked on stemming from a proposal that we launched in the National Congress, as well as the development of the organizations and systems ordered by the Anti-Terrorism Law, approved with Consultation by the Anti-Terrorism Department of the United Nations. We advocate the adoption of the Mexico Platform, a formidable instrument for the interchange of information for the fight against crime.
Concerning this point, a digression must be imposed. We take advantage of this occasion to congratulate the Dominican Armed forces, whose support for the Central Electoral Junta was necessary to prevent the occurrence of a coup via electronic means, the media, or paramilitary units. This would have caused a profound political crisis and enormous harm to our democratic institutions; their systems came under severe cybernetic attacks launched on Election Day both from overseas and our national territory. This is a true example of the new threats of the twenty-first century.
FOREIGN POLICY FOR SECURITY
Obviously, the efforts exerted on the internal order to improve our security and that of all the states in our region will not bear fruit if they do not articulate with a foreign policy that has very clear and precise objectives, among which we could mention:
1) To promote the commitment in the countries in the region not to attract upon themselves conflictive extra-continental situations that have cultural and religious roots that are very difficult to understand by means of the prevailing criteria of Western and Latin American civilization which, as Samuel Huntington highlights, is greatly associated with the former.
2) To strengthen the transparency and the performance controls of the accords and the security and defense programs agreed upon with other nations. In the same sense, it is important to publish a national defense and security book where our objectives to this effect may be displayed and can count on a Congressional sanction.
3) To demand, as friends and allies of the United States, changes in the policies for the fight against drug trafficking and corruption. The book Blindfolded by Andrés Oppenheimer describes – stemming from the investigations carried out by the Levine Commission of the North American Senate – the problems generated by double standards, manipulations, and the undue tolerance.
4) Although we understand the reasons why the United States and the European Union deal with international drug trafficking as a criminal phenomenon, it is beneficial that they understand that, for nations like ours, it constitutes a menace to our national security. We would not like to even consider that there will only be change of focus when the regional drug trafficking structures are employed to facilitate terrorist acts against their interests.
5) In this aspect, we hereby reiterate something that we have had the opportunity to explicate at an important event held in Washington in 2011 by the Democratic Community. The commercial policies of the United States in the region should not be conceived apart from or in contradiction with security policies. If commercial agreement do not stimulate the growth and development of the peoples of the Insular Caribbean and Central America, all the aforementioned security problems will be severely aggravated.
6) Finally, we wish to reaffirm our historical demand for a serious commitment from the international community to the destiny of the Haitian nation. Dominicans cannot exert hegemony or tutelage in Haiti and, even less; accept a Dominican solution to Haitian problems.
To carry out the entire agenda of liberty with security, of democracy with development, we can depend on your participation, friends and allies from Colombia.