In 1492, Christopher Columbus made his first landfall in the Western Hemisphere in The Bahamas. Spanish slave traders later captured native Lucayan Indians to work in gold mines in Hispaniola, and within 25 years, all Lucayans perished. In 1647, a group of English and Bermudan religious refugees, the Eleutheran Adventurers, founded the first permanent European settlement in The Bahamas and gave Eleuthera Island its name. Similar groups of settlers formed governments in The Bahamas until the islands became a British Crown Colony in 1717. The first Royal Governor, a former pirate named Woodes Rogers, brought law and order to The Bahamas in 1718, when he expelled the buccaneers who had used the islands as hideouts. After the American Revolution, Loyalists from the United States settled in The Bahamas. They brought with them black slaves to provide labor for cotton plantations. During the American Civil War, The Bahamas prospered as a center of Confederate blockade-running, but after the emancipation of slaves, the plantations died out in The Bahamas. After World War I and during Prohibition, the islands served as a base for American rumrunners. During World War II, the Allies centered their flight training and anti-submarine operations for the Caribbean in The Bahamas. Bahamians achieved self-government through a series of constitutional and political steps. Starting in the 1950s, the black Bahamians and their Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) opposed the ruling white-controlled United Bahamian party. The Bahamas attaining limited internal self-government as a British crown colony in 1964. Through the efforts of Prime Minister Lynden O. Pindling, they won control of the government in 1967 and gained full independence within the Commonwealth on July 10, 1973. Subsequently, the country prospered through tourism and international banking and investment management. However, allegations of widespread government corruption related to money from drug trafficking created a scandal for Pindling in 1983. While an investigation by a royal commission was inconclusive, Pindling later resigned as leader of the PLP and Hubert Ingraham of the Free National Movement became Prime Minister.
INCIDENCE OF CRIME
The Bahamas is a major transit point for South American cocaine and Jamaican marijuana en route to the U.S. By virtue of the country's involvement in drug trafficking, its banking industry is vulnerable to money laundering. Very small amounts of cannabis are grown on the islands for domestic consumption. The country will likely remain a target of narcotics traffickers well into the future due to its geographic location. Strategically located on the air and sea routes between Colombia and the U.S., the Bahamas encompasses hundreds of small, deserted islands used for transshipment and temporary drug storage, and its territory is also used for smuggling illegal migrants into the U.S. It is only 40 miles from south Florida at its closest point. Traffickers are increasingly using tactics that make it difficult for U.S. and Bahamian law enforcement to intercept their shipments. Among these are the ever-increasing use of Cuban airspace and territorial sea to evade law enforcement forces, the use of very high speed, low profile boats, and the use of well-hidden compartments on large coastal freighters. Related to traffic in drugs and people are high rates of property and violent crime. In 1998, there were 16,301 crimes against property and 1,473 robberies in The Bahamas, and in year 2000 there were 74 murders. With a population of 297,852, crime rates for The Bahamas amount to 25 per 100,000 for murder, 5473 per 100,000 for crimes against property, and 495 per 100,000 for robbery. These rates are more than double those of the United States for murder and robbery, and exceed those of the United States for crimes against property.
TRENDS IN CRIME
Violent crime rose drastically in the late 1990s. In the year 2000 there were 74 murders in The Bahamas, as compared to 28 in 1986, 13 in 1976, and 10 in 1966. In year 1998, there were 1,473 robberies, as compared to 687 in 1986, 379 in 1976, and 72 in 1966. In 1998, there were 16,301 crimes against property, as compared to 12,019 in 1986, 8,507 in 1976, and 72 in 1966. However in 2001, the rate of crime started coming down again. The year 2001 ended with 44 murders. According to a comprehensive overview of crime for 2001 presented by Police Commissioner Paul Farquharson, crime "plummeted" by 17 percent in all major categories. Most incidents of violent crime take place in a part of Nassau (the capital) not frequently visited by tourists. Although crime appears to be decreasing, locals still take caution. An estimated 85% have security bars, alarm systems or some form of security. Businesses tack on an estimated 5% to their annual operating costs for security, insurance, theft and pilferage.
