Drug cartels have increasingly trafficked through the Caribbean to evade law enforcement, but the U.S. Coast Guard is struggling to keep up.
The U.S. has been successful working with our allies in targeting drug trafficking organizations and decreasing violence through programs like the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) and the Merida Initiative in Mexico. As a result, cartels have shifted to operating in the Caribbean, where security and international attention are generally weaker. So the models of CARSI and Merida have also been applied in the Caribbean through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI). This partnership with CBSI has already shown tangible results. Acknowledging these victories, Vice President Joe Biden recently met with CBSI leaders to further commit U.S. resources to establish much-needed rule of law to help combat trafficking.
As cartels increasingly move illicit materials via the Caribbean, a larger and larger burden of keeping drugs out of the United States has fallen on the Coast Guard’s shoulders. However, the Obama Administration and Congress seem to have forgotten that it is their job to allocate resources to updating the Coast Guard’s aging fleet, as many of its cutters are well beyond their expected service lives.
The fleet is being stretched in multiple directions. While its responsibilities are growing because of increased trafficking, it is also being challenged to do its job with fewer, less capable cutters than ever before. The fleet is serving in the Caribbean/Gulf as well as the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic. The decreasing fleet size means that ships that have already been falling short of expectations will be pushed even further beyond their limits.
The underfunding of the Coast Guard, given the increase in trafficking through the Caribbean, is a mistake that threatens national security. The Obama Administration and Congress have a constitutional responsibility to do their part in working not only with our international partners to combat drug trafficking but providing the resources the Coast Guard needs to keep us safe here at home.
Noelle Suarez-Murias is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.