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Canada’s War on Drugs in the Caribbean Had a Very Good Year

Dating back to November 2006, Operation CARIBBE has been Canada’s military contribution to the US led effort to disrupt the narco networks supplying global drug markets.

by Ben Makuch
Dec 17 2015, 10:07pm

On the HMCS Athabaskan/Photo by Corporal Anthony Chand

Unbeknownst to some, Canada has been waging a war on cocaine traffickers in the Caribbean — and it just netted a record haul.

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) announced the conclusion of its anti-narco operations in the Caribbean high seas for 2015, withdrawing the last of its Royal Canadian Navy vessels hunting cartel traffickers.

Starting in November 2006, Operation CARIBBE has been Canada's military contribution to the US led Operation MARTILLO, which also involves European allies on the frontlines of the the war on drugs, disrupting the narco networks supplying global drug markets.

This year the CAF touted its latest mission for seizing "18.5 metric tons of cocaine and 3 metric tons of marijuana, more than any other year since the CAF's contribution began in 2006."

Crew of HMCS Athabaskan commemorate the Battle of the Atlantic while on Op CARIBBE/Photo by Corporal Anthony Chand

As of early 2015 figures, over the last four years the US government reports that Op MARTILLO netted 400 metric tons of narcotics.

Concluding the 2015 edition of CARIBBE, HMC Ships Brandon and Whitehorse recently arrived home in Canada after their deployment.

During the 44-day deployment both ships smashed the record for most narcotics disrupted in the history of Op CARIBBE, intercepting a combined total of approximately 9,800 kilograms, beating the previous record held by HMC ships Whitehorse and Nanaimo that captured a total of 5,934 kg earlier this year in the Eastern Pacific.

"I have seen the terrible damage inflicted onto Canadian cities and citizens caused by organized crime and their business in drug trafficking," said Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan, once a Vancouver Police officer who dealt with the city's infamous drug problem.

"This year's record success on Operation CARIBBE is a testament to the Canadian Armed Forces and particularly the Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force's dedication and perseverance to work with our allies in complex environments for the safety and security of the citizens of this continent."

Members of HMCS Shawinigan offer security to US Coast Guard/Photo by Benoit Plante 

The whole Canadian mission also went beyond vessels patrolling the ocean: Op CARIBBE called four CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft into service along with CH-124 Sea King helicopters that combined to fly 150 hours in surveillance and detection missions.

Although the CAF says this mission is part of its broader "commitment to engagement in the Americas" and celebrates its cocaine seizures, its other operations in the Americas have remained in the shadows.

In its official engagement guide on the Americas, the CAF says it works in Belize and Guatemala to conduct capacity building efforts to help those countries defend against narco-traffickers.

Guatemala in particular, is a major and historical location for cocaine in transit to the US. But when quizzed by the CBC in 2013 on what the specific Canadian military contribution was in Guatemala, the CAF remained tight lipped.

In a Human Rights Watch report for 2015, Guatemala is rebuked for continuing to use the military to intervene in public safety operations even though the army has a "long history of human rights abuse."

At the same time, Canadian Special Forces soldiers helped train Jamaican troops in anti-narco efforts, while other Canadian military assets have been deployed to Chile, Brazil and Colombia in recent years for training missions in what has been seen as a marked increase in the support of the US War On Drugs over the last decade.

HMCS Athabaskan/Photo by Master Corporal Richard Royer

Follow Ben Makuch on Twitter: @bmakuch 

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