Nassau, Bahamas — The U.S. Ambassador to the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, Nicole A. Avant joined The Bahamas’ Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, T. Brent Symonette, the Governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands, Gordon Wetherell, and senior government officials representing The Bahamas, the United States, and the Turks and Caicos Islands at the opening ceremony of the 2010 Narcotics Joint Task Force meeting held on November 8th in Nassau, The Bahamas.
The annual Joint Task Force meeting is a forum for senior officials from the United States, The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos to review joint operations, candidly discuss and assess future joint counter-narcotics efforts, and collaborate on ways to further strengthen the already close partnership that exists in combating the flow of illegal drugs and migrants. It is also an opportunity for senior officials to exchange ideas about additional steps to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their national and common efforts. The Joint Task Force has been meeting regularly since 1987.
In his opening remarks, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Symonette highlighted the significant successes that have been achieved over the last year in interdicting illegal drug flows and in disrupting drug trafficking organizations. He noted that from January 2010 to the present, joint forces have seized 404 lbs of cocaine, 16401.50 lbs of marijuana, 35,000 marijuana plants and 52 lbs of hashish.
Deputy Prime Minister Symonette also recognized the continued support and assistance received by the U.S. Government and expressed appreciation for the additional funding under the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI). “This significant increase in funds as executed in the Letter of Agreement between the Governments of The Bahamas and the United States for the fiscal year 2010/2011, amounts to a total of $1.6 million which will enhance our cooperative activities,” the Deputy Prime Minister told the group of senior officials.
Ambassador Avant agreed with the Deputy Prime Minister’s positive assessment and expressed appreciation on behalf of the Obama Administration for the continued cooperation in disrupting criminal organizations and deterring illegal migration. “As we know all too well, the illicit drug trade directly threatens families and neighborhoods throughout our two countries. It destroys the lives of those caught in the grip of addiction and undermines the communities confronting drug related crimes. It encourages corruption and impedes economic development. These effects are felt most acutely at the local level, but the problem is international in scope. We must continue to meet this threat together,” said U.S. Ambassador, Nicole Avant.
Ambassador Avant also emphasized the continued strong commitment of the United States to Operations Bahamas Turks and Caicos (OPBAT) and recognized the work done by OPBAT personnel in response to the earthquake in Haiti from their temporary base in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos. She also announced the signing of a lease agreement between the United States and The Bahamas that will allow the United States Coast Guard to move forward with the construction of a new $30 million hangar facility on Great Inagua to replace the old OPBAT hangar destroyed by hurricane Ike in 2008.
Ambassador Avant ended her remarks by noting that the last year has been a successful one for the Joint Task Force and OPBAT, but challenges remain. “Every day we are faced with sophisticated criminal organizations that operate across vast expanses of land and sea and will do anything to get their illicit products to market. Disrupting the activities of these organizations is beyond the capability of any single government. Our governments must continue to address this threat creatively and collectively,” said Ambassador Avant.