The murder of Dana Seetahal in Trinidad and Tobago this past weekend should drive home the concern about the level to which violent crime has taken root in the Caribbean and particularly in Trinidad and Tobago which is now being described as the crime capital of the Caribbean.
The first concern should be about what is the source of this rapid descent into violent mayhem that has gripped the twin-island Republic. Is it poverty? Is it inequality? Is it lack of jobs? What makes Trinidad and Tobago so violent?
It surely cannot be poverty. Trinidad has the highest per capita income in the Caribbean. While there exists poverty, there are places within the Caribbean that have higher levels of poverty which have not descended into criminal violence to the extent of what takes place in Trinidad and Tobago.
Is it inequality? Well both Antigua and St. Vincent have higher levels of inequality that Trinidad and Tobago. And they are nowhere as violent a society as the twin island Republic.
Is it the lack of jobs? The private sector in Trinidad is complaining about the opposite. They are saying that there is inadequate labour in the Republic. In fact, Trinidad and Tobago has a very attractive unemployment relief programme and many persons find it better to not work and be on the dole than to work. So surely, the high murder rate cannot be because of the lack of jobs.
Trinidad and Tobago has been awash before in money. Its oil revenues have allowed the residents in that country to enjoy an extremely high standard of living since the 1970s. In those times, crime was nowhere near what it was and the sort of murders that are taking place now was unimaginable in the days of early oil boom in Trinidad and Tobago. So how come did Trinidad and Tobago become so violent to the point whereby murders and executions are an almost daily occurrence in the twin island?
The answer to that question is drugs, illicit drugs or narcotics. It is the drug trade that has led to this dangerous rise in criminal violence, including murders and executions.
The rise of the drug trade has led to the burgeoning of criminal gangs. These gangs are well armed and are used as paid assassins and hit men. They do the dirty bidding of the drug traffickers and drug lords and they also make private hits. They are extremely feared and generate a great deal of revenue to the extent that most of them can front as legitimate businessmen and contractors. They have a dense underworld network that provides them with real time information. They are the protectors of the drug lords who provide them with arms to carry out robberies and kidnappings so that they can pay themselves when not doing the bidding of the drug kingpins.
The rise of drug trade has also led to gangland wars. And this is another one of the reasons why so many young men are killed. They are attracted to gangs because it gives them an identity that they are searching for and not finding in mainstream society. But there are rivalries between gangs and this leads to a great deal of violence.
The rise of the drug trade has also led to the proliferation of small arms. This is one direct effect of the drug trade in the Caribbean. It has led to a large number of illegal guns finding its way into the hands of young men who are eager to prove themselves to their gang leaders by making a hit.
The drug trade is at the heart of the violence that is afflicting Caribbean society and while the break down in family structures contributes to this culture of violence, in order to rid Caribbean society of this high spate of murders, it is necessary to dismantle the narcotics networks in the Caribbean.
Guyana has had its problems with drug related murders. But it is nothing compared to what has been taking place in Trinidad and Tobago over the last ten years. However, we should be learning from that country’s experience.
The authorities in Guyana should be deeply concerned about what will happen if the drug underworld gets more powerful especially in a small society like Guyana where drug money can easily compromise law enforcement and buy an unlimited stream of recruits into the criminal underworld.
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