By Claudia Sánchez-Bustamante/Diálogo April 01, 2019 Diálogo spoke with U.S. Army Brigadier General Antonio Fletcher, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH), which leads all special operations forces in Latin America and the Caribbean. Diálogo: What is SOCSOUTH’s mission and how does it fit into broader U.S. security cooperation efforts in the region? U.S. Army Brigadier General Antonio Fletcher, commander of Special Operations Command South: First, let me say how thrilled I am to have the opportunity to take command of Special Operations Command South. As a long time 7th Special Forces Group soldier with numerous deployments to our partner nations, to lead this organization is truly a special experience. I was previously at U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) as director of Plans and Policy (J5), so I had some time to think about and formulate what I would pursue as a mission, what my priorities are, and how I would fit SOCSOUTH into SOUTHCOM’s strategy to meet some specific challenges in the Western Hemisphere. Our mission at SOCSOUTH is to find and fix threats and enable our interagency partners and partner nations to counter threats to U.S. interests and maintain regional stability. We bring unique capabilities to assist SOUTHCOM with its strategy in the region, and we are constantly engaging with the SOUTHCOM team to ensure our efforts are aligned. We can deploy rapidly, we have organic cultural and language abilities, and we have built positive and enduring relationships with security force leaders throughout the region, especially those involved in counter terrorism operations. These relationships are vital to our success and simply cannot be built at a time of crisis—they must be built beforehand. Diálogo: What are your priorities for SOCSOUTH for 2019 and beyond? Brig. Gen. Fletcher: As I mentioned earlier, being director of SOUTHCOM’s J5 before taking command gave me a unique vantage point to develop priorities for the command. My priorities are: countering threat networks, particularly terrorist and insurgent networks; supporting U.S. and partner nation law enforcement agencies’ initiatives to counter transnational criminal organizations; maintaining our readiness to deploy and respond rapidly; and, lastly, proving through our actions that the United States is the best partner to meet today’s security challenges in the region. Diálogo: How do you expect to foster interoperability and jointness with SOCSOUTH’s/SOUTHCOM’s partner nation militaries in Latin America and the Caribbean? Brig. Gen. Fletcher: First, I would prefer to say partner nation security forces instead of militaries because some of our valued partner nations have non-military forces, specifically Panama and Costa Rica. So, how do we foster jointness? We do this by highlighting the idea that challenging national security situations are often best solved by a whole of government approach. The whole of government approach is much better at countering threat networks and providing long-term security for citizens, and lays the groundwork for improving prosperity in contested areas because it brings together experts from across the government to solve these problems. This is a much more effective and efficient approach than relying on just a military solution which may eliminate the immediate security threat but leave citizens little future protection and support. The goal is an enduring state of security that will promote prosperity and provide stability for its citizens. Diálogo: What is the importance of combined special operations forces (SOF) engagements among regional partner nations? Brig. Gen. Fletcher: SOF engagements benefit the United States and our partner nations in many ways, but I’ll highlight three specific examples. First, as I mentioned previously, we build valuable relationships with security professionals in the region. Second, we share tactical skills and learn from each other. Finally, we continue to build linguistic and cultural skills and develop more in-depth knowledge of the partner nations’ governance. Diálogo: What do you think are the most important lessons SOCSOUTH SOF personnel can share with their Latin American and Caribbean counterparts in the face of transnational organized crime threats? Brig. Gen. Fletcher: It takes a whole of government approach to disrupt a transnational criminal network. National as well as local level leaders must develop cooperative strategies to confront these threats. One of the most important lessons our SOF personnel can share is that criminal networks threaten citizen security, undermine human rights, cripple the government’s rule of law efforts, and hinder economic development—they undermine our partner nation governments on many different levels. That is why a whole of government approach is necessary to counter these threats. Diálogo: How do combined events like Fuerzas Comando play a role in sharing that experience and furthering jointness and interoperability with partner nations? Brig. Gen. Fletcher: Fuerzas Comando is our flagship