Geo-political influence on crime in T&T

By Larissa Hosein

Murder. Kidnapping. Gang Violence. Drugs. Corruption. All words and more every Trinbagonian national has become familiar with as they’re often splayed across headlines to the point of near desensitization. We are all familiar with the root causes of crime such as poverty, disenfranchised citizens, unemployment, exposure to criminal activity and others. However, this article will focus on the geo-political perspective of crime in Trinidad and Tobago. Essentially, our geographic location that’s nestled between South and North America coupled with our porous borders which have significantly impacted the type of crime that occurs and the frequency of such crimes.  In this article, we will explore how our geographical location makes us a hotspot for illegal international activity and how that has trickled down into our society, creating an environment that no longer looks like a paradise. 

According to Colin Frederick, “huge South American cartels utilize the geographical advantages of the Caribbean Basin as a channel between the supply markets in South America and the demand markets in the U.S and Europe.” As you can see, our position at the very end of the Caribbean archipelago has been capitalized by South American cartels shipping cocaine, weapons and other contraband to U.S and European markets. This has made us a crime hub in the international drug trade which trickles down into other crime markets such as human trafficking, weapons trafficking, smuggling and other illegal activities. Even though the Caribbean isn’t the only or the largest middleman, the very use of our region has had detrimental effects on society.

The day Trinidad and Tobago became a transit point for illegal activities namely drug trafficking, was the day the very fabric of our society shifted.  For one, corruption was exacerbated. The ones who control the drug ring in our country and all the other associated illegal activities with it are allegedly from the elite in society (also known as the 1%) and many other prominent businesspersons and officials. Many of them allegedly have “understandings” with government officials and law enforcement to run their racket. In fact, many of them allegedly fund political parties and government-based projects for that very reason. Further down the line, we have local gangs acting as runners and smugglers in exchange for weapons and a semblance of control in their areas. In fact, the government has often supported prominent gang leaders in exchange for the sway gang leaders have in their communities and for other favours. According to Dorn Townsend, “the government’s behind the scenes interactions with gangs have not always seen the light of public disclosure, and these private sessions have prompted suspicions of government complicity with the gangs’ criminal agendas.” A popular example of this would have been alleged gang leader, the late Cedric “Burkie” Burke. Mr. Burke had a lot of influence and sway in areas such as Sea Lots and Beetham as he was seen as a community leader. His close relation with then Government Official MP Marlene McDonald was brought to light in 2017 when the MP came under scrutiny for a suspected security breach by having Mr. Burke present at an official function. It just goes to show the interconnected web of corruption that starts at the top with the elites in society having connections in the Government who in turn rely on the local gangs for assistance to allow the criminal agenda to continue. This effect is often overlooked because everything happens behind-the-scenes. Most of the public is not made aware of all these intricacies behind the crime in our country. As most of what the media reports are only numbers and statistics. What we do know is how high the crime rate is, that women are being kidnapped to either be sold or killed, we know about the drugs passing being shipped and sold,  we essentially know about the reported crime. However, we are often not privy to the evil brewing behind closed doors. Even now, no one knows exactly who are responsible in this country for organizing drug/weapon/human trafficking deals. We can only speculate at this time but there is no doubt that the reality is far more shocking than we could have ever expected. Of course, we cannot help our geographic location nor control other countries’ illegal activities, but all hope is not lost.

As with all problems, it is solved by getting to the root of the issue. Corruption however is so deeply interwoven in all levels of society that it is now a norm and therefore will take years to dismantle. This is an issue that needs to be tackled not just from a state perspective, but also at the business and grassroots levels of society. Honestly, this issue will not be eradicated anytime soon. However, there are people in society who are fighting corruption daily, some even with their lives. We must also do our part to demand transparency and accountability from the ones who have promised to have the country’s best interests at heart. 

For now though, to combat the border problems and help alleviate our country being used as a hub, we need to increase our maritime security. That includes having upgraded equipment with better radars, faster ships, increased patrols, an increased recruitment drive and other changes. It may seem simple however, we need to have the resources to be able to enact these changes and the maritime security budget would need to be increased, which is not something that may be afforded during this time. 

The effects of these changes may not happen immediately but change often does not take place overnight. What we can do for now is continue to hold our leaders accountable and be well informed about what is happening in the country. Knowledge is power and we the citizens often have more power than we realize.