BRIDGETOWN, Barbados — Alarmed by a dramatic increase in narcotics-related violence in the Caribbean, the Obama administration is pledging to help island nations combat drug and weapons traffickers.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in Barbados for a regional meeting of foreign ministers, unveiled the administration's $124 million Caribbean Basin Security Initiative on Thursday, intended to help countries counter the illegal narcotics and arms trade and help prosecute offenders.
"We all know well that addressing transnational security challenges in the 21st century requires a comprehensive approach," Clinton said.
The program augments similar U.S. cooperation efforts in Mexico, Central America and Colombia and helps Caribbean countries deal with any increase in crime that results from successes there.
Caribbean islands had one of their bloodiest years on record in 2009 as they battled drug-fueled crime, with Jamaica, the Bahamas and Puerto Rico hitting or coming close to all-time highs for homicides.
Last weekend, Jamaican authorities imposed a temporary curfew in troubled slums of the capital Kingston as security forces hunted for reputed drug lord Christopher "Dudus" Coke. He is wanted in the U.S. on drug and arms trafficking charges.
Jamaican police and soldiers hunting for Coke in a raid of the West Kingston slums triggered four days of street battles in which authorities say 73 civilians and three security officers were killed.
The deteriorating situation in the region reflects the drug trade's deep entrenchment, with high murder rates becoming a fact of life in the tourist havens that traffickers use as transit points for South American drugs bound for Europe and the United States.
Clinton also expressed sympathy Thursday with Caribbean nations about the potential impact of the Gulf oil spill on their shores. Some scientists fear the spill could affect the Bahamas and Jamaica.
Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer said there was "anxiety" in the region over the spreading oil. "Clearly, we are concerned about the possibility of it reaching our shores," he said.
Clinton said the Obama administration was doing what it could to contain the spill and limit the damage. She also called for the U.S. and the Caribbean to adopt new contingency plans to replace "out-of-date" preparations for spills that focused mainly on leaks from oil tankers.