event of the year, promoting partner nation military-to-military relationships, strengthening ties, increasing expertise among the region’s SOF while promoting regional security. This exercise not only builds trust between each other but challenges everyone in a multinational special operations skills competition. The end result of the exercise is a fraternal community of elite forces who are able to collaborate to support security and stability in the region. Every event is geared toward working as a team in a competitive environment emphasizing jointness and interoperability. This year’s event was held in Panama, and Chile has agreed to host the exercise in 2019. Diálogo: How can SOCSOUTH support partner nations to develop and increase their capabilities to counter threats? Brig. Gen. Fletcher: SOCSOUTH has a long history of working with our partners in the region. Our interactions with our partner forces have been very positive and of mutual benefit. Security cooperation is our primary focus; we facilitate our partner nation forces’ training and work side by side to become more interoperable. When our SOF interact with partner nation units, we develop a common understanding of capabilities and training opportunities, we all adhere to the principles of human rights, and rule of law is everything we do. What SOCSOUTH cherishes the most about our international SOF partners is the high level of professionalism and camaraderie. Diálogo: How do success stories such as Colombia influence your vision to help develop other partner nations’ capabilities? Brig. Gen. Fletcher: Like many other countries in the region, Colombia is a strategic partner for SOCSOUTH. Colombia’s successes are in great part because the United States has been working with them through their challenging times. SOCSOUTH understands the many successes other countries have had in Latin America. For example, Brazil led MINUSTAH in Haiti and other partner nations led various humanitarian assistance/disaster response and peacekeeping operations throughout the region. SOCSOUTH recognizes the tremendous sacrifices all our partner nations put forth when they contribute to regional security and stability.
Jamaica’s national soccer team, the Reggae Boyz, will be play Saudi Arabia at the King Fahd International Stadium, also called Pearl of Stadiums, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on October 7.Qualified for 2018 World CupSaudi Arabia have already qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, The Saudi’s join Iran, Japan and Republic of Korea as the teams from Asia in the world’s top soccer tournament in Russia.Saudi Arabia finished second in their Group behind Japan. The team also qualified in the 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2006 FIFA World Cup.Seeking high quality games The new President of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), Michael Ricketts, in agreeing to the game, said, “This is an indication of our intent to continue seeking high-quality international friendly games for the senior team. This level of opposition provides an opportunity for the players and technical team to continue the rebuilding of a successful Reggae Boyz team.”To the disappointment of Jamaican soccer fans home and in the Diaspora the Reggae Boyz were eliminated from competing in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in the qualifying round.Anticipate highly competitive gameThe Reggae Boyz coach Theodore Whitmore, also welcomed the opportunity for his team to play in Saudi Arabia, stating: “I anticipate a highly competitive fixture which is excellent for our plans moving forward.”The Reggae Boyz have played Saudi Arabia three times, winning one, losing one and drawing the other. The teams played to a 0-0 draw on May 4, 1998; Jamaican won the next encounter 2-1 on July 13, 1999 in the US, but lost the third game 0-4 two days later.The Jamaican squad to travel to Saudi Arabia will be announced later this week.About the Reggae BoyzJamaica’s Reggae Boyz gained worldwide popularity after they qualified for the 1998 FIFA World Cup. They have won the Caribbean Cup five times (1991, 1998, 2005, 2008, and 2010), finished second twice, and came third twice.Read more about the Reggae Boyz:Jamaica Reggae Boyz captain, Andre Blake, denied UK work permit