The Bahamas legal system is based on English Common Law. The Commonwealth of The Bahamas is a parliamentary democracy. Its system of law and government is based on the Westminster model, which envisages three arms of the State - the Executive, the Legislative, and Judicial Branch. The relationship between each is governed by the principle of separation of powers and the functioning of each is clearly articulated in the Country's written Constitution. Parliament constitutes the Legislative branch of the Bahamas, which consist of a Senate and a House of Assembly. Subject to the provisions of the Constitution, Parliament may make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Bahamas. The significance of the supremacy of the Constitution and the principles enshrined therein, is that all legislation, government action, and action by the citizenry are subject to review by the Courts to ensure that they are consistent with the Constitution. The independence of the Bahamas Judiciary is constitutionally recognized. Judges are not politically appointed, and nor are they elected. The independence of the judiciary and Bahamian sovereignty are important to the status of The Bahamas as an international financial center. Elaborate court procedures are in place to deal with allegation of money laundering by foreign courts, tribunals or authorities. As a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, The Bahamas recognizes Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State.
The Bahamas have a national police force called the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF). The RBPF maintains internal security, and the small Royal Bahamas Defense Force (RBDF) is responsible for external security. There are approximately 2,200 police officers. The Drug Enforcement Unit (DEU) of the RBPF is the lead institution for drug law enforcement. As of early 1999, the DEU had an actual strength of 84 officers, including a counternarcotics strike force. As might be expected of a country so near the shores of south Florida, the Bahamas' relationship with the U.S. defense establishment centers on drug interdiction. Several assistance programs and joint operations aim to help the Bahamian security forces stop drugs that transit the archipelago en route to the United States. The Bahamian DEU works closely with the U.S. Justice Department's DEA on drug investigations. They also receive training and equipment through the State Department's International Narcotics Control (INC) program. The INC program trains RBPF units to conduct sophisticated drug trafficking and money laundering investigations, and offers maritime interdiction training to the RBDF. INC and Defense Department funds support Operation Bahamas and Turks and Caicos (OPBAT), a long-running joint narcotics interdiction operation. During 1998, the Government of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas (GCOB) had arrested 1,982 persons on drug charges and seized 3.68 metric tons of cocaine and 2.86 metric tons of marijuana. Although both the defense and the police forces were generally well regarded by the population, both had been beset by some drug related corruption. A Royal Commission of Inquiry in 1984 concluded that corruption existed in the upper and lower levels of the Police Force as well as in the Immigration Department and Customs Department. However, over the past several years officials who have engaged in narcotics-related corruption have been prosecuted successfully. Police officials acknowledged that police on occasion abused their authority, and pledged to address any wrongdoing by police officers. The Police Complaints and Corruption Branch, which reports directly to the Deputy Commissioner of Police, is responsible for investigating allegations of police brutality.
The Constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforces this right. Magistrate's courts are the lowest level courts and only handle crimes with a maximum sentence of 5 years. Arrested persons appear before a magistrate within 72 hours to hear the charges against them. They may hire an attorney of their choice, but the Government does not provide legal representation except to destitute suspects charged with capital crimes. The Bail Act prohibits bail for repeat offenders and those accused of certain violent crimes. Judges tend not to grant bail to foreign suspects, particularly on more serious offenses, since the authorities consider foreign offenders more likely to flee if released on bail. Trial by jury is available only in the Supreme Court, which is the trial court that handles most major cases. There are 12 Justices appointed to the Bench of the Supreme Court, including the Chief Justice. The high number of Supreme Court Justices and numerous Magistrates ensure speedy resolution of disputes. The Supreme Court has unlimited jurisdiction in general, civil and criminal matters. Its decisions may be appealed to the Court of Appeal, which is the highest tribunal in the country sitting on a full time basis throughout the year in Nassau, New Providence. The Privy Council is the highest court in the Bahamian judicial system. It is the final Court of Appeal of The Bahamas. These appeals are heard in London, England.
