US slams CARICOM as money launderers

Eastern Caribbean Central Bank Governor, Timothy Antoine.
Eastern Caribbean Central Bank Governor, Timothy Antoine.
Photo by George Alleyne

In one fell swoop the United States government has condemned 14 of the 15 CARICOM states as major money laundering countries, and Barbados government minister, Donville Inniss, is calling for joint regional reaction.

In its March 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report of the US Department of State omitted only Montserrat in its broad brush across the region that hit every CARICOM member along with other Caribbean states, and Inniss noted that such charges carry severe consequences for financial operations of these countries.

“This is an issue that affects the survival of each economy in the region,” he said recently in a comment on the issue.

“Our health-care systems in the region are at risk of not being adequately financed if we do not get it right in international finance and business. Our agricultural sector would be under immense pressure if we don’t get it right in these areas,” he told the Barbados Advocate newspaper.

The State Department stated that as of 2016 major money laundering countries included

Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago.

Though a full CARICOM member, the nation omitted from that list, Montserrat, remains a British Overseas Territory.

Among the consequences of such labeling for the 14 states, is further unwillingness of international banks to act as corresponding financial houses for worldwide transactions coming out of and entering these CARICOM countries.

The inability to conduct, or limiting of, such transactions will affect not only macro economics considerations like international trade, but could also hurt CARICOM citizens on the individual level by hindering remittances, on which many in the region depend.

Prior to the State Department’s broad brush labeling of CARICOM countries, many international financial houses had been dropping correspondent banking services to regional countries in what is termed ‘de-risking’ because of fears of huge financial penalties from US authorities if they are found doing business with suspected money laundering entities in the Caribbean.

The US State Department’s announcement has the potential of heightening the fear of international banks that they are likely to process financial transactions for the region that could involve laundered money.

Inniss, a Barbados Commerce and Industry minister, is concerned that in reacting to this latest accusation, and others, against the Caribbean grouping, these small countries are going forward as individuals, which makes it easier for them to be picked off.

“We are still 15 nations going into the international fora, grappling with an understanding of the issues and then perhaps 15 divergent positions on the matter, and I have been saying publicly and privately in regional meetings that we really need to come together.”

For this absence of a united approach, he blames officials of the Guyana based CARICOM Secretariat and heads of government of the respective states.

“It is like pulling teeth to get the folks in Georgetown, Guyana to understand the issues and I would go as far as to suggest that I do not think the leaders in the region appreciate the gravity of the situation,” he said.

Inniss’ call for coordinated CARICOM action matched that made by Eastern Caribbean Central Bank Governor, Timothy Antoine, during a Barbados visit earlier this month.

Pointing out that the world views the Caribbean as a brand or single entity, he said, “it means that notwithstanding our heroic domestic efforts, larger countries, correspondent banks, regulators and even international institutions regard us as a homogenous region. Consequently, the weaknesses of one often impact the reputation of all.”

He added, “these international operators do not know and frankly spoken, often do not care, about our country-specific circumstances including our detailed implementation plans for certain reforms and standards”.

He said that international banks “deem it too costly and inefficient” to deal with the small states individually.

Barbados government minister, Donville Inniss.
Photo by George Alleyne