The Government of Panama wants to strengthen its relations with CARICOM and to achieve ???new and better levels of understanding and cooperation???.

This was disclosed by the President of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela Rodriguez, as he addressed the Plenary Session of the 36th Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), on its final day at the Hilton Barbados Resort.

President Varela told CARICOM leaders that the region was facing a major challenge from the illegal activities of criminal organisations, which were recruiting young people and causing violence in the poorest neighbourhoods.

He also said they had become a threat to public security and social peace through their growing networks of drug and human trafficking and money laundering, among other criminal activities.

Consequently, he stated that the negotiation of a Memorandum of Understanding between CARICOM and the Joint Regional Communication Centre (JRCC) was a vital step in addressing this issue.

The Panamanian President also pointed out that the power of social networks to effectively communicate messages to a variety of audiences was compounding the situation.

In order to combat this, he proposed the signing of a historic agreement that would involve the sharing of secure information and intelligence to detect high-risk passengers, and to prevent them from entering or transiting CARICOM Member states or Panama, to carry out illicit activities.

???Therefore, it is our Governments??? responsibility to pursue new and better ways of being connected, communicated and coordinated, if we want to defeat these criminal networks,??? he stressed.

Noting Panama???s air connectivity with its direct flights to more than 70 cities in the Americas, including five CARICOM countries, and plans to increase connectivity, the President said that having an Advanced Passenger Information Exchange System between his country and the Caribbean community was also essential to strengthening regional security.

???Under my administration, Panama continues to stand out as one of the countries with the largest amount of seized illegal drugs per year, and we are proud to say, we became the first country in the region to join the international coalition against ISIS, where we are actively participating in the Commission on the Prevention of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing,??? he declared.

President Varela said that as a result of collective partnerships, the Caribbean has emerged as one of the safest territories in the world, and he gave his assurance that Panama would always be a strong ally for the region.

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