Fox Hill is the only prison in The Bahamas. Conditions are harsh, yet improving. Overcrowding is a major problem. One of every 200 citizens is in jail. More than 1,400 inmates reside in the prison. Most prisoners lack beds. Many of them sleep on concrete floors and are locked in their cells 23 hours per day. There were numerous escapes from Fox Hill prison, particularly by Cuban detainees. Women are separated from male prisoners. The prison's female population is around 40 inmates. There is no separate facility for juvenile offenders, however prison authorities attempt to place them with less violent criminals. The new maximum-security building has a separate section for juvenile offenders.
Violence against women continued to be a serious, widespread problem. Government crime statistics did not separate domestic violence from other incidents of violence. The Government operated a nationwide toll-free hot line, with two trained volunteers on each of the inhabited islands who were on call to respond in the event of a crisis. Government and private women's organizations conducted public awareness campaigns highlighting the problems of abuse and domestic violence. In November 2000, the Department of Social Services in partnership with a private company established, for the first time, two safe houses to assist battered women. The Domestic Court, which exclusively addresses family issues such as spousal abuse, maintenance payments, and legal separation, continued to receive a high volume of cases. The court can and does impose various legal constraints to protect women from abusive spouses or companions. Rape, including spousal rape, was a crime. Prosecutions and convictions on rape charges were common and the maximum penalty frequently was applied. However, advocates for women's rights saw a need to improve the effectiveness of enforcement of the court's orders. They cited a general reluctance on the part of law enforcement authorities to intervene in domestic disputes and a lack of police training and sensitivity in dealing with domestic violence. The police recognized domestic violence as a high priority and provided specialized training to several hundred officers in mandatory classes for all incoming officers as well as in ongoing training. Women's rights activists noted the new training the police had received and believed that it was a positive development.
The Constitution discriminates against women by not providing them with the same right as men to transmit citizenship to their foreign-born spouses. The law also makes it easier for men with foreign spouses to confer citizenship on their children than for women with foreign spouses. Some inheritance laws also favored men over women. For example, when a person dies without a will, the estate passes to the oldest legitimate son, or in cases where there is no son, the closest legitimate male relative. Prominent women of all political persuasions continued to push for an amendment to the Constitution and related laws to redress this situation. In 2001 Parliament passed legislation to amend the Constitution and eliminate this discrimination; however, the amendment (along with four other proposed constitutional changes) was defeated soundly in a referendum after the PLP and much of the local religious community opposed it. The Government promised to consult with the citizens before again moving forward with this legislation, but no firm timetable had been established to do so.
Women participated fully in society and were well represented in the business and professional sectors.
The Government claimed child welfare and education are a priority but they lacked sufficient funding. The public schools, in particular, lacked basic educational materials, and facilities were overcrowded and substandard. Public education was compulsory for children through the age of 16, and most children attended school until this age.
Both the Government and civic organizations conducted intensive public education programs aimed at the problem of child abuse and appropriate parenting behavior; however, child abuse and neglect remained serious problems. In 2001 there were 101 reports of sexual abuse of minors, 13 reports of incest, 18 reports of physical abuse, 83 reports of child neglect, and 9 cases of child abandonment. More recent statistics were unavailable.
The law requires that all persons who have contact with a child they believe to be abused sexually report their suspicions to the police. However, the same reporting requirement does not apply to cases of physical abuse, which health care professionals believe occurred quite frequently. The police referred reported cases of sexual and physical abuse to the Department of Social Services, which investigates them and can bring criminal charges against perpetrators. The Department may remove children from abusive situations if the court deems it necessary. The highly publicized death of a 4-year-old boy, and subsequent arrest of his father, focused renewed attention on this issue.
Unofficial estimates suggest that between 20 and 25 percent of the population are Haitians or citizens of Haitian descent, making them the largest and most visible ethnic minority in the islands. While 30,000 to 40,000 Haitian citizens resided in the country legally, some observers believed that similarly large numbers were in the country illegally. Haitian children were granted access to education and social services. Children born of non-Bahamian parents or to a Bahamian mother with a non-Bahamian father in the Bahamas do not automatically acquire citizenship.
