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Prime Minister's address on national security - March 6, 2003

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Fellow Saint Lucians,

It has become necessary for me to address you tonight on certain matters relating to the National Security of our country.

A Changed world

Ever since September 11, 2001 the matter of National Security has received greater attention than usual from Governments and people all around the world. Since that dreadful day we have all come to accept that the world has changed dramatically and perhaps forever, and this realization is particularly acute in respect of air travel.

For example, we have all come to accept the necessity of new and more lengthy procedures – the earlier check-in times, the more detailed and rigorous searches, the questions which seem to invade our privacy, and the ever present and probing metal detectors. In short, we have all come to accept the necessity for the inconvenience and discomfort that are rooted in concern for our security and safety.

The world has certainly become a different, more dangerous place and we are required to adapt almost daily to changing circumstances and emerging threats.

We have also come to accept the reality of our interconnectedness. We came to understand in an instant, that events in any part of the world could have major consequences for us. Similarly, we came to understand that events and circumstances here in Saint Lucia could also have international implications. This explains for example, the necessity for us here in Saint Lucia to improve upon the security arrangements at our air and sea ports.

Government came to realize also that even while we understood the need for improving the security arrangements at our ports, and were prepared to undertake these improvements voluntarily, Saint Lucia would have had no choice in the matter. Improved security at Saint Lucia’s points of entry and exit was now no longer an option, but a clear and immediate requirement of the international air travel community.

Point of Weakness in Global Network

The reality is that because of the relaxed manner in which we are accustomed to going about our daily lives, countries like ours are seen as points of weakness, potential launching pads for acts of terror or other mischief, targeted at other countries and their associated interests. We must ensure, through our vigilance, and concerted and deliberate action that our country serves no such purpose. The recent terrorist acts in the tourist resort city of Bali in Indonesia, and those against tourism facilities in Kenya should serve to alert us to the striking similarities between our circumstances and those of the countries which were so affected.

The notion that countries like ours are points of weakness in the global security network is not limited to air travel arrangements, but also applies to other areas such as international financial services. International terrorism and criminal networks require quick, smooth, and undetectable flows of large amounts of money from country to country, and so you will understand why it has also become necessary for us to pay particular attention to ensuring that our country remains a clean financial services jurisdiction, free from the spectre of money laundering.

Abuse of Relaxed Passport Control Regime

Ladies and gentlemen, St Lucia is one of very few countries in the region without a regime of full passport controls. For example, whenever a Saint Lucian travels, he or she is not required to fill out and submit immigration forms either upon entry into, or departure from the country. Many Saint Lucians admit to a certain pleasure upon having to turn down a flight attendant’s offer of an immigration/landing card for entry into Saint Lucia.

It has been quite some time since full passport controls were removed as a means of eliminating some of the hassles associated with overseas travel. Sadly however, there have been numerous of instances where this small but useful and welcome convenience has led to serious breaches of security.

The most recent example of this is the situation involving the escape of an inmate of Her Majesty’s Prisons to Barbados. The absence of immigration controls at our ports made it possible for this individual to leave the country without official record of his departure, and without the opportunity for his apprehension through this means. Fortunately, he was picked up by Barbadian security personnel.

I referred earlier to countries like Saint Lucia being viewed as points of weakness, facilitating the easy movement of drug traffickers from the region and Central and South America as well as becoming potential launching pads for acts of terror or other mischief. There is indeed a perception in both official and unofficial circles that countries like ours constitute the soft underbelly of the US. Because of our close proximity to the US and Canada, criminal groups and others seeking entry into those countries are actively utilizing St Lucia as a jump-off or transit point. It is clear that without outgoing immigration controls, it is easier for outgoing passengers who engage in criminal activity to avoid detection.

Threat to Integrity of the St Lucia Passport

The St Lucia Passport has come to be regarded as a travel document of the highest integrity. Mercifully, we have been spared the scandals and the uncertainties associated with the passports of some countries in the region, and holders of St Lucian Passports are seldom, if ever, required to defend the authenticity or integrity of the document when traveling abroad.

Ironically however, it is this high international regard that has now led to a situation which should cause grave concern to us all. It appears that the Saint Lucia Passport has found special favour with persons who wish to use it illegally for entry into countries like the USA, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Already, the authorities have uncovered and disrupted the operation of certain groups intent on facilitating this kind of activity.

We have seen therefore, the remarkable convergence of a set of normally beneficial circumstances, working in concert to our disadvantage. The close proximity and easy air access to North America and Europe, the absence of full immigration controls, and a travel document of high international repute, have all combined to make Saint Lucia a favourite departure point for persons from within the region and elsewhere seeking to enter North America and Europe; persons who are of questionable character, and whose motives are suspect.

