By US Department of State
USA / THE CARIBBEAN – The United States and our Caribbean partners jointly prioritize disrupting illicit firearms trafficking, an important aspect of our cooperation to address rising levels of crime and violence in the region.
US law enforcement and border security agencies and the Department of State work with Caribbean counterparts and regional institutions to build Caribbean capacity to detect and interdict illegally trafficked firearms and ammunition, and promote coordination and information sharing between law enforcement and border security agencies.
The Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Dominican Republic and the United States are dedicated to partnership and addressing our shared responsibility to fight illicit trafficking in firearms.
In April, US and Caribbean firearms authorities convened a technical working group meeting in Trinidad and Tobago where they reaffirmed their commitment to implement the Caribbean Firearms Trafficking Priority Actions developed under the auspices of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI).
Signed into law in July 2022, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act dramatically increased criminal penalties for straw purchasers and US-sourced firearms trafficking.
Provisions under the “Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act” assign further penalties for smuggled firearms or ammunition out of the United States with intent to support transnational organized crime.
In June 2023, Vice President Harris announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) would announce a Coordinator for Caribbean Firearms Prosecutions. In July 2023, the Department of Justice appointed an experienced prosecutor to the role to elevate firearms trafficking investigations and prosecutions and help implement the provisions of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.
In November 2022, the CARICOM Implementational Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS), with US interagency support, inaugurated a Caribbean Crime Gun Intelligence Unit (CCGIU) to improve intelligence and information sharing among Caribbean and U.S. law enforcement agencies.
On November 16, Haiti and the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) and Haitian National Police will sign a memorandum of understanding to facilitate law enforcement information sharing through the ATF eTrace system. Use of the eTrace system can help identify potential gun traffickers and suspects in criminal investigations involving firearms.
The Department of State supports ongoing collaboration between Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Haitian National Police to develop a Transnational Criminal Investigative Unit (TCIU) to facilitate investigations and prosecution of transnational crimes, including investigations with a US nexus. The TCIU will focus on investigating firearms and ammunition smuggling, human trafficking, and transnational gang activity.
Caribbean Crime Gun Intelligence Unit (CCGIU):
In November 2022, the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS), with US interagency support, inaugurated the CCGIU to improve intelligence and information sharing among Caribbean and US law enforcement agencies.
The CCGIU supports CARICOM Member States with seizing firearms, related parts, and components, as well as in identifying, charging, and prosecuting co-conspirators for firearms crimes.
The CCGIU works with US and international law enforcement partners including ATF (HSI, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), US Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), UK National Crime Agency (NCA), INTERPOL, and the Regional Security System (RSS).
The CCGIU facilitates the expansion of ATF’s training initiatives for CARICOM law enforcement partners on the use of eTrace and best practices for conducting firearms trafficking investigations.
US Investigative and Capacity-Building Support to the Caribbean
ATF attachés in Jamaica, The Bahamas, and Trinidad and Tobago investigate firearms trafficking cases with partner-country law enforcement agencies and US investigators.
With assistance from these attachés, the number of firearms traced for the region increased by nearly 100 from FY 2021 to FY 2022. These traces resulted in the referral of multiple criminal investigations to domestic ATF field divisions and assisted CARICOM partners in identifying trafficking networks and source locations.
HSI enforces US export laws and investigates firearms and ammunition smuggling operations violating these laws. To better serve the region, HSI increased its office footprint by opening new offices in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti (2023); Freeport, The Bahamas (2023); Bridgetown, Barbados (2024) in addition to existing offices in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; Nassau, The Bahamas; and Kingston, Jamaica. HSI vetted Transnational Criminal Investigative Units in three Caribbean countries contributing to investigative and capacity building efforts.
BIS licenses firearms on the Commerce Control List, The Office of Export Enforcement serves as an investigative arm of BIS and enforces US export laws, and the illicit trafficking of firearms and ammunition.
The United States supports projects through the World Customs Organization, UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and the International Organization for Migration to increase port and border security to combat illicit trafficking.
Regional Forensics Accreditation: The Department of State, through its regional forensics accreditation project, will help Caribbean forensic capabilities meet international standards with a goal of achieving International Organization for Standardization accreditation. The United States will help establish a regional forensics Center of Excellence in Saint Lucia in addition to continued support to forensic laboratories in The Bahamas and the Dominican Republic. The project will support the collection of timely, reliable, and admissible forensic evidence to support criminal investigations and prosecutions, increase efficiency, and help lower case backlogs.
In May 2019, CARICOM heads of government formally adopted the Caribbean Firearms Trafficking Priority Actions, which consist of a list of reforms and regional engagements identified by US and Caribbean experts to effectively address firearms trafficking within the region.
In 2020, with US support, the CARICOM IMPACS and the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean developed the Caribbean Firearms Roadmap. This framework provides timelines and baselines for implementing the Caribbean Firearms Trafficking Priority Actions.
To date, 12 Caribbean countries drafted national action plans under the auspices of the Firearms Roadmap and Priority Actions. The United States stands ready to help countries implement their individualized priorities, plans, and timelines upon completion of their respective national action plans.
In September 2023, Department of Homeland Security components – HSI, Joint Taskforce East, and CBP – initiated Operation Hammerhead, in partnership with CARICOM IMPACS CGIU. Operation Hammerhead, an international and interagency-supported surge to assess contraband risk (firearms and ammunition) of Caribbean-bound US exports to reinvigorate US/Caribbean firearms trafficking investigations. To date, Operation Hammerhead reviewed 211,061 Caribbean-bound exports, referred 1,924 with some level of risk (tiered system), and supported eight firearms trafficking investigations. During Operation Hammerhead’s timeframe – 48 pistols, 10 rifles, 10 magazines, four revolvers, and 3,371 rounds of ammunition have been seized in/destined for the Caribbean.
In FY 2023, HSI’s Caribbean Firearms Initiative contributed to regional security through partnerships with Caribbean law enforcement and Customs agencies, collectively seizing 344 firearms, 224,438 rounds of ammunition, and $391,132.00 in US currency.
US Department of State – Fact Sheet – Office of the Spokesperson – November 16, 2023