Although Haitians and Bahamians of Haitian descent generally were well integrated into society, interethnic tensions and inequities persisted. Some members of the Haitian community complained of discrimination in the job market, and resentment of continued Haitian immigration was widespread. However, reports of ethnic violence or blatant discrimination against legally resident Haitians were scarce. Some leaders of the Haitian community approved of the Government's approach to the repatriation of illegal migrants and pointed to the high number of ethnic Haitians in the public service.
Trafficking in Persons
There are no laws that specifically address trafficking in persons; however, the Penal Code bans prostitution and prohibits the detention of persons against their will and for immoral purposes. There were no reports that persons were trafficked to, from, within, or through the country, and the Government did not prosecute any cases against traffickers.
The Bahamas is a major transit point for South American cocaine and Jamaican marijuana en route to the U.S. Very small amounts of cannabis are grown on the islands for domestic consumption. The USG and the Government of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas (GCOB) continue to enjoy a productive and positive counterdrug working relationship. The GCOB places a high priority on combating drug transshipments through its archipelago, and is moving decisively to combat money laundering and other drug-related crimes. The GCOB cooperates very closely with the USG on our combined law enforcement effort, Operation Bahamas and Turks and Caicos (OPBAT). The first country to ratify the 1988 UN Drug Convention, the GCOB continues to take steps to implement it. Following passage of strong anti-money laundering legislation in 1996, Bahamian authorities are closely monitoring bank compliance and investigating suspicious financial transactions.
U.S. and Bahamian law enforcement officials worked very closely throughout the year to respond to notable increases in air and maritime transshipment incidents. The GCOB is strongly emphasizing money laundering and asset forfeiture investigations and prosecutions. The GCOB also continued to strengthen its judicial system, with assistance from the USG. However, unreliable jury pools and weaknesses in the drug laws resulted in several major Bahamian drug dealers' evading conviction in 1998. Despite committed and talented judicial leadership, The Bahamas needs to improve the effectiveness of its court system in gaining convictions against major drug dealers and trafficking organizations by strengthening its drug trafficking laws and improving the prosecutorial capabilities of the police prosecutors. The USG will continue to work with the GCOB in this area, both bilaterally and through regional training and assistance projects.
In December 1998, the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF) Drug Enforcement Unit (DEU) arrested two police officers from the RBPF Drug Canine Unit at Nassau International Airport for allegedly working with a cocaine trafficking ring. The GCOB needs to continue to move decisively against corruption at Bahamian ports of entry.
The Bahamas will likely remain a target of narcotics traffickers well into the future due to its geographic location. The Bahamas is a country of approximately 275,000 people scattered over an area the size of California, strategically located on the air and sea routes between Colombia and the U.S. The Bahamian archipelago contains hundreds of small, deserted islands used for transshipment and temporary drug storage, and is only 40 miles from south Florida at its closest point. The Bahamas has a strong anti-money laundering regime and is committed to vigorous oversight of its financial sector. Nonetheless, the country's bank secrecy laws, its role as a regional financial center, and the existence of a largely unregulated international business corporation (IBC) sector make The Bahamas an attractive potential target for money laundering and other financial crimes.
During 1998, the GCOB continued its efforts to fulfill the objectives of the 1988 UN Drug Convention by: (1) establishing an intergovernmental committee to monitor financial sector compliance with the 1997 money laundering implementing regulations; (2) formally committing to designate the U.S. under Bahamian asset forfeiture legislation, based on reciprocity, although legislation will be required to so designate the U.S.; (3) committing to create a financial intelligence unit (FIU) to investigate suspicious transaction reports emanating from the financial sector; (4) committing to applying for membership in the Egmont Group in 1999; (5) establishing a money laundering/asset forfeiture investigative unit within the RBPF DEU; and (6) creating a high-level, intergovernmental committee to draft the country's first national drug strategy report. The GCOB's Office of Public Prosecutions is working closely with the U.S. Department of Justice to seize bank accounts in The Bahamas identified as part of the large USG "Operation Casablanca" international money laundering case. The GCOB's office of Legal Affairs continues to work with the U.S. Department of Justice to improve cooperation on U.S. requests for mutual legal assistance. The Central Bank of The Bahamas continues to closely scrutinize banks' compliance with suspicious transaction reporting requirements, and is working closely with the Bankers' Association to undertake self-monitoring, including conducting money laundering seminars for bank personnel.