Because of the absence of outgoing immigration controls, a heavy burden has been placed on airline officials to detect fraudulent passports. In pursuance of this responsibility, airline officials and security personnel have discovered a number of instances where attempts have been made to use fraudulent Passports, including Saint Lucian passports, to secure admission to countries in Europe and North America. Some of the fraudulent passports have betrayed extraordinary skill and sophistication on the part of the persons preparing them, and are not readily detectable.

I wish to take the opportunity at this time to remind everyone, Saint Lucians and non – Saint Lucians, that the Saint Lucia Passport is the special property of the Government of Saint Lucia. Possession of this document is a special privilege, and it is bestowed only upon persons who meet certain specific criteria. The possession of a St Lucia Passport by a person not meeting these criteria is a criminal offence. The alteration, defacing, and trading in the St Lucia Passport is a serious criminal offence. I wish also to make it abundantly clear that the Government of St Lucia will deal firmly and without pity with persons found to be engaged in such activities.

St Lucia simply cannot afford to have its passport lose its value, integrity, and respect in this way. If this were to happen, then St Lucia could be subjected to the imposition of restrictions, including visa restrictions similar to those that have been imposed on a number of countries in the region for travel to places such as Canada and the United Kingdom.

Let me take the opportunity therefore to caution Saint Lucians to treat their passports with special care. This document should always be kept in a safe place, out of the reach of others. We should all remain extremely vigilant in this matter. Failure to do so could lead to disastrous consequences for us all.

The concerns of which I speak are real. In recent months some of our Missions have had numerous enquiries, some of which may well be intended to test our immigration rules. There is now a surge of people applying for visas for the purpose of entering St. Lucia. The general openness of our country is a cause of great concern.

Heightened Vigilance

The pace of world events requires that we be ever alert and adaptive to new circumstances. There is today in the world, a heightened state of alert, tension and anxiety, brought about by the threat of war in Iraq, the ongoing conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and the renewed threat of international terrorism. This situation demands that we act in a pre-emptive manner, and put in place measures that will further enhance our security, especially at our ports, and particularly in relation to the movement of persons in and out of the country. In this regard, tighter controls, some of which are already in effect, will be applied in respect of residents and nationals of selected Middle-Eastern countries with a high propensity for terrorist activity.

Government’s Response – The Measures Instituted

In the light of the state of affairs that I have described, the Government of St Lucia has found itself compelled to embark on the following measures:

1. The purchase and installation of security equipment for the air and sea ports. Approximately EC$2 Million has been spent so far on such equipment, including hand-held and walk-through metal detectors, X-ray screening machines for both carry-on and checked baggage, and security patrol vehicles (both air and sea).

2. The implementation of :
(a) a passenger tracking and watch list system, and
(b) ID Badging and tracking systems.

3. The purchase and installation of communication and video surveillance equipment at the air and sea ports.

4. The purchase and installation of electronic equipment for the detection of explosives.

5. The strengthening of institutional capacity for delivery and maintenance of a secure environment at our ports, through the training of all levels and categories of personnel, and the review and upgrade of operational systems.

6. The physical upgrading of facilities including airport terminal buildings, fencing, barricades, and internal peremeter roadways.

A further EC$ 9.5 million is expected to be spent on these programmes. It will be appreciated that certain of the systems and equipment to be installed cannot be made public because of a very real risk that this could compromise overall security.

In addition to the above-mentioned initiatives, the following systems-based measures are to be instituted:

(1) Passport control – full passport controls are to be reinstituted at our ports from 17th March 2003 and will be applicable to all persons departing from St Lucia. Incoming Saint Lucians will not be required to submit immigration forms upon arrival.

(2) Visas – tighter controls will be instituted in relation to the processing of applications for visas for travel to St Lucia. This would involve more thorough screening and investigation of applications, and would be applicable particularly to persons originating from countries with a high propensity for terrorist activity. The Government is in the process of reviewing its bi-lateral arrangements with a number of countries whose nationals do not require visas to enter Saint Lucia.

(3) Replacement Documents – Applications for replacement passports will be more thoroughly investigated, and this would necessarily involve an increased fee and a lengthening of the processing time for such applications. It is expected that this should exert sufficient pressure on persons to be more careful in the handling of passports entrusted to them by the State.

(4) Uniformity of Procedures – Greater insistence in uniformity of rules and procedures particularly in respect of our overseas missions.


I am sure that you appreciate the need for these new measures. While they will obviously cause some inconvenience, it is my hope that we will all appreciate that their intention is to make our lives safer and more secure, and as a result, lend our support to their successful implementation.

As many of you retire for this evening, I am aware that the apparent inevitability of war in Iraq is weighing heavily on your minds. This war will unleash serious consequences for our island and the Caribbean. I hope, soon again, to address you on this issue.

I thank you, and wish you a very good night.

March 6, 2003


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