5 Impactful Ways the US Coast Guard Has Improved Latin America
On a sweltering Wednesday afternoon 230 years ago today, President George Washington signed the United States Revenue Cutter Service into effect. As a brand new nation, the country was struggling with internal trade wars, and this new nautical armed force was created to help control the trade along the Atlantic coast, impose tariffs, and protect the colonies from pirates.
With only ten ships at its start, the agency now known as the U.S. Coast Guard has grown substantially over the years. As we celebrate the U.S. Coast Guard’s birthday today, it is a perfect time to see how it has become an international force with some of its most notable work being done in Latin America.
What Are the U.S. Coast Guard’s Responsibilities?
Many common misconceptions about the Coast Guard prevail. Its name is actually quite misleading, as the U.S. Coast Guard patrols not only coastal lands but also national and international waters.
The United States currently has 16 territories throughout the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans; only five are inhabited, and two others actually have multiple countries claiming the land. Nevertheless, the U.S. Coast Guard is responsible for monitoring those territories, as well as the extensive mainland coasts, Alaska, and Hawaii.
As you can imagine, with such an extensive jurisdiction, the Coast Guard needs a lot more than the ten original boats they had in 1790. Today, the U.S. Coast Guard is the largest in the world with over 1,400 boats.
With those vast resources, the Coast Guard has numerous responsibilities. They are part of the military and can be used during wartime. However, the U.S. Coast Guard is classified as part of the Department of Homeland Defense. Their jobs include intercepting drugs, search and rescue missions, cleaning oil spills, helping with navigation, inspecting boats, and doing missions.
Because of the U.S. Coast Guard’s extensive influence and plentiful resources, they are often called in to help other countries with inspections, clean-ups, and rescues. While they have impacted nations around the world, they have some of the closest working relationships with our southern neighbors in Latin America.
The U.S. Coast Guard in Latin America: A Brief History
The past 230 years have been quite tumultuous for the U.S. Coast Guard, as they have been involved in numerous wars, rescue missions, and protective missions. As the United States acquired more states and territories over the years, its influence on the water has increased.
In the 1980s, the U.S. Coast Guard became involved in Cuban affairs, as they were employed to rescue refugees fleeing from the country. Around that same time, the Coast Guard’s fight against drugs in the Caribbean started to gain momentum. To this day, the U.S. Coast Guard’s presence in Latin America has primarily been to aid the region in freeing the waters of trafficking illegal substances and people.
How Has the U.S. Coast Guard Improved Latin America?
1. Combating the Drug Trade
According to the 2014 Western Hemisphere Strategy proposed by the Coast Guard, one of their main goals is to fight against the drug trade. The U.S. Coast Guard was created to protect the mainland and territories, and the growing drug trade throughout the Americas is a major threat. As more drugs enter the United States, more people fall prey to addiction, dealing, and a violent lifestyle. To cut down the number of drug-related crimes and deaths within the country, the Coast Guard takes to international waters to intercept the drugs before they reach land.
Now, how does this help Latin America? While Latin America, specifically Colombia, has a bad reputation when it comes to drugs, most countries are more than happy for the extra help on fighting against the drug trade. According to an article on the war against drugs in Latin America from the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales:
“The fight against drug trafficking has been at the center of many [Latin American] countries’ political and electoral agendas, and a string of security responses have been implemented, often including the internal use of military might.”
Latin American governments want to end this drug war just as much as the United States. However, many countries in the Americas are small and lack the naval force to intercept all ships potentially carrying drugs. As such, the U.S. Coast Guard provides support to countries throughout Latin America in their fight against drugs. Colombia, in particular, has a great working relationship with the U.S. Coast Guard.
2. Better International Relations
Having a common enemy opens up doors to better international relationships. The United States and Latin American countries need to have healthy working communication to take down organized crime and trafficking. Furthermore, working together with a common goal in mind paves the way for better ties between the countries. The U.S. Coast Guard says it best:
“Broad-based international collaboration against transnational organized crime is pivotal to not only keeping drugs off U.S. streets but also maintaining stability in regional neighborhoods in which we share close ties.”
3. Assisting International Economy
One of the reasons so many Latin American governments are eager to accept the U.S. Coast Guard’s help is because of the detrimental economical effects organized crime has had throughout the region. In 2014, it was determined that about 77% of large-scale drug production is located in Latin America.
The crime, violence, and addiction that goes along with this production is harmful to local business and limits the development at a national level. At a House Hearing in 2014, Congressman Gregory Meeks addressed this exact situation:
…I have seen the effects of illicit drug trade personally. In fact, in Colombia, for example,… I have seen the devastating effects the drug cartels and related criminal activity have had on particularly minority populations, especially the Afro-Colombian and indigenous peoples in places like Buenaventura and Cali. The horrendous violence and tragic poverty in such areas is a direct result of the drug trade. …I returned just last week from a trip to Haiti and Guatemala and Mexico City. And there, too, I saw what can result in countries which are the hubs for drug transit. …We have got to coordinate what interdictions and what the Coast Guard is doing and what we have.
That same year, the U.S. Coast Guard developed a specific strategy to target the drug trade to make help improve the economic situation throughout Latin America. They have since confiscated thousands of pounds of drugs; one recent capture carried out by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Colombian Navy was valued at $165 million. These great headways are giving the Latin American people a chance to make an honorable living without the intense hold of international crime organizations.
4. Keeping the Waters Clean
While racking down drug shipments and inspecting boats are some of the primary tasks that occupy the U.S. Coast Guard’s valuable time, they do so much more than that! Protecting coastal lands means not only protecting people and ships, but also wildlife.
One of the biggest threats to sea and coastal life is an oil spill. Unfortunately, these accidents happen quite frequently, so the U.S. Coast Guard has agreements with countries throughout Latin America to assist them in the case of an oil spill.
With such extensive experience and resources, the U.S. Coast Guard puts a great emphasis on training people around the world. The goal is for each county to not depend heavily on the U.S. in times of need and be able to defend their own waters.
There are opportunities both in the United States and abroad for people from around the world to receive top-notch training in any of the Coast Guard’s specialties. Citizens from Latin America have received extensive training from the U.S. Coast Guard, and numerous Latinos form a vital part of the U.S. Coast Guard today.
How Can You Celebrate the U.S. Coast Guard’s Birthday?
Just like how you celebrate Memorial Day with many fun and meaningful traditions, there are great things you can do to honor this military branch and celebrate the U.S. Coast Guard’s birthday.
- Check out your local neighborhood activities to see if there are any Coast Guard birthday activities, especially if you are near a port.
- If you know of anyone who has served or is serving in the Coast Guard, pay them a visit and thank them for their service!
- Make their family a meal or make an appreciation card with your child.
- Learn about the Coast Guard and their numerous responsibilities with your child.
- A fun way to bring awareness to the Coast Guard’s work is to complete an armed forces coloring book or do a Lego project with your kids.
- Check out the multiple Coast Guard lego boats available.
Whatever you choose to do to celebrate the Coast Guard birthday, remember to thank a Coast Guard worker when you see them for all their hard work!
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