The GCOB, working closely with the USG, has completed a project to link, via fiber optics, all of the courts, the offices of public and police prosecutions, and the automated court reporters' section. The project's purpose is to reduce delays in criminal, especially drug, cases pending in the courts. The last step in the project, to be completed in 1999-2000, will be to install a court case management software system which will make The Bahamas' judiciary virtually "paperless." Once this project is completed, the Bahamian judicial system will become the most technologically advanced in the region. Parallel to the computerization project, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has implemented a project to identify outdated court procedures which cause backlogs in the system. In April 1998, the Chief Justice led a USG-supported court delay reduction workshop involving judges, registrars, prosecutors, and members of the private bar. At that time, the Prime Minister, the Attorney General and the Chief Justice publicly committed to reforming court procedures. The Chief Justice tasked criminal and civil committees to present her with recommendations for court reforms by the end of 1998. The Chief Justice is committed to acting on these recommendations in 1999.
The RBPF DEU works very closely with U.S. law enforcement agencies, through OPBAT, in interdicting drug transshipments and investigating and arresting local drug traffickers. The DEU moved decisively in 1998 to pursue money launderers by establishing a separate money laundering and asset forfeiture investigative unit. With USG support, the money laundering unit has participated in U.S.-sponsored money laundering seminars, including one U.S.-funded seminar conducted by experts from several U.S. agencies in The Bahamas for 55 GCOB and bank officials, and has attended intensive financial investigations training programs in the U.S. As a result of their increased financial investigative capacity, the money laundering unit is undertaking several local asset forfeiture investigations and is cooperating with U.S. and third country law enforcement agencies on several major transnational money laundering cases, including Operation Casablanca.
The Attorney General's Office of Public Prosecutions has likewise made a strong commitment to drug-related money laundering prosecutions. The Director of Public Prosecutions, a highly committed and regionally-respected prosecutor, has designated an experienced public prosecutor in her office to work solely on money laundering and asset forfeiture cases. The Office of Public Prosecutions, working closely with the DEU money laundering unit and the U.S. Department of Justice, has successfully restrained U.S.$1.5 million in Operation Casablanca-related bank accounts in The Bahamas. The office has also restrained over U.S.$l0 million in other, third-country laundered deposits held in Bahamian banks. The Office of Public Prosecutions does a very professional job of prosecuting local drug dealers and trafficking organizations. Their admirable efforts at conviction are often thwarted by suspected jury corruption and weak drug laws.
The GCOB's decision to designate the U.S. under its asset forfeiture laws, based on reciprocity, shows a serious commitment at the highest levels to resolve a longstanding bilateral irritant. Once the scope of reciprocity is resolved and the designation becomes official, the U.S. and the Bahamas will be able to work more closely on transnational money laundering cases.
The GCOB continues to cooperate with the U.S. on extradition requests, based on the 1994 U.S.-Bahamas Extradition Treaty, but with mixed results. There are several drug-related extradition requests pending in the Bahamian court system.
The USG has donated computer equipment to assist the GCOB in improving its response time to MLAT requests. The U.S. Department of Justice continues to work with the Office of Legal Affairs to improve GCOB responsiveness to U.S. mutual legal assistance requests. A delegation from the Office of Legal Affairs traveled to Washington in August 1998, to review pending U.S. MLAT requests.
The USG continues to work with the GCOB to assure that the large container port facility in Freeport, Grand Bahama, does not become a transshipment point to drug traffickers. Three Bahamian officials attended an OAS-funded regional port security seminar in Barbados in November 1998.