SOCU advisor controversyThe APNU-AFC Coalition Government has come in for another round of scathing criticism from the Parliamentary Opposition over its approach to matters surrounding discussion of corruption.Opposition MP Harry GillLeader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo, on Monday took particular umbrage at the Special Organised Crime Unit’s (SOCU’s) advisor, Dr. Sam Sittlington, who in his view conducted the Anti-Corruption Seminar without much substance.“The Opposition members wish to put on public record how disappointed we were with the lack of substance in Dr. Sittlington’s answers to the questions posed and issues raised,” a statement from the Opposition Leader’s Office noted.The Anti-Corruption Seminar was held for Members of Parliament in Parliament Chambers, and Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, as moderator, praised Dr. Sittlington, saying, “Guyana was fortunate to have a man of such experience and standing”.However, the Opposition had expected Head of SOCU, Sydney James, other members of the State body, or even observers to be present. However as proceedings continued, it descended into heated moments, as the Prime Minister accused the Parliamentary Opposition of being a “lynch gang” at the seminar and called on Member Harry Gill to retract his statement that “maybe Dr. Sittlington should consider resigning.”“Minister Ramjattan abruptly ended the session with time to spare in the 3-hour allotted time, in order to protect Dr. Sittlington from incisive issues being raised by the Parliamentary Opposition,” the statement outlined.The Opposition party said it had anticipated that frank discussions and exchanges would have been held on ways to address corruption. It, however, said that the session was “nothing but a mere charade, and a fig leaf for the non-engagement of SOCU in dealing with publicly reported acts of corruption, conflict of interest, abuse of power, extortion, etc., by the APNU/AFC Administration.”The Opposition highlighted that during Wednesday’s session, it asked a number of questions, such as the number of money laundering cases that had been successfully prosecuted in recent times, and members further questioned the reasons why SOCU never acted or investigated cases of corruption involving current Government officials. The cases highlighted were the Sussex Street Drug Bond controversy and the Jubilee Durban Park Development project wherein issues relating to beneficial ownership and conflict of interest of public officials were unearthed.The statement recalled Dr. Sittlington as stating that SOCU could act only if there was a complaint to the Commissioner of Police.“If that were the case, how did SOCU on two occasions arrest PPP/C leaders, including the former President, Prime Minister and Ministers; and the Commissioner of Police, on both occasions, publicly stated he was unaware of these actions. Further, Dr. Sittlington stated he arrived on January 2016 and the 30-odd forensic audits had been completed. This in fact was not so, and even Minister Jaipaul Sharma, who was present, looked confused, as he was the one who admitted in the seminar that he had submitted the audits to SOCU and the Police,” the Opposition Leader observed.It was disclosed that People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Members were “advised” that only recently the six-month period for hearing cases in court was lifted, a move which the Opposition deemed “a total misunderstanding” of the AML/CFT Amendment Act 2015. The party even suggested that even the adviser needs to be advised on the law and the judicial system.The Parliamentary Opposition said, too, that it remains committed to ensuring Guyana’s adherence to its constitution and laws, and its international treaties and conventions, such as the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption and the UN Convention Against Corruption.“We remain steadfast in our demands for greater transparency and accountability of the executive and all elected officials and civil society stakeholders,” it noted.Members of Parliament (MPs) representing the Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) accused the British Fraud Expert and Advisor of turning a blind eye to the many instances of Government corruption. “You have turned a blind eye to reports of corruption right here in the Government,” Harry Gill said. These were references to the controversial Sussex Street drug bond and the construction of the D’Urban Park Stadium. Gill said the fact that Sittlington was employed by the State poses a conflict of interest problem for him to investigate acts of corruption by state agencies.However, the Prime Minister and Ramjattan both defended the UK expert, stating that the Opposition MP came with a motive to disparage Sittlington, and describing them as a “lynching gang with a clear intention.”In his defence, Sittlington advised that SOCU can only investigate matters that are referred to the Police, or cases referred by the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit, the Financial Intelligence Unit, or the Fraud Squad.Among former Government officials questioned were former Prime Minister and former President, Samuel Hinds; former ministers Priya Manickchand, Irfaan Ali, Clement Rohee, Robert Persaud and Dr Jennifer Westford. One commonality with their questioning was that it was in relation to property purchased at the Sparendaam seawall area on the East Coast that is commonly known as “Pradoville 2”.While the current Administration contends that the transaction is a criminal act because of the belief that the land was sold below market value, the PPP has argued that subsidised housing has always been a part of the legacy of the People’s Progressive Party, and that many Guyanese have benefited from lands sold below market value.