The RBPF continued its decade-long, active participation with USG agencies and Turks and Caicos police in OPBAT, a combined program designed to intercept narcotics shipments and arrest traffickers in the Turks and Caicos Islands and in The Bahamas. USG helicopters operating from three bases in the Bahamas facilitate these operations. The GCOB continued to demonstrate its strong commitment to OPBAT by continuing to fund its large counternarcotics strike force unit.
Cocaine seizures in 1998 increased markedly over 1997 levels, which were the highest since 1992. Marijuana seizures were down somewhat after the near record year in 1997. Air activity increased again in 1998 and overtook maritime transportation as the mode of preference in terms of quantities of drugs moved through the Bahamas. Maritime incidents involving go-fast boats, pleasure crafts, and fishing vessels have remained somewhat stable from last year, but the use of coastal freighters to transport drugs has risen. Law enforcement has increasingly uncovered large loads (two metric tons or more) of cocaine hidden in secret compartments of coastal freighters transiting through Bahamian waters. Currently there are more coastal freighter vessels on lookout than at any time in the past. USG agencies concur that there is an upward trend by narcotraffickers in their use of Bahamian territory for cocaine and marijuana transshipment into the southeastern United States. This upward trend has been largely attributed to the USG crackdown on counternarcotics trafficking through Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Mexico and across the southeastern U.S. border.
Traffickers are increasingly using tactics that make it difficult for U.S. and Bahamian law enforcement to intercept their shipments. Among these are the ever-increasing use of Cuban airspace and territorial sea to evade OPBAT assets, the use of very high speed, low profile boats, and the use of well-hidden compartments on large coastal freighters.
In February 1998, Bahamian and U.S. law enforcement officials boarded a coastal freighter in Grand Bahama and seized 2,236 kilograms of cocaine. Seizures from airdrops with loads ranging from 300 kilograms to 600 kilograms of cocaine occurred in March, May, September, and October 1998. U.S. and Bahamian law enforcement officials continue to discover small marijuana patches on some of the remote Bahamian islands, though no marijuana is known to be grown in sufficient quantities for export.
The Bahamian DEU works closely with DEA on drug investigations. It is a special force within the RBPF composed of 84 officers (including the counternarcotics strike force). During 1998, the GCOB had arrested 1,982 persons on drug charges and seized 3.68 metric tons of cocaine and 2.86 metric tons of marijuana. The DEU is presently conducting several money laundering investigations based on the recently-passed anti-money laundering law.
Under Bahamian law, the assets of a convicted drug offender are subject to forfeiture. Unfortunately, defense attorneys for drug traffickers are often able to delay their cases for many years. As a result, by the time the drug traffickers' cases are adjudicated, the assets have lost much of their value. Funds from the sale of forfeited assets are deposited in the government's general fund. The Attorney General's office continues to experience little success in forfeiting trafficking proceeds.
As a matter of policy, the GCOB does not encourage or facilitate illicit production or distribution of drugs, or the laundering of illicit proceeds therefrom. The USG is not aware of senior officials of the GCOB engaging in, encouraging, or facilitating the illicit production or distribution of drugs, or the laundering of proceeds from illegal drug transactions. Over the past several years, some mid- and low-level officials who engaged in narcotics-related corruption were prosecuted successfully. On December 16, the RBPF DEU arrested two police officers from the RBPF Drug Canine Unit at Nassau International Airport. The two handlers were allegedly working with a drug trafficking ring to move cocaine through the airport via U.S. and Bahamian air carriers to the southeastern U.S. Although the DEU has conducted several operations against RBPF and RBDF corruption, the GCOB needs to continue to move decisively against corruption at Bahamian ports of entry. Delays and backlogs in the judicial system reduce the possibility that corrupt officials or drug traffickers will serve lengthy sentences. Reducing these delays and backlogs is the focus of the court delay reduction initiative of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
The Bahamas is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention. The GCOB works to accomplish the goals and objectives of U.S.-Bahamas bilateral narcotics control agreements, which facilitate cooperative action on a wide range of narcotics-control measures, such as improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the judicial system, impeding money laundering, reducing local demand for drugs, and preventing the transshipment of drugs through Bahamian waters via OPBAT and other bilateral law enforcement efforts.
The U.S.-Bahamas Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) facilitates the bilateral exchange of information and evidence for use in criminal proceedings. The MLAT can be used to pierce Bahamian bank secrecy laws where credible evidence exists of narcotics crimes, money laundering, or other serious offenses. The GCOB is generally responsive to MLAT requests, although in some instances the USG has not been able to obtain a satisfactory response.
The GCOB has been receptive to U.S. extradition requests, based on the 1994 U.S.-Bahamas Extradition Treaty, but with mixed results. Actual extraditions continue to be slowed by procedural delays in the Bahamian courts.
The U.S. and The Bahamas entered into a maritime counternarcotics cooperation agreement in May 1996. The agreement permits the Bahamas to embark Defence Force or Police officers to act as shipriders on U.S. vessels operating in Bahamian waters. The agreement permits the U.S. vessels to support these shipriders in Bahamian territorial seas to board, search, and, if evidence warrants, seize U.S., stateless, or third nation vessels; to enter Bahamian territorial seas to assist Bahamian law enforcement personnel in the enforcement of Bahamian laws; and to board, search, and seize Bahamian vessels on the high seas suspected of involvement in criminal activity. This agreement also authorizes USG law enforcement aircraft to overfly Bahamian territory. Bahamian forces have participated in several combined maritime law enforcement operations with the U.S. Coast Guard.
During 1998, drug flow estimates for cocaine rose considerably. Flow estimates for marijuana remained constant.
The GCOB makes modest budgetary contributions to demand reduction programs, especially in education and prevention. In 1998, the USG funded the first chemical dependency professional certificate program in the history of The Bahamas. As a result of this program, 30 Bahamians working in the areas of drug demand reduction and abuse are now professionally trained. The USG provides some assistance to the government's National Drug Council. The number of new drug users has declined in the past ten years, but there are indications that cocaine and crack abuse is on the rise. Most usage among young Bahamians is largely restricted to marijuana.
The goals of USG assistance to and presence in The Bahamas are to dismantle trafficking organizations, stem the flow of drugs through The Bahamas to the U.S., and strengthen Bahamian law enforcement and judicial institutions to make them more effective and self-sufficient in dealing with narcotics trafficking and money laundering.
The GCOB continues to allocate significant budgetary resources to its counternarcotics efforts--approximately 14 percent of its annual budget--and to bilateral cooperation with the U.S. Despite a high arrest success rate by the police, convictions of drug dealers remain low due to weaknesses in local drug laws and suspect juries. The GCOB commitment to OPBAT, through its funding of the RBPF strike force unit, has led to close bilateral cooperation producing numerous drug arrests and seizures. However, the Royal Bahamas Defense Force (RBDF)--a potentially important player in counternarcotics interdiction--has yet to clearly define its role in this effort.
The Bahamas' expansive archipelagic geography and proximity to the U.S. guarantees it will be a target for drug transshipment and other criminal activity for the foreseeable future. Its niche as a financial center, its bank secrecy laws, and its liberal international business corporation (IBC) regime make it vulnerable to drug money laundering and other financial crimes. The Bahamians have long maintained a strong track record of commitment to bilateral counternarcotics efforts. The GCOB is now firmly supporting anti-money laundering efforts as well. Because of the country's relatively small budget and growing drug transshipment problem, the GCOB will continue to depend upon significant USG assistance to fight international narcotics trafficking and crime. The principal short- and medium-term objective of U.S. counternarcotics assistance in The Bahamas is the strengthening of the country's institutions to allow the GCOB to assume a greater share of the burden of combating drug trafficking, money laundering, and other criminal activity. A second key objective is to continue to deepen U.S.-Bahamian counternarcotics, crime, and money laundering cooperation to serve as a model in the hemisphere.
Contributed by Javier A